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Mani Ratnam's assistant debuts as director

Last updated on: September 9, 2010 13:50 IST

Mani Ratnam's assistant debuts as director

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai

Sudha K Prasad who worked as an assistant to Mani Ratnam in Yuva, Aayutha Ezhuthu and Guru has turned an independent director with Drohi releasing this Friday.

The film stars Srikkanth and Vishnu as the lead protagonists. Wildlife film-maker and the cinematographer of the Hindi film Aamir, Alphons Roy wields the camera.

Naturally expectations are high. Sudha talks about her film in this interview.

How did you get interested in films?

I still remember cycling with friends though the muddy roads of Adyar as a school girl to watch films at Eros cinema. I remembered watching Mani Ratnam's Pakal Nilavu and was blown away.

I was only a kid and didn't know anything about films but I saw magic in it. Slowly I became an avid film watcher. I knew then itself that I was going to be a film-maker.


Image: Sudha K Prasad with the cast of Drohi

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'My family is quite conservative'

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Are you from a film family?

Not at all. Nobody has anything to do with films except that everybody watches a lot of films. I am the first to be in the film industry and I think I will be the only one!

Did you learn film-making in any institute?

No. My family is quite conservative. They didn't want me to study film-making. Later, I wanted to join the Pune Film Institute to learn cinematography but I couldn't apply as I didn't take the science stream in my 12th standard.

Five to six years after marriage, I went back to college to do my Masters in Communication and also did a short course in film appreciation at the Pune Film Institute.


Image: A scene from Drohi

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'Mani Ratnam tried to dissuade me from being an assistant'

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How did you get the first break?

My first break was writing the screenplay and dialogues for Revathy's Mitr -- My friend. I was a lecturer at the University of Madras then, teaching journalism, advertising and introduction to communication. A common friend told me that Revathy was looking for someone to write dialogues for an English documentary.

As I was writing the script, Revathy asked me to work for her and Suresh Menon full time. I told the Head of the Department at the University of Madras that this was what I wanted to do and that I was quitting. She was so supportive that she let me take all my classes in one day so that I could work on the script the rest of the days.

Revathy wanted to make Mitr My friend as an English film set abroad. Priya (filmmaker) was also one of the writers. When we started shooting in the US, I was involved in the entire film-making.

How did you get to work as an assistant with Mani Ratnam?

Suresh Balaji (son of the late Tamil film producer Balaji and brother-in-law of Mohanlal) is one of my closes friends. As I was looking for work, he asked me with whom I wanted to work. I said casually, Mani Ratnam, Shankar, Ram Gopal Varma. I said this fully knowing I was not going to be an assistant to Mani Ratnam. But Suresh introduced me to him.

When I met Mani Ratnam, he tried to dissuade me from being an assistant for one and a half hours, and the entire time, I tried to convince him that I wanted to assist him! He said, if I were you, I would make a film of my own! I said, I have no confidence to make a film of my own now.


Image: A scene from Drohi

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'Even if you imbibe two per cent from Mani Ratnam, you will be a good film-maker'

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So, you won eventually?

Yes, I won eventually. He let me assist him in Yuva and Aayutha Ezhuthu. But I continued in Guru also. I was with him for six and a half years!

How do you describe the six and a half years of working with him? Is it like going to a university?

University is like a womb; you are so cushioned. It's not hands on. Here, its much more than that. It was tough to match up to his expectations. It was not an easy job.

What did you learn from him?

If working with Revathy was like going to KG, working with Mani Ratnam was like going from the first to the twelfth! I learnt from him that there was no compromise in film-making. You learn never to give up from him. Even if you imbibe two per cent of his commitment, you will be a good film-maker.


Image: A scene from Drohi

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'When I finished Guru, I decided to make my own film'

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When did you get the confidence to make a film of your own?

I was planning to work with him in only one film but I remained with him for six and a half years.

The minute I finished Guru, I thought I was going to make my own film. I went off to the Himalayas for four months after Guru. Once I came back, I knew I was ready to make a film. I had several ideas with me and I chose the story of Drohi.

Why did you choose this idea?

The idea of Drohi excited me. Drohi means the betrayer. It is the story of two people -- Sami and Karuna -- and one's betrayal of the other. When a person whom you love betrays you, it hurts. It is psychotic. The male protagonists were very, very close to each other and they also knew how to hurt each other.

Sami is played by Srikkanth and Karuna by Vishnu.


Image: A scene from Drohi

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'I chose Alphons Roy because of Aamir'

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Where does the story take place?

It is a 100 per cent Chennai film. The story takes place in Royapuram, in north Chennai. The entire film was shot in real locations which is a first in Tamil.

These two men are from the lower class localities in the area. One is into crime and the other one wants to move away and both will not let the other go. It is the crab mentality. It is not a battle against society but a battle against each other. Yes, it is a very dark film.

We completed the shooting in 53 days which is remarkable for an action film and the main reason why we could do it was because of Alphnos Roy as cinematographer.

How did you think of Alphons Roy who is mainly a wildlife film-maker? Was it because of the way he shot the Hindi film Aamir and the way his camera ran through Mumbai?

Yes, it was Aamir that made me chose him. I was blown away by his style in that film. There was something fresh to see from a non-filmi wildlife film-maker. Like the way he looked at Mumbai in Aamir, in my film, he looks at Royapuram from a fresh perspective, from a different eye. It is very non-cinematic. No other person can shoot a film like that. As he is a wild life film-maker, he is a very fast worker too.


Image: A scene from Drohi

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'I spoke to Srikkanth for 45 minutes selling my film to him'

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Was it tough convincing him to do your film?

He said, I do have 3-6 months free but I want to read the script first. He read the script and called me back. He said, I loved your script and I loved the fact that Royapuram is a character in your film.

How did you think of Srikkanth and Vishnu for the lead roles?

I wanted someone who is really good looking and non-Royapuram. I want him to look alien and out of place in the setting. That is why I wanted a very good-looking guy and chose Srikkanth. He refused the role because both the characters have equal mileage. I spoke to him for 45 minutes selling my film to him. Finally, he said yes.

I was very excited to see the boy in Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu. He looked very earthy. Both of them have done a fantastic job.

How excited or nervous are you about the release of the film?

I am petrified. Nothing is in my hands now. It is not like writing an exam where you write well and get good marks!

What will you do on the day of its release?

I will be praying! I am too tense to go to a theatre!


Image: A scene from Drohi

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