“When They Can Make Such Films, Why Can’t We In Tamil?”: Santhana Bharathi

25 years after the release of Kamal Haasan's Mahanadhi, its director talks about the intention of the film and the process of working with its multi-tasking lead actor
“When They Can Make Such Films, Why Can’t We In Tamil?”: Santhana Bharathi

After working in Kamal Haasan's production, you made Guna and then Mahanadhi with him. How did that come about? He even wrote the script. Did he call you over once he worked on the screenplay or were you involved even while he wrote it?

For Mahanadhi, he had told me what the subject of the film was going to be. Not just me, writer Rakki Rangarajan too was there. First, we discussed a lot of stories but nothing worked out. Then there were breaks in between because he was travelling. We arrived at this subject much later. But he would discuss with us after every draft.

If you give him inputs would he incorporate it?

Yes, he would. Rangarajan would be very strict about certain things. We both objected to certain sex scenes stating it won't be received well.

So, when he told you about the screenplay, what was your thought? Did you feel the story was too gloomy?

I wanted to do something different then. Whether it was sad or happy wasn't a problem. I hadn't heard of a script like Mahanadhi, so I wanted to try it. We had seen so many English films back then. In fact, even Panneer Pushpangal was inspired by a film called Friends. "When they can make such films, why can