What we learned in 'Valimai' helped us do better in 'Thunivu': Director H Vinoth

The usually reticent filmmaker opens up about what it takes to make a superstar film, compromises made along the way, creating a brand for a filmmaker, and more.

Published: 04th December 2022 10:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th December 2022 10:41 AM   |  A+A-

Ajith Kumar in 'Thunivu', Director H Vinoth

Ajith Kumar in 'Thunivu', Director H Vinoth

Express News Service

An interview becomes a conversation when both the interviewer and interviewee lose their inhibitions, prejudices, barriers, and can share a genuine laugh or two. In such successful transitions, one can exactly pinpoint the question or the answer that triggered the change. In this interview with director H Vinoth, the moment came when he was asked about his resistance to giving video interviews, especially when scores of fans are asking him for the same. “Thalaivare… There is no big reason for the absence. I am not comfortable talking in front of the camera, or being around crowds, etc... There is a mental block of sorts, so I avoid it,” says the director, who is presently busy with the post-production of Thunivu, which stars Ajith Kumar, one of Indian cinema’s biggest crowd-pullers.

Commerce, honesty, and everything in between

Even if he is not comfortable doing video interactions, there is no doubt that it is a breeze to converse with Vinoth. His unabashed candidness is refreshing in a world that is filled with rehearsed, and rehashed answers. That is why it is only filmmakers like Vinoth who would have no qualms in admitting that commerce dictates cinema. “Right from the time, cinema became a money-making business, everything about it became commercial. Of course, we can talk about good films and bad films, but one shouldn’t expect 100 per cent honesty in them. Depending on the team, the honesty of a film and a filmmaker will vary. A filmmaker should try to be as honest as they are allowed to be, and try to push that envelope just a bit further. Vyaabaram enga irukko anga muzhu nermai irukkaadhu…”

Speculations, updates, and everything in between

Valimai, Vinoth’s previous film with Ajith, might have been known for a lot of things, but primary among them was the fan frenzy about updates. In fact, it is a phenomenon that has been extended to every big-ticket film since then. “Being secretive about a film with stars like an Ajith sir or a Vijay sir is just impossible. We have to face this reality. While there could be snippets of truth in the mountains of information that are out there, the presence of these speculations has become an unavoidable discomfort. The biggest requirement for a filmmaker now is patience, and more importantly, tolerance. For instance, there are a lot of talks about Thunivu itself, and I know how many of them are so far from the truth. Honestly, it is a multi-genre film that cannot be boxed into one type. Simply put, Thunivu is a game of villains… Adhu oru ayogyargalin aattam.”

Thunivu Poster

Thunivu Poster

Brand Ajith, Brand Vinoth, and everything in between

The candidness of Vinoth comes to the forefront when the conversation veers into the territory of the collaborations between him and Ajith. Over the years, we can observe how Ajith’s films have changed track. There are elements in his films that weren’t there a few years back. This, in a way, has created a varied set of expectations from his different sections of fans, and Vinoth has observed this change from close quarters. “In a film starring Ajith sir, he is obviously the centre point. He decides who is the producer and the director. His fans might want him to do films that he did in his mid-30s and early-40s like a Billa or a Mankatha. But, it is also important to understand what kind of films Ajith sir wants to do. When I’m writing a script for him, I’ll have to factor in his comforts too. Ajith sir has certain values when it comes to the emotions or politics in his films, and it is important they are considered. In some cases, these factors might differ depending on the script we agree on, but what never changes is the power of a good story and screenplay. Interestingly, Ajith sir will listen to 10-15 minutes of narration, and give the go-ahead if he likes the way it is progressing. From then, when we start filming, I will tell him what we are going to shoot on that day, and he understands and consumes the film just the way the audience would… scene by scene.”

When asked if he is comfortable working in such a pattern, Vinoth is once again at his candid best. “Thalaivare... logistics define logic in many of our films. If Chennai is the setting of the film, it becomes impossible to shoot in live locations with a big star. There begins our series of compromises. If geography can decide the kind of output we have, imagine the other factors that will come into place. With a strong core idea and a basic screenplay, I prefer working on the go. Thadaigal vara vara adha edhirkonde munneri poga dhaan mudiyum.

