In conversation with the award-winning filmmaker, Seenu Ramasamy, whose Maamanithan, hit the screens today.
Last Updated: 05.48 AM, Jun 24, 2022
For someone who has poignantly portrayed the pain of people, Seenu Ramasamy comes across as a cheerful man. The award-winning director is on a quest to provide a wholesome experience for movie-goers. “That sense of thirst is part of your living. You have to keep asking questions within and constantly look around you,” he smiles. Seenu Ramasamy's long-delayed film, Maamanithan, featuring Vijay Sethupathi and Gayathrie Shankar, hit the screens today.
The director is interested in telling people’s stories. In specific, stories that can connect with everyone. Seenu Ramasamy believes that any individual can be defined completely by aspects of his or her environment. “The land on which people live is nearly impossible to separate from them. Their livelihood is tied to the land. Characters can't be separated from the landscape. A barren land, for example, leads to robberies.”
In Koodal Nagar or Neer Paravai, Seenu Ramasamy makes a detailed study of the social history of the people in various geographical locations. Thenmerku Paruvakatru, for instance, occurs on the 'Marutham' land (cropland) with squabbles between two families. As the setting of Neer Paravai is the 'Neithal' landform (sea shore), it represents pining and depicts the life and lifestyle of fishermen.
“The soil in a village, where the crops are grown affects the character of the people. The houses have character, interpretation, and mood, and thus affect their living. The auspicious and inauspicious times of the day have a context, too. And, everything has an emotion attached to it. If you define enough of these contexts of an individual's environment, then you have defined someone pretty well,” explains Seenu Ramasamy.
As a filmmaker with an eye for realistic depictions, he has beaten off commercial challenges. “Filmmaking is a chance I've been given and I see every opportunity as a way to prove my worth in society,” cites Seenu Ramasamy, who made his mentor Balu Mahendra proud by winning three National Awards for his second venture, Thenmerku Paruvakatru.
The most crucial lesson Seenu Ramasamy learned from Balu Mahendra was that there would always be hurdles in making good movies. “It's like cycling against a strong wind. However, good cinema always triumphs in the end. Perhaps, whatever I showcase, it's a minority taste, but it's a big minority and there will be an audience for it,” he laughs. The filmmaker stresses the importance of engaging people with culturally-rich stories. “The opportunity to see your culture, your country in the form of a high-quality film is comparable to nothing else!”
Exposure to cinema and literature broadened Seenu Ramasamy's worldview. “I don't think modern-day directors have the freedom to experiment. Being a filmmaker today is quite difficult. People like Bharathiraja, K Balachander, and Balu Mahendra had more freedom to express themselves in the 1980s,” he observes.
Further, Seenu Ramasamy says, the film festivals he attended were an eye-opener to the kind of films he wants to make. “I realised that there is a lot of good cinema that should be seen. There are extremely talented filmmakers out there. One half of the world remains shut out to us.”
Seenu Ramasamy feels films are an intellectual discourse between the audience and the filmmaker. That explains his body of work, and the diverse themes his films have dwelt on. “Stories from different lands and people have always been of interest to me. I was often attracted to the stories for the good drama they contained, and conflict often provides the base for good drama.”
Speaking about Maamanithan, Seenu Ramasamy says, “The film will be an experience in itself. Although it has been a delayed release, the core is still relevant and will be. Films based on family relationships are usually well-received and Maamanithan will be no exception.”
The Maamanithan director thinks it is important to have special interests as a filmmaker. “Because if you move from subject to subject, for me it becomes a bit frustrating as you cannot acquire in-depth knowledge on a particular area. My films fall under a specific category, and I want them to be that way!”
As Maamanithan took shape, Seenu Ramasamy's sense of engagement became stronger. “I started just wanting to understand my characters. The focus, ultimately, was on the complexity of their thought processes and lives. The core of Maamanithan is my journey with these characters, and my understanding of life, through these people. That’s what you have to be honest to, and not about being true to the title.”
Known for his realistic way of making films, Seenu Ramasamy says he does not depend on superstars. “I chose Vijay Sethupathi because I knew he would be apt for the character sketch and the script. I admire his dedication. Though he and I share a great comfort level, it takes a lot for a hero like him to sign Maamanithan. When I told him the script of this one, he blindly said ‘yes’. That shows the amount of faith that he has in me. I am always indebted to Vijay Sethupathi. He has not changed one bit. He's the same actor I knew in Thenmerku Paruvakaatru!”
Maamanithan's heroine Gayathrie Shankar is an actor, who despite her looks and potential hasn’t gone places in Tamil cinema. “I like to humanise my characters, and wanted to write a strong woman character, who remains unperturbed by any situation. I saw Gayathrie without make-up on and she filled the bill. I never complimented her for her work, but when she got completely involved with her character and broke down for a scene without the help of glycerine, I knew she had arrived.”
The filmmaker is eager to see how the performances of Vijay Sethupathi and Gayathrie Shankar would be received. “If you choose people and emotions as focus areas, you are not going to run out of stories to tell. It's a source above all political stories. Most people's lives here, in one way or the other, are dominated by politics. It's inescapable, and a source of drama.”
Seenu Ramasamy assures that no character was purposefully inserted into the screenplay. “The characters' simplicity fits perfectly with the persona of my actors. Maamanithan is rooted in culture and has a lot of emotional depth. It’s character-driven and we have tried to make the film visually stunning. Each story has its character and the place is chosen accordingly. Alappuzha has its character and Varanasi has its own.”
Seenu Ramasamy loves to read, hear and write about human relationships and family intrigue. “If I can bring to light the sufferings of people with considerable success, it is because I relate to them better. I identify with their pain.” And, he attributes this to his “small-town upbringing!”
Commenting on Maamanithan's songs, the director says, “Simply creating good music would not do in this case; it needed to have a certain character. Precisely, why I had gone to Ilaiyaraaja sir and Yuvan. Amid a lot of misunderstandings and disappointments, the result has been deeply satisfying.”
Ask Seenu Ramasamy if it’s a challenge to stay away from commercial cinema; he says he's not opposed to commercial cinema and wants to follow in Balu Mahendra's footsteps. “I have learned from him how to craft a scene. Though he is not a fan of 'formula' films, Balu sir pulled the two extremes; arthouse cinema and popular films, closer together and produced a medium cinema that is suitable for exhibition at international festivals, while still being economically successful. Realistic films always thrive, and if I can convey my narrative convincingly, I will succeed.”