The RS Prasanna Interview where he talks about his spiritual quest, meeting a ‘cool Swami’ and why he is treading carefully at home these days.
RS Prasanna is like that friend we all have, the one who always makes sense. That guy who knows something about everything and is always entertaining. When we first call him for an interview, he’s a little busy. The first look pictures of his upcoming English movie, The Quest, have just been released and almost everyone is trying to get in touch with him. His recent documentary on Balu Mahendra – Masterclass with Balu Mahendra – is not helping either. Prasanna’s phone just wouldn’t stop ringing. But the sudden media attention doesn’t seem to have bothered him at all. On the contrary, he handles it quite beautifully; and talks to us like a long-lost friend. “It is hard to get me to shut up,” he begins with a playful warning, “I talk a lot.”
Prasanna is right. His mind does wander; he touches upon a wide variety of subjects in a span of few minutes. He talks about his “surprise” second movie, The Quest – a biopic of Swami Chinmayananda, his Balu Mahendra tribute, his debut venture, Kalyana Samayal Sadham, and without any warning whatsoever, his wife. He has been very busy indeed, since the release of KSS. “I promised my wife that I will devote all my time to help her look after our son,” he declares, “and as soon as I said that, I was on-board The Quest as the director.” The wife wasn’t impressed. “She was very irritated,” laughs Prasanna, “probably still is. That’s why I’m a little careful at home these days.”[quote align=’right’]“Balu sir considered the film the only living document of his thoughts and ideas. That was praise enough.”[/quote]Prasanna is also a restless soul. In hindsight, he says, a long break wouldn’t have suited him at all. If The Quest hadn’t come along, he would be doing something else, he shrugs. “The movie happened by chance. It’s an interesting story,” Prasanna explains, “When I was travelling, I stopped over at a relative’s place and visited the local Chinmaya Mission. That’s when I heard about it.” Prasana himself is an alumnus of Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Anna Nagar.
The film is a “spiritual journey”, the tale of a man who gave up everything he knew and embraced a vastly different life from the one he was born into. It is the story of Swami Chinmayananda. But, he says, this is not your regular biopic. “There’s this widespread notion that a biopic will be a dry-as-dust experience. So, to counter that accusation, there are certain liberties that a filmmaker takes, in the name of creative license. It’s a tightrope walk, really.” The director insists that he retained ‘full creative control’, even though the script was ready when he came on-board. The bound script intrigued him; for the movie had all the “commercial elements” and was very real.
But Prasanna says he wasn’t interested in glorifying some aspects of Swamiji’s life or excluding the more unsavoury bits. He would rather not show the unsavoury bits. “He was a rebel at heart. And at that time, it spelled trouble to be a revolutionary and a free-thinking journalist. He was both,” says the director. The Swamiji also had several runs-in with the law. “I saw a flesh-and-blood man with a diehard attitude in the script. I wanted to do justice to the man, not the story,” he declares. Thankfully, Chinmaya Mission gave him full creative freedom. In fact, Prasanna pauses for dramatic effect, there were scenes in which I had to show the younger version of Swamiji smoking – this was before he became a Sanyasi – and I felt uncomfortable myself. But Chinmaya Mission insisted that we show him as he was, as he lived. And we shot it like that. No lies. No whitewashing. This was the motivation that Prasanna needed to take up the project. “How many people will be cool with something like that?” he demands.
[quote align=’left’]“She was very irritated,” laughs Prasanna, “probably still is. That’s why I’m a little careful at home these days.”[/quote]Prasanna also had another Swamiji to keep him company on the sets. Swami Mitrananda, the Acharya of the Chennai mission was an intrinsic part of the project. And, he happened to be an ardent fan of world cinema; eager to learn everything about ‘making a movie’. “It was awkward alright,” explains the director, “we had to cut down on using swear words. I did warn him beforehand and even apologised for the words I might use. But he was totally cool with everything. The coolest and most savvy Swami I know!”
The Quest aside, Prasanna was also working quite hard on his tribute to Balu Mahendra. A tinge of hero worship colours his voice when he talks about the late filmmaker. He was a ‘paternal presence’ in Prasanna’s life, as with other directors like Bala and Vetrimaaran. “He let us all grow and become filmmakers in our own right. He never forced his ideas on us; that’s probably why we have vastly different styles.” The Balu Mahendra tribute was something that Prasanna undertook himself. One of the coolest things I got to do, he exclaims. “The Masterclass was done way back in 2007. We got exclusive footage from a variety of sources and we got to talk to almost everyone Balu sir worked with. From Ilaiyaraaja to Kamal Haasan; we sat down with them and recorded their thoughts and experiences.”
Interacting with Balu Mahendra was such a privilege, says the director, “I learnt so much; it was a great opportunity to observe him work, and having him listening to my ideas was an out-of-the-world experience. I used to then wonder about the others who may not have the same privilege I had. So, I wanted to record him and his life for posterity.” That’s how it began, Prasanna says. The LV Prasad Studio decided to produce it and Balu Mahendra devoted much of his time to the initiative. “We had him for long hours at a stretch, talking about his work, his ideas on how to shoot every type of scene. Masterclass is Balu sir explaining Tamil cinema to you. After watching it, even someone totally new to filmmaking will get a thorough understanding of its intricacies.” The movie is now used to teach aspiring filmmakers at Balu Mahendra’s Cinema Pattarai. After the cinematographer’s passing early this year though, Prasanna decided to make it available to everyone, an endeavour for which he is being lauded from all quarters. But, he didn’t do this for glory or fame, he insists. “Balu sir considered the film the only living document of his thoughts and ideas. That was praise enough.”[quote align=’right’]He let us all grow and become filmmakers in our own right. He never forced his ideas on us; that’s probably why we have vastly different styles.[/quote]
Now, almost a year later, there is still no ‘break’ in the horizon for RS Prasanna. He will soon travel abroad to start the final mixing for The Quest; and will return to “making commercial movies” – a quirky and fun romantic comedy with a “big star”. He brushes away our requests for more information with a flippant “nothing has been finalised for now.” But he does oblige after a while. The next movie he is planning will not be a sequel to Kalyana Samayal Saadham. “The sequel will take a while,” he says, adding “Meanwhile, I’m toying with this idea of making a movie about love and life after marriage. It’s a concept that hasn’t been dealt with accurately in Indian cinema, apart from Mouna Raagam. It’s always lights off and cut after the hero gets the heroine. I want to add a twist to that.” So are we in for something with crying babies and busy dads, we venture. “Maybe,” he shrugs, “maybe not.”
But maybe there will be an angry wife in it. Then again, maybe not. With him, you can never tell.