When Ajith proposed the idea of remaking Pink to director H Vinoth, he did not immediately agree to do it. He had his doubts, and one of his first responses was that a woman would be better suited to direct the film. Ajith was confident about his offer, but Vinoth was apprehensive. “As a director, I need to tell my actors why a character responds or emotes the way she does in different situations. I wasn’t sure if I would understand these emotions and the film the same way a female director would,” says Vinoth, days after Nerkonda Paarvai’s trailer released to much appreciation.
This was Vinoth’s first meeting with Ajith after months of trying to reach him. It was to be his third film after Sathuranga Vettai and Theeran Athigaaram Ondru, movies that showcased him as a writer and director to look out for. The script he had was for a big budget film featuring a protagonist with negative shades to his character, and Vinoth felt the role was apt for Ajith.
“I believe there’s a right time for every movie,” says Vinoth. He told Ajith he would meet him once again to narrate the story of Pink in a line. If they were on the same page, they could go ahead.
“I watched the film many times and saw that the story, its screenplay and dialogues were built around a simple premise. The film tells us how we see and understand women, and how we must see them. Ajith Sir said he thought so too. Interestingly, he wanted to do the film because he said he had stalked women in his movies and this would be a chance to make up for that. Conversations like these were completely new to someone like me; I haven’t spoken much to women at work or outside before. This film turned out to be a big learning,” he says.
Nerkonda Paarvai largely sticks to the same plot as Pink. It tells the story of a woman who is molested and charged with attempted murder by men in power. Her neighbour, a lawyer, fights the case in court. Ajith reprises Amitabh Bachchan’s role in the remake, Shraddha Srinath plays Taapsee Pannu’s role, and Abhirami Venkatachalam and Andrea Taising play her flatmates.
Vinoth, Ajith and the film’s producer Boney Kapoor were clear they didn’t want to make changes to the plot. “Ajith sir is younger than Amitabh Sir, so we altered some parts of that character. There are also some action scenes and two songs, but the story remains untouched.”
Vinoth met Aniruddha Roy Chowdhry, the writer of Pink, to refine details and get the translations right. But, the hardest was pre-production and casting. They looked for actors who were relatively new to the industry, but who could also match the performances of Taapsee and others from the original.
“Shraddha came to Chennai while working on Jersey, and I asked my ADs to approach her for an audition. It was a short 10 to 20 second video, and I liked it instantly. Shraddha lives the character she plays and is quick to understand emotions. We were looking for these qualities. Every artiste we selected had a job outside of being an actor, especially in Tamil cinema. Andrea is a singer in a band in her home town Shillong; Abhirami is a model; Shraddha is a lawyer who works in films across languages; Adhik Ravichander, who plays the antagonist, is also a film director; Sujith Shankar is a Malayalam writer and the grandson of EMS Namboodiripad; Arjun Chidambaram is part of a band; and Ashwin Rao is a director. What was endearing was that, on sets, they all came with different experiences and were hard-working.”
With Ajith too, it was just as free and comfortable as working with a newcomer, says Vinoth. But did he make compromises to the women-centric film, because a big star was on board? Vinoth says, “One needs to think about such a compromise if the hero asks for it. Here, the hero, producer and director were clear about what they wanted from the film. The producer did not wish to make it commercial for the sake of profit, the hero insisted on sticking to the story and not let his star value get in between, I didn’t wish to change the content or earn any name by doing it either.”
The story also retains the original portions about pre-marital sex and women drinking. “I don’t think the film judges anything. All it speaks about is consent. If a woman says no, it means no. It’s simple as that.” He adds that to him, Nerkonda Paarvai is not a fwomen-centric film or specific to any genre. “It is a film that opens up discussion about gender and consent. It prods us to move forward, because questioning ideas about culture and breaking rules formed 50 years ago is also cultural development and growth. Ultimately, men and women are not different from each other, and must co-exist. So, if we reduce the conflict between us, we can effectively use our energy elsewhere.”
The film talks of all this while being entertaining and commercial, and Vinoth says both he and Ajith are hoping the star’s fans will enjoy it as much as others. “We all complain that there are no good politicians, no good films. So, when a star like Ajith takes a big step outside his comfort zone to act in a good film, the hope is that his fans and the audience will do so too.”
The H Vinoth interview is a Silverscreen exclusive