Tamil Interviews

‘Back After 23 Years, But I Feel At Home’: BR Vijayalakshmi On Directing Abhiyum Anuvum

Cinematographer-director BR Vijayalakshmi is going through the Friday pangs after a break of 23 years, but says it still feels like yesterday that she was awaiting the release of her debut directorial Paattu Paadava.


Abhiyum Anuvum/Abhiyude Katha Anuvinteyum, her sophomore Tamil-Malayalam bilingual with Tovino Thomas and Piaa Bajpai in the lead, releases today. Vijayalakshmi is waiting for feedback on her film, which also stars Prabhu, Suhasini and Manobala, and is inspired by a true event in Latin America.

Much before she directed her first film, Vijayalakshmi, daughter of celebrated filmmaker BR Pantulu, was feted as the first female cinematographer in all of Asia. She shot 22 films, including hits such as Chinna Veedu, Aruvadai Naal and Mallu Vaeti Minor, and directed her first film in 1995, before taking a break to raise a family.

She joined the music show Sa Re Ga Ma 18 years ago, and helped produce many television shows and series. The company branched into the big screen with Yoodlee Films, and asked her to direct the first Tamil-Malayalam project. And that was how Abhiyum Anuvum was born.

Vijayalakshmi confesses she has always loved telling stories. And, that is what drew her towards this project too. “This is not just a regular tale. Our tagline says this is a fearless love story. There’s no villain here; instead, an issue crops up and the leads start questioning the validity of their marriage. The film is about how they deal with it.”

Does Vijayalakshmi look at stories visually, considering she has spent a substantial amount of time behind the camera? “Not unless I am the cinematographer. While the visual angle matters to me when I direct, I initially look at it only as a story. I start thinking of visuals after scripting.”

Does she ever feel she’s back in the field after two decades, when technology and the way movies are made have changed? “Not really. The grammar of films and the craft of filmmaking have not really changed. Styles have. I last shot on film. Now, it’s all digital. You can even shoot a movie on a phone, and release it. But, I don’t feel the difference as much, because I have been creating content for television. I’ve been occupied creatively. That said, the life of technicians has not changed much. So, I feel at home,” she laughs.

At a time when men ruled the technical side of the industry, Vijayalakshmi walked down an unknown path and made a name for herself. Did the magnitude of what she did, of how she shattered the glass ceiling, ever strike her? “No. My focus was on learning my craft, not breaking a record. The realisation happened much later.” That feeling was strengthened last year, when she saw more than a hundred active women cinematographers at the Indian Women Cinematographers’ Collective, an initiative of senior cinematographer Fowzia Fathima. The group honoured her for being a pioneer, and that was when Vijayalakshmi reflected on the path she had forged for others.

But, right now, her focus is on her movie. Abhiyum Anuvum is about a Malayali boy living in Chennai, and the Malayalam version has some dialogues in Tamil. Speaking about her cast, Vijayalakshmi says she wanted an unusual pair, and zeroed in on Tovino after watching him in the Malayalam film Guppy. “Both he and Piaa are thorough professionals and dedicated to their craft. This is an intense film, and Tovino has proved himself to be a wonderfully intense actor. He dubbed for himself in just three days. He’s done a great job. Piaa is her chirpy self in the first half, and transforms in the second. I’m waiting to see the audience reaction,” says the director.

So, will the gap between her second and third films be negligible? “Ah,” she smiles. “I live in the present. Who knows what the future holds.”