Success, Failure, and everything in between

Vinoth’s films with Ajith are an interesting case study in recent Tamil cinema. Some criticise the lack of stardom in a Nerkonda Paarvai, and some criticise the lack of Vinoth in a Valimai. On the other hand, the same elements are also showered with a lot of praise. Keeping a level head while receiving both these extreme emotions isn’t an easy task. “What is more important is to understand the reason why someone is celebrating or criticising you. Take only the ones that come from a place of honesty.  In fact, on the first two days of Valimai, we faced a lot of criticisms, but by day 3, when families came to watch the film, things were right back on track. In those two days, we learned certain things like meeting demands, creating the right expectations, figuring out the target audience, etc… Valimai la kathukitta vishayam Thunivu la seyal paduthiruppom, Thunivu la kathukkra vishayam, adutha padathula use pannuvom.”

Valimai Ajith vinoth and Huma
A BTS Still from Valimai

Messages, compromises, and everything in between

Vinoth became an important presence in Tamil cinema owing to the strength of his first two films, Sathuranga Vettai and Theeran. However, with a superstar like Ajith coming into the mix, there were opinions that Vinoth had to compromise on his writing. But the filmmaker assures that his quest in cinema has always been about documenting the truth and lies of any theme he tackles, and nothing else. “My trip with cinema is to figure out where I stand in the evolution of opinions and cinema. Whatever theme I tackle in my film, I want to explore the truth and lies of the same. My strength lies in giving my audience a visceral experience. But I also factor in the market demand. For instance, Viswasam did exceptionally well, and there was a market demand to cater to that section. We predicted the demand and worked on the script of Valimai. But then, after two years, especially with the pandemic in place, demands changed. Youngsters became the decision makers about the kind of cinema consumed in the maddening opening day rush.”

With commerce, demands, and trends, becoming the frequently used terms in this conversation, one might worry if the voice that gave us Sathuranga Vettai and a Theeran is muffled in his journey with the star. However, a level-headed Vinoth has no such airs about his presence in cinema. “In any form of art, there is only so much that the creator can do. What really matters is what the audience understands. Take, for instance, serious reviewers and critics who talk about layers and subtexts. Honestly, many a time, a creator might not have thought of such things at all. Let’s say something works for a filmmaker, then 80 per cent of the time, it is the outcome of them being under tremendous pressure. When you are under pressure, you are forced to find a solution. There are very few filmmakers who have a clear vision of what end product they want even while writing. Such filmmakers are rare, and the sad part is that many of them won't get the fame and success they deserve. I know many ask me to do a film like Theeran or a Sathuranga Vettai, but honestly, such asks are unfair. It is better to create trends rather than follow one. Theeran maadhri innoru padam panna, ivan yaen ore maadhri padam panraan nu thittra modhal aal avangala dhaan irukkum…

The present, the future, and everything in between

Even before the release of Thunivu, there are speculations about Vinoth’s next. While it is ‘confirmed’ that a Kamal Haasan film is on the cards, there were also reports about him uniting with Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu for a project. While his recent career has indeed been about addressing these speculations, and moving past relentless questions about updates and rumours, Vinoth has managed to look at it from a very pragmatic lens. “Cinema has taught me to remain calm till everything comes together. Just because I met an actor, it doesn’t mean the project will happen. Just because a producer greenlights the project, it doesn’t mean the film will happen. There are a lot of things that can happen between meeting an actor, finding a producer, and finally going on floors. I prefer to play the waiting game instead of just adding fuel to speculations.”

As the conversation touches upon Vinoth's happiness in ‘oor suthuradhu’ and his love for Kadaisi Vivasayi, we finally get into the topic of cinema being a director’s medium, and whether he realises that a “Written and directed by H Vinoth” tag is a big deal for his audience. “Honestly, in any film with a superstar, it is only when something magical happens that the director’s name comes to the forefront. In fact, I went to two theatres and randomly asked 100 people if they knew about the director of that film. Most of them had no idea. What we see on social media and other mainstream forms of media is only the representation of a small percentage of the movie-going audience. It took decades of work for actors like Rajini sir, Kamal Haasan sir, Ajith sir and Vijay sir to cement their superstardom. They brushed past both their successes and failures to reach every member of the audience. For directors like Mani Ratnam sir and Shankar sir, their reach is a testament to the work they have done, and the legacy they’ve created over time. Oru director-kaaga mattum padam paaka varavanga 10 per cent dhaan irukkum. Andha edathukku vara, oru bayangaramaana uzhaippu thevai.” 


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