Silverscreen’s interview of H Vinoth, who makes his debut as a director with Sathuranga Vettai.
H Vinoth does not believe in subtlety. Or understatement. “Life is messy,” he says dramatically, “loud and in your face. I like it this way.” Not for him the no-drama cinema of today, where “everybody is all how do you do and would you like some tea. People are not really that polite in real life; they are more likely to punch you in the face than offer you tea and speak to you like the English Rani.”
His debut film Sathuranga Vettai, is his attempt to subvert this. The hero of the piece, Gandhibabu may be a conman but he is brutally honest in his own twisted way. “Our society has a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the bad guys, especially in movies. All our Tamil film villains have no work ethic, moral code or honour. People can never be that black and white!” he exclaims.
Vinoth grew up in a small town near Vellore and came to Chennai ‘way back’ in 1999. “Everybody immediately assumes that I came to Chennai with my ‘potti’ packed to do films. Adhu oru bayangaramana mistake madam! I came here to do a diploma course in Electrical Engineering and even worked for a while.” His cinema ‘vaazhkai’ began more out of a sense of dissatisfaction and boredom with the life he was leading. “It was not an idealistic decision by any means,” he admits.[quote align=’right’]”In India, cons are more sentiment based. It’s the land of the fake Swamijis who fleece millions out of people and chit fund owners who’re there one day and gone the next. When we have all this here, why look abroad for inspiration?”[/quote]
Moreover, Vinoth thought Tamil films then were pretty tepid. Movies followed a set pattern – there would be the love song, the village thiruvizha song, the sexy item number and finally, the evil villain soora samhaaram. He felt that he could turn out a ‘vastly superior’ product if given the chance. “It was a case of youthful arrogance. Edho thimirula vandhutten. I thought I knew everything and that I could make a movie just like that!” He snaps his fingers. “But, inga ulla vandhuttu dhaan therinjudhu. Padam panradhu evlo difficultnu! ”
This ‘late realization’ as he calls it was good for him in more ways than one. He began to assist director Vijay Milton and learnt everything that he could about filmmaking. “Seven long years. Pasumai aana naatkal! I made good friends, had the opportunity to interact with people like R Parthiepan, Raju Murugan and others like them. They shaped my way of thinking.” Vinoth gravitated towards Parthiepan’s style of filmmaking initially and tried to think like him. Unsuccessfully. “That was my first and last experience with aping somebody’s style. I learnt that it is an intrinsic process. It can be copied, but at best, it will be a very pale copy.”
[quote align=’left’]”Everybody is all how do you do and would you like some tea. People are not really that polite in real life; they are more likely to punch you in the face than offer you tea and speak to you like the English Rani.” [/quote]The experience made him all the more intent to create a style and space for himself. Romantic movies were out of the question, he says. “Even comedies I can attempt. But, romance might be a little difficult I think!” He refuses to elaborate on this and instead tells us the story behind his debut film. Sathuranga Vettai was the result of two years of toil. For the con part of the film, Vinoth didn’t have to look far for inspiration. “The Hollywood con movies are more popular, but they depend way too much on high tech gadgets and what not. It’s also very clinical and intelligent. The audience will appreciate how clever the film is but not really relate to the plot!” So, he made a conscious decision to stay away from Western plots, and instead drew inspiration from the Tamil scam artists who sell everything from ‘chittu kuruvi leghiyams’ to chit funds. “In India, cons are more sentiment based. It’s the land of the fake Swamijis who fleece millions out of people and chit fund owners who’re there one day and gone the next. When we have all this here, why look abroad for inspiration?”
He had a very good idea, but he didn’t find any takers at first. “Once the script is done, there’s always this waiting game that we have to play. Wait and wait and wait, till you get the right producer, right cast and the right crew. I was prepared for it.” So he waited.
Eventually, things fell in place. But only eventually. He has Soodhu Kavvum director Nalan Kumarasamy to thank for all of this, and more importantly, Nalan’s mother. “I gave the script to Nalan and he promised to refer me to his producer friends. Nalan’s mother saw it lying somewhere, read it and was impressed, I guess. Because she immediately told Nalan to read it as well.”[quote align=’right’]I thought I knew everything and that I could make a movie just like that!” He snaps his fingers. “But, inga ulla vandhuttu dhaan therinjudhu. Padam panradhu evlo difficultnu! ” [/quote]
He will never forget what Nalan had to say to him – “Indha film – ah nee sumara eduthala bayangara hit aayidum!’. “I will always cherish what he said because his words gave me a lot of confidence and inspired me to work hard. Oru nalla drive vandhudhu!” Manobala got onboard the project and gave him everything he wished. Not that he had a lot of demands. “I wanted three things – total creative control over the project, minimal interference from the production side and the best possible actors. Manobala sir gave me all this and more.”
The film’s casting was no easy task since Vinoth was particular about the type of actor he wanted. “I needed someone without any hangups. Most big actors come with their own ideas about how movies should be made. I didn’t want anybody with that mindset.” Director Dharani introduced him to cinematographer ‘Natty’ Natraj, but Vinoth was not really sold on the idea. “Here is this guy that works on 100 crore plus projects and is a big shot cinematographer. I was scared more than anything else.” But, when Natty offered to produce the film and seemed ‘super impressed’ with the script, Vinoth’s fears were allayed. “I saw how invested Natty was in the project and felt really good. Natty konjam hifi aana aalu, but epdiyo wifila connect aagittaru.”
That was just one problem solved for the director. Finding a lead actress was proving to be very complex. For the female lead, he didn’t want any “skinny, beautiful actresses but a real woman that the audience would be able to ‘feel sorry for’.” He was also realistic. “We knew that the more popular actresses would not sign up for a role opposite Natty. And even if they did, they would make way too many demands.”
Vinoth had a very specific set of attributes he wanted in the girl. “I wanted a paavam ponnu with a good attitude. But all I got were these plastic ladies, these ‘Well I See’ girls, as I call them. Romba azhagu, aanal neraiya kuraigal! But my heroine needed to be a woman people could relate to, strong and independent yet vulnerable in some ways.”
They finally zeroed in on Pappali actress Ishaara Nair. She was the most ‘appropriate fit’ for the lead role and was immediately signed on. “Actually, you guys should really pity my heroine. I’ve made her work inhuman hours, in isolated places. We shot the climax sequence in a valley far away from civilisation. We had to use a local unit for the filming and we were cautioned to leave the place after 6 PM as it becomes very dark and unsafe. But we still shot till midnight and Ishaara was with us throughout. She made no demands even when she was extremely tired. I have to really appreciate her for what she did for us that day.”
Sathuranga Vettai took six months to complete and was initially scheduled for a July 25 release. It was advanced suddenly last week, and will now go head to head with Dhanush’s highly anticipated Velaiyilla Pattathari. “These things happen. We were told that VIP might not release on July 18 and we went ahead and advanced the release. But, it’s not really a big worry now. I’m very confident about my film and thankfully, my producers are too.”
Now, can we finally talk about something else?” he asks. We try to get him to reveal some get rich quick schemes, because we were told that he knew quite a lot. “Ok, how about this. If the movie becomes a success, I will call you and share some ideas.”
1. Sean Roldan’s music is the absolute best part of Sathuranga Vettai claims H Vinoth. Sean is also the most perfect fit for a ‘con artist’. “He can make anybody believe absolutely anything!”
2. ‘Well I See’ girls – Girls with fake accents, a little acting ability and a big attitude problem.
3. H Vinoth is 32 and plans to marry soon. Sooner, if the film is a success.
4. Vinoth has a lot of get rich quick ideas. He refused to share any with us, though.
The H Vinoth interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.