CS Amudhan wrote a letter to the The Hindu when he was 15. It was about a pack of condoms that he found at a store. Amudhan was bewildered by the description printed on the pack that read, “Made exclusively for the Government of India.”
Was it for the President or the Prime Minister, he had wondered aloud. Who exactly was the Government?
His thought-provoking questions found space in the Letters to the Editor section. His parents were proud, “but they couldn’t show it to their friends,” Amudhan chuckles.
Amudhan hasn’t stopped surprising his audience since then – be it the promotional material that he conceived when he worked in advertising, or his first movie, Thamizh Padam. “I should offer people things that they haven’t seen before,” he nods wisely.
Amudhan wanted to write a novel when he was in school. A sex-comedy. “Not a lot of books explored that genre. I want to make a film along those lines, too. But I didn’t know if it would be received well.”
Our conversation lasts an hour, and it doesn’t take long for me to realise that Amudhan’s bio on Twitter describes him quite well.
Curious. Irreverent. Atypical.
“I am always about big ideas,” he quips. “Executing them is secondary.”
His office, located in a busy residential area in Anna Nagar, is minimalist. A thread-bare sofa, a computer, and a table are the only artefacts that the apartment houses. Apart from Amudhan himself, who is reading Balu Mahendra’s Kathainera Kathaigal. [quote align=’right’] “I should make people like my films. That is important. Becoming the highest paid director or working with big stars – although there is nothing wrong with it – are not things I would enjoy.”[/quote]
“I got it at the Chennai Book Fair,” he tells me as I enter.
Amudhan has just begun reading Tamil books. He allows me a glance at the blurb. “I read everything,” he says, “except romance novels. They don’t agree with me.”
Interviews don’t faze him. No questions are dodged. And when he senses that I have a question, Amudhan lets me steer. With a wave.
He also swears once in a while. “I am big-mouthed,” he laughs.
You are candid, I offer.
“Hey, that’s a polite way of saying I am big-mouthed.”
Thamizh Padam, Amudhan’s first film, released in 2010. It did so well that Amudhan himself couldn’t get tickets for the first 15 days. The movie was a parody – he had spoofed some iconic films and legendary directors in the movie, tongue firmly in cheek. A couple of lead heroes took umbrage, but the directors were a sporty lot.
Bharathiraja was the first to call Amudhan after the release; a conversation that Amudhan still cherishes. “En padathulendhu aarambichitiyaa da!” Bharathiraja had laughed. He had then narrated his favourite scenes from the film.
Amudhan remembers feeling surreal.
Reviewers also celebrated the movie, terming it a bold attempt for a first-time filmmaker. But Amudhan vehemently denies being courageous. “We were lucky and ignorant. Writing and making the film were fun. We didn’t stop to think of the consequences. It was a bonus that the film did well. We didn’t expect it to gain cult status, but we knew we wouldn’t be cursed by audience if we made them laugh.”
*****When the success of Thamizh Padam slowly faded away, Amudhan set a personal goal. “I thought I should get an Oscar in five years,” he shrugs.
Then, perhaps sensing my incredulity,
“I am serious! I was that naive. But what is the big deal about it? Slumdog Millionaire got it. I was not a big fan of the film. I was thinking I could make that kind of a movie too.”
And, yes, the Oscar dream is still alive. However, Amudhan declares that it isn’t his only credible goal. “I should make people like my films. That is important. Becoming the highest paid director or working with big stars – although there is nothing wrong with it – are not things I would enjoy.”
The literally-titled Rendavathu Padam is Amudhan’s long-delayed second film. Amudhan has had to tell the entire universe that it is not a spoof, but a regular feature film, and not a sequel to Thamizh Padam. “It seemed to be the next natural choice. But I couldn’t find myself doing a sequel.”
So, he wrote Rendavathu Padam. “It is a genre-bender,” explains Amudhan, “What I have tried doing in Rendavathu Padam is Tarantino-esque. Which is to get all the regular ingredients in a film, but produce it in an unlikely way. A normal audience would certainly think that it is new.”
Rendavathu Padam is about three friends who live in Triplicane. One of them is an assassin, and one is a CBI Officer who is on the lookout for the other. But they live under the same roof. “It is like Mr. & Mrs. Smith. But Rendavathu Padam is more fantastic than that.” Amudhan reckons that an ‘improbable idea creates opportunities for farce, thrilling moments, and funny situations’. “I am happy exploring the kind of ideas that are hard to bracket. Where I need not worry about genres.”
Choosing actors for his films is a daunting process, observes Amudhan. His movies are not formulaic. “Some actors that I considered for Rendavathu Padam didn’t get the script. Others wanted to make sure their role was the most prominent.” says Amudhan. Dileep Subbarayan, stunt choreographer, introduced Vemal to Amudhan. “I told Vemal that he was going to do something that nobody else has done on screen. Fortunately, he agreed because he was also getting typecast. But casting was a tough battle.” [quote align=’right’]”I still wouldn’t blame actors who are hesitant to test the waters. I am slightly edgier. That is just me. And, I can’t expect everybody to buy into that early in my career.”[/quote]
Amudhan believes that it is hard for the actors to give up on the momentum that they have built to try an unconventional role. However, he points out that Karthi tried it in Madras and Dhanush has always been keen to diversify.
“I still wouldn’t blame actors who are hesitant to test the waters. I am slightly edgier. That is just me. And, I can’t expect everybody to buy into that early in my career.”
Out of the box thinking might be his fillip, but Amudhan warns me that I shouldn’t be surprised if he quits all the “offbeat nonsense” to write a typical story tomorrow. “I can’t rule out anything because, firstly, I thought I would never become a filmmaker.”
