Pa Ranjith’s Tamil has an old-fashioned purity to it. That’s not just the way he speaks. That’s how he thinks, too.
His cinema is unsullied and realistic. And that’s precisely the way he wants it.
Naan paathu, sandicha aatkalum anubhavangalum cinemava edhuthu kaatiyirukken.
I begin with the latest news doing the rounds. That Suriya is his next hero.
Avar vandhu paatharu. He liked my one-liner.
Ranjith doesn’t elaborate. He’s quite composed; a man who is too immersed in his craft to be in awe of stars. Scripting is something he is willing to talk about, though. Especially the ‘sparks of inspiration’ that he gets now and then.
Engeyaavadhu paakarappo, pesarappo dhideernu varum story. I don’t write for the sake of writing. Yedhavadhu oru edathula, I will get a stroke of inspiration.
He loves the period during which the story ‘evolves’ within him.
Semma magical process.
That’s where Ranjith belongs. He’s from a village called Karlapakkam near Avadi. Having graduated from Egmore Fine Arts College, Ranjith recalls travelling through various other areas of
North Madras while studying. He was fascinated by what he saw.
Naan porandha idatha paththi oru kadhai sollanum nu ninaichituirundhen.
And even before he began writing his script, Ranjith went back home to do some research. He took stock of their body language, their sports, the fashion, behaviour and dialogues.
Neraya aangila vaarthaikal nuzhanjirukku.
Before shooting, he went back again. This time, for the setting. He wanted to bring the backdrop to life. Especially the street from where the hero strolls into the frame. It was recreated painstakingly. Realism, Ranjith sternly observes, cannot be compromised.
Every element was captured with authenticity. The movie mirrored the angst and depression of the youth of North Madras.
Chinna veedula peria kudumbathey vechukittu…
The aggression, he says, stems from there. From being robbed of basic facilities like water. And more importantly, the right to live.
Kaali is a man with a lot of bottled-up anger. He always glowers, with barely-controlled aggression. That’s how, Ranjith explains, an average North Madras resident behaves.
Eyy yennna… would be a common greeting.
Madras’ heroine – Kalai Arasi – is also symbolic of the women he has grown up watching.
Avanga romba bold and sharpa iruppaanga. Oru vishayathilumey vittu kodukka maatanga.
That applies to their sex life, too.
Living together and widow remarriage ellam romba common angey.
There’s nothing strange about seeing a North Madras woman pick a fight with the police or local politicians over water shortage or electricity problems, he says.
Poradina pengal athikam.
Ranjith’s leaning towards realistic cinema has got a lot to do with the kind of movies he prefers watching.
Children of Heaven. Life is Beautiful. Run, Lola Run. Cinema Paradiso.
He singles out The Battle of Algiers (1966) as a film that made a deep impact on his sensibility.
Aantha padathiley, arasiyalum kalai thanmaiyum avalo arpudhamayirukkum. Athu ennudaya vazhikatti padam.
This was during college in 2006.
Also, the 2002 cult classic – City of God – changed his thinking. It was a whole new world of story-telling. And, he liked the idea of bringing several tiny tales together.
Nareya characters use pannanam enra idea ithilerndhu thaan vandhadhu.
Ranjith was introduced to world cinema in college; he never missed the annual film festivals.
Indha maathiri oru ulagam irukku nu appo thaan theriyum.
He also joined the film chamber and religiously watched films.
It was after an unmemorable stint as an AD for a movie called Thakappan Swami that he decided to join N Lingusamy. That’s where he met Venkat Prabhu, who requested him to prepare a story-board for a Malaysian album he was doing at that time.
Soon, he found himself on the sets of Chennai 28 as an AD. As a rule ADs are not allowed inside the editing room, but Venkat Prabhu thought differently. Ranjith recalls being a part of all discussions.
Avaru assistant directorsa thittamaataru. He used to treat us as equals.
That’s the kind of atmosphere he would maintain on the sets as well.
Shooting spot romba jollya irukkum Even the stunt masters were calm. Ithu vela seyyara idam. Inga manasu novatha vela pannanum nu solluvaaru.
But Ranjith’s filmmaking is quite different from the Venkat Prabhu genre. His guru would be his professor from college – Chandru.
Romba mukhyamana aalu.
Chandru taught him everything about a canvas: characterisation, composition, colour sense, balance…
Ranjith loves François Truffaut, one of the founders of French New Wave cinema.
Avarudey thathvavum, thodarbu kolthalkalum, velipaduthalukalum romba mukhiyamanathu. He brings everything into his craft.
He also reads a lot. Mostly cinema katturaigal written by Yamuna Rajendra, Stalin Rajendran, Azhagiya Periyavan and Perumal Murugan.
J Mahendran’s movies have been a major attraction, especially Uthiri Pookkal and Mullum Malarum. When Tamil cinema celebrated films like Salangai Oli, Ranjith was more drawn towards a filmmaker who bettered his craft with serious characterisations and detailing.
Ranjith thinks Rajinikanth has never since done the kind of heroism seen in Mullum Malarum.
Do you recall the scene in which he talks to Sarath Babu about his character? Semma scene adhu!
Ranjith betrays the first hint of a smile.
In Bollywood, he likes Anurag Kashyap. Gangs of Wasseypur and Dev D are favourites.
Erkanavey pazhakkapatta kathaya contemporary style la solradhu romba bayangaramana kaaryam.
In Dev D, he also liked the characterisation of Paro, who comes back after the wedding to wash her ex-lover’s clothes. Chandra will finally get together with Dev.
Romba savalaana vishayam adhu.
He also likes Iranian films.
CV Kumar was running a travel agency when Ranjith met him. It was around that time when CVK was planning to make a film. But the producer was also wary of getting cheated after a film got stalled midway. He almost went back to Madurai. That’s when their common friend – Mani – called him back and told him to trust Ranjith.
Ungala emaathatha naan paathukaren. Neenga enna nambunga, Mani had told CVK.
CV Kumar took his word. He completed the film in 50 days on a budget of 1.75 crores.
Ranjith thinks music should always blend with mood of the story; it should have the same acoustics. Songs and scenes should convey the same emotion. For Madras, he didn’t even change the location for any song.
Just visualise it as part of a scene, not a song or fight.
That was his brief to the cinematographer and the choreographer.
Songs oru thani album maari irukka koodathu.
As a child, Ranjith wanted to become a painter. When in college, he thought of art direction. He still does both.
Ranjith only makes movies that he believes in. Genres don’t interest him. He just wants to bring ordinary lives and politics together.
His next, he says, is an ‘action-drama’.
He also loves the “young contemporary cinema movement” in Tamil cinema today.
Jigarthanda, Sathuranga Vettai, Soodhu Kavvum.
It’s a smart blend of mainstream and parallel cinema.
Craftey maathi irukkomnu nenaikiren. Namakku pudikkara cinema makkalakku pudikkara cinema va maari irukku.
And that’s precisely why, to Ranjith, Madras is more of an emotion, and not just a city.
The Ranjith interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.