“Just Believe in yourself!“ -Vetrimaraan

By Suyash Kamat

“Vetrimaaran.  The word itself has victory in it,” Bharat Bala said as he introduced the celebrated Tamil film director at IFFI’s ‘In Conversation’ session on 24th Nov. There was a heady air of excitement, and much fanboy-ism spilling over in the fully packed auditorium, everyone waiting and eager to hear from the figure who has inspired so many to take up filmmaking.
The 40-year-old debuted with ‘Polladhavan’ (2007). His follow-up, ‘Aadukalam’ (2011) won five National Film Awards. Bala asked Vetrimaraan about the thematic motif of violence in these movies. The answer was “I write anything that keeps me engaged and lets me grow as a person. It’s only after writing the script that I realize it is violent. It’s just within me.” Along with his mentor Balu Mahendra, Vetrimaraan has been influential in infusing strong realistic themes into mainstream Tamil cinema. He says “the connect a viewer has with a film becomes much greater when it deals with basic universal truths.”
The plain-speaking director shared anecdotes with his rapt audience about early days as a college graduate, when he worked as an assistant under the revered auteur, Balu Mahendra. Admitting he was “insubordinate” and resistant to authority at the time, Vetrimaraan said he once threw a notepad at his mentor for not agreeing with him, then quit. But some weeks later Mahendra gave him another chance, urging a choice between “films or ego.” Looking back, Vetrimaraan sees a turning point, “we begin to learn when we take responsibility.”
Bala talked about the changing tastes of mainsteam audiences, which he said have begun to see films as fragmentary halves. Vetrimaaran agreed that attention spans reduced with the advent of smartphones and the internet, “it seems only film students can take films as a whole, “but that is a problem we all have to live with”. The director strongly believes a movie is made first for its own local audience, “if my own people cannot connect with my film, then there’s something wrong with me, not with them.”
When the session was opened up to questions, Vetrimaaran shared quite a bit of wisdom with his audience, relating most of his answers to personal experiences, laced with practical advice drawn from years in the trade. Many aspiring filmmakers present wanted to get his secret formula on how to “crack the code”, to keep their voice alive in an industry strongly guided by commerce and a relentless focus on the bottom line. Vetrimaraan said he believed most of them had already honed and developed their craft, now he advised a focus on “the what” instead of “the how”, a conscious choice to explore art instead of obsessing over technique. “Believe in yourself! Trust your intuition,” he urged his avid audience.

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