*****Amudhan saw his mother every day at school. She was the principal. Then, his first year of college was spent at an institution where his father was the dean. “Those days were harrowing, nightmarish…” Amudhan laughs heartily. Later, he enrolled in an engineering college to study Electronics and Communication. Even during his school days, he had dreamt of working in an ad agency. “After engineering, I tired hard to join an ad agency. It wasn’t easy, but my family was very supportive,” he recalls.
Amudhan got his chance when an acquaintance wanted a hand to run his ad agency. “I learnt everything about the ad world in a week. Just like how Shiva learns Bharatanatyam in Thamizh Padam,” he chuckles. His team’s work was considered ‘sensational’ by their clients. “It was always about shocking the consumers.” Still business started to slowdown, as marketing methods started to change.
Amudhan decided to move to Dubai, but just as things were looking up, the economy became turbulent. “I came back to India and decided to make some tele-films. I toyed with the idea of making a spoof for TV. Something that would be different from Lollu Sabha,” he says. Fortunately for him, he befriended Sashikanth (of Y Not Studios). He was his client’s employee then, and helped Amudhan establish contacts in the industry to produce Thamizh Padam.
“We thought of hiring someone to direct it. But I later realised that the story was mine. Only I would know when the audience should be made to laugh… So, I agreed to direct it myself,” he says. Amudhan learnt film-making techniques on the job.
On the first day, when the cinematographer asked Amudhan to “order” the start of shoot, he took it literally, and yelled “order” a couple of times to bring the unit back to work. “But he (the cinematographer) was expecting me to say ‘camera, rolling… ‘,” he smiles.
Planning doesn’t come in handy at all times, says Amudhan sagely. “The worst phase of my career – when I had to leave Chennai for Dubai – turned out to be favourable. If that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have now become a filmmaker.”
Amudhan has had to wait nearly five years for his second film to hit the screens. “I don’t sulk. It is stressful. But I always believe that every testing period leads to bigger, happier things in life. My experiences have taught me that.” [quote align=’right’]”We have sensible officials at the Censor Board. But I have a problem with the Tamil Nadu Government’s policy on providing tax exemptions only to films that get a U certificate.”[/quote]
Amudhan also has two scripts ready. And thanks to that, he didn’t tear up his hair and get frustrated when his film was temporarily shelved. “I must also admit that cinema is not my life. People become furious when I say that on forums. I would be glad to produce a music album, or write a novel… Anything that challenges me would keep me happy. The process of executing it must be fulfilling.”
He reveals that he still finds ads as exciting as cinema.
Amudhan does not believe tailoring his work to suit an audience. “I am not saying it in a derogatory manner. But, I can’t write for an audience,” he says. “Two people who are quite similar to each other in all respects might have different opinions about a particular movie. One might love it, and the other might hate it,” Amudhan adds.
If filmmakers only create what people want, Amudhan tells me, they would never do anything path-breaking. “Viewers don’t always know what they like. If we ask movie-goers if they’d like to watch a violent rape, their answer would be no. But that is what we saw in Paruthiveeran‘s climax. Everyone raved about it. Audiences won’t know how a film could be done aesthetically, creatively, until it’s shown to them.”
Switching gears, Amudhan tells me about the pressures that prevent him from making the type of movie he wants to. The Central Board of Film Certification’s guidelines, and the Tamil Nadu Government’s policy on tax exemptions. “I agree that we have sensible officials at the Censor Board. We can interact with them when our films are being censored. They give insights. But I have a problem with the Tamil Nadu Government’s policy on providing tax exemptions only to films that get a U certificate,” he says.
Rendavadhu Padam was given a U/A certificate. The producer wanted to get a U so he could benefit from the tax exemption. When they approached the CBFC, the board pointed out that the film is thematically adult. “If I make a film about bachelors living in Triplicane, drinking often, and walking about in their underwear, obviously, my film would be U/A. The problem is the correlation between the tax exemption policy and a film’s certificate,” he points out. Amudhan explains that if there is a great film that celebrates Tamil culture, it should be exempted from entertainment taxes irrespective of the certificate.
“I can’t make the kind of movie that I want because of that policy. I have to water down 25% of my content. Or I will have to get a rock-solid producer, who does not care about money,” he says.
Amudhan has started writing lyrics for movies again, with YOLO for KV Anand’s Anegan. He had earlier written the rap bits for the song Maddy Maddy in Minnale. The gibberish song in Thamizh Padam was his too. “I tried hiding the fact that I wrote the rap lyrics for Minnale,” he laughs. “It was cool then. But not anymore. It was sweet of Harris to give me credits.” He was paid Rs 2,000 for his work on Minnale. “It was huge then, wasn’t it?”
When he was in college, Amudhan managed a rock-band. He has an ear for ragas, thanks to his family of singers. He can identify the Melakarta ragas by listening to the tunes, and is a big fan of heavy metal music. He also points out that some of the metal songs have got Carnatic roots. “For instance, the popular song Wherever I May Roam by Metallica is based on mayamalavagowla.” And he adds, “I am a Raja fan, okay!”
He draws pleasure from watching films of his favourite directors: R Sundarrajan, Manivannan, and Gangai Amaran. “What today’s filmmakers struggle to do – blend comedy, romance, songs, and drama – they did effortlessly. All three of them were underrated because media was not big then, and critics were not really educated.”
Amudhan would watch Vaidhegi Kaathirundhaal, Karakattakaran, Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu and other films of his favourite trio over and over again. “Their work was indigenous and I want my work to be as original as theirs. That is what I aspire to do.”
The CS Amudhan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.