Ravikumar is the latest director to emerge from CV Kumar’s stables. Like his ‘seniors’ Nalan and Karthik Subbaraj, Ravi too went the Naalaya Iyakkunar route. And now four years later, his film is on the verge of release. It has a suitably quirky premise – characteristic of a Thirukumaran production, and of course, a generous dash of comedy. While Karthik Subbaraj tweaked the horror genre, Ravi is looking to science and fantasy for his debut effort.
As a young boy, Ravikumar often spent his time staring at the sky – dreaming of the wide expanse that was the galaxy.
He felt insignificant. “We are but small specks of life, when you think about it,” he says. And oddly enough, Ravi found the experience exhilarating.
“We cannot even begin to imagine the kind of world out there. Don’t you find it fascinating?”
That’s another thing about this first time director – he is a curious mix of the rational and the fantastic. Just like his film, I quickly realise. In keeping with his lifelong passion for all things science, Ravikumar’s debut film, Indru Netru Naalai plays with the concept of time travel, a first for Tamil audience. Also, Ravi chose to make the reasons behind the character’s time travel more personal. “Using the machine to go back in time to stop a bad event, say a massacre, is an idea. Usually, when people find a powerful thing that changes reality, they use it as this wish fulfillment thing. Nobody’s going to reject their own desires in favour of saving the world. As an idea, it sounds great. But that’s just not reality.”
It’s this kind of thinking that keeps the film rooted, he explains. “The audience is more aware of the world now. There are things that previous filmmakers got away with that the present generation can’t. The viewers expect a certain realism from their stories. Gone are the days when stars played characters that people could aspire to. Now they play people that simply are. So when you do films in this scenario, you have to adapt to it.”
CV Kumar’s sensibilities as a producer aligned with Ravi’s way of thinking. The two hit it off from the very beginning, leading to a very satisfying creative partnership. “CV Kumar sir was impressed by the story I narrated. I took some time to script it, but he would keep calling me up to check on my progress. My story is unlike others in that way. I had a producer who constantly asked me when we could begin shoot. Not the other way round.”
However, his fondness for scientific reasoning did not manifest itself completely in the film. That’s where his more rational side took over. “You’ve all watched Hollow Man right? Would you watch it if the film was all about how he became invisible? Wouldn’t you rather want to watch how he uses this new power? Isn’t that idea more interesting than boring people to death with the details? To click on things, you need a mouse. You don’t look too deeply into how it works right? Like that, to travel to a place, you need a vehicle. That vehicle in Indru Netru Naalai is the time travel machine. The temptation is great to go into the specifics and explain how exactly it was made. But, I held firm. It’s a film, not a making video.”
A former associate of Nalan Kumarasamy, Ravikumar credits his experience to Naalaya Iyakkunar and Kana Kaanum Kaalangal, which have given him the confidence to direct a feature film. “I don’t have a degree that says I am a certified director. I didn’t study to be one. I learnt by experience, working as associate on Soodhu Kavvum and then directing sixty episodes for KKK. I don’t know if sitting in a classroom could have prepared me any better for the real thing.”
The Kana Kaanum Kaalangal gig was also something that came via Nalan. “Sir had to go script Soodhu Kavvum, so I stepped in. The feeling of being in control of such a big endeavor is surreal. I came to Madras to tell stories through my video camera and here I was, telling someone else’s stories. It didn’t sit well with me. So once Nalan sir told me that he was halfway done writing, I walked off to join him.”
The idea was not to make it big in cinema. He wanted simply to be a part of the action. “Film industry is like a huge five star hotel. I just wanted a place to call my own in it. It could very well be a hut, and I’d be fine. Making my voice heard is what I’m after. Fame is secondary!”
He’s also quite insistent that Mia George’s role is not that only of a ‘love interest’. “I find it demeaning to classify actresses simply as the girlfriend or the amma of the hero. Why should the man be the most important part of a film? Haven’t we all seen Gravity? Interstellar? Do the women stay in the background in those films? Why should we be content to showcase our women like that?”
Mia’s role, he tells me, is a powerful one. Take her character out of the film, and it ceases to exist. “Mia is a very talented actress. Looking at her as simply this person who appears in the romance portions of the film is to do her talent injustice. In Indru Netru Naalai, she is so much more than just Vishnu Vishal’s girlfriend.” Exactly what it is she does though, is something we all have to see for ourselves at the theatres this Friday.
Vishnu Vishal’s casting was a ‘no brainer’ says Ravi. “He had the looks and the presence that I was looking for. See, I am a first time director with a different script. Leading heroes would come with their own image and that would have overshadowed the story. I was very particular about the kind of person I wanted to lead this film. Vishnu Vishal was that guy. He’s very guy next door and his acting skills are also very natural. Nothing over the top.”
The script demanded a different kind of music and so Ravi turned to music composing duo Hip Hop Tamizha. “Their sounds are really fresh. Their ideas and youthful energy really transformed the film. They made composing really fun. They are always enthusiastic and super optimistic. Whenever I left their studio, I felt transformed. It’s like that feeling you get when you are drenched in the rain.”
A commerce graduate, Ravikumar admits that taking up films was a big gamble for him. Still is. “Like everybody else, my family too was apprehensive of the decision I’d made. The life I chose was not something that I knew about. For a while there, when I was earning seventy thousand directing serial episodes, they grew confident. But once I quit that to follow Nalan, they were doubtful again. Now, they seem a little better. Only time will tell.”
When he’s not keeping up with Mangalyaan’s achievements in Space, Ravikumar prefers to spend time poring over the latest that science has to offer. “When I was in school, I wrote to Dinamalar asking them to include more news about space. Science will always be my lifelong muse.”
The Ravikumar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.