KS Ravikumar’s office is located in a quiet nook in the city. And in stark contrast to its surroundings, a loud superbike is positioned at the entrance. It’s a glossy black beast, topped with gleaming chrome accents. A few people are rapidly clicking selfies with it when an assistant walks out to shoo them away. “Don’t put those on Facebook,” he wags a finger at them, “sir doesn’t like it.”
Inside the office, yet another assistant counts a row of gleaming silver tiffin carriers that have just arrived. It’s lunchtime. And, he takes this moment to deliver a warning. “Sir has not had his lunch yet,” the assistant says when I am about to meet the director, “everyone’s waiting for him to eat so that we can begin our lunch too.”
He casts a look of longing at the carriers.
The KSR I meet is a tired man. “I haven’t slept properly in months,” he growls, “24 hours is just not enough for me.”
His voice sounds strained, after a series of back-to-back interviews.
Lingaa was challenging for KSR. It marked the return of the Superstar – in flesh and blood – after four years. There was a lot of pressure on him. “To show the world, and all his fans that Rajinikanth is alright and here to rule Kollywood for decades more,” he declares.
He was quite good at planning. It was the execution that required work.
A lot of work.
His temper was constantly on the edge, and he recalls spending ‘half his time’ yelling at ‘someone or the other’. “But that’s one of the reasons why we finished the film well within schedule,” he chuckles in hindsight, “I finished filming in 120 days; it could have taken longer.”
Writing is a personal process for KSR. He prefers staying alone, and rarely allows intrusions. For Lingaa though, I had to make exceptions, the director admits ruefully. “My assistants were scouting for locations, trying to secure permission for shooting, and arranging schedules. All of it had to be accomplished within a limited time frame. So, I had to take several breaks from writing to help them out.”
When everything was wrapped up though, KSR encountered some fresh trouble. Three different people accused him and Lingaa’s screenplay writer Ponkumaran of plagiarism. “We’re all artistes here,” he explains, “we read the same books, listen to the same music. We also have to admit that some of us may get similar ideas. Just because someone got the idea in 2010 and another guy made it happen in 2014, it doesn’t mean the two are related. I can say with absolute honesty that the story we wrote was completely ours.”
The criticism he received for that infamous balloon stunt scene in the movie also doesn’t bother him much. “Criticism is necessary to become better at what I do. While some did bother me, I didn’t take it to heart. Mostly because, even people who hated me called me to say that they liked Lingaa!”
And that’s that, he declares simply.
“You’re making me sound like an old man,” KSR grins when I mention his decades-long stint in the industry.
“I’m really not that old,” he says. “Moving ahead with the times is the only way someone can stay in this industry for a long time. This is a lesson I learnt when I entered the industry and that’s why I’m still here 25 years later, while some of my peers have quit.”
Also handy is the fact that he doesn’t make films for stars or alter his perspective to suit theirs. “When a story interests me, I pursue it. And I instinctively know whom to cast in it. I have a deep understanding of every actor in the film industry. So when I make the film, I do it in such a way that it suits the artiste. For Kamal Haasan sir, it’s class. For Rajini sir, it’s mass. Simple mantra,” he shrugs.
It’s also one of the reasons why he doesn’t rule out the possibility of working with newcomers. “The budget of the film is determined by the star power in it. Thankfully, I’m not one to throw tantrums and insist on having a big budget for an upcoming star. I have to be content with what I get. Never ask for more, never settle for less. Get exactly what you need, and go out and make that work.”
KSR also refuses to be pigeonholed. “I’m not just commercial; though I wear that tag proudly. I’ve done it all. I came here with Puriyaatha Puthir – people often forget the movie – followed it up with Cheran Pandiyan and am back now with Lingaa,” he recounts, “Variety interests me.”
The commercial tag is my own doing, he admits after a while. “After a point, I decided that I didn’t want to be called an ‘art film director’. It just wasn’t me. KSR is adidhadi, family sentiment, comedy, betrayal, revenge and redemption. Those are the kind of films I make and love. If all these varied emotions and stories are ‘commercial’, then so be it.”
He finds the current generation of filmmakers a fascinating lot. Though he doesn’t watch every good Tamil film out there, the few that he has watched, have impressed him no end. There’s one thing the director wants them to learn from him, though. “Make movies fast. Don’t take a lot of time between films. The industry, for all its warmth, is also prone to forgetting people, however great they maybe.”
Brush with Bollywood
Policegiri was a frustrating experience for KSR. The film was marred by issues; the biggest being the impending arrest of lead, Sanjay Dutt. “I had ten days with Dutt sir. Just ten days out of the forty days that I needed. There was no room to breathe; no way I could afford re-takes. There was pressure from all sides. We were working overtime. Sometimes, we would shoot two songs in two days. I didn’t even have the time to work on the screenplay. Needless to say, things didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. By the end of it all, I was prepared for a flop.”
Given a chance though, he wouldn’t change anything. KSR learnt a lot of lessons that year, the chief among them being self-control.
“Screaming at people and stalking off in a fit of anger wouldn’t have changed anything,” he smiles as I take my leave.
The KS Ravikumar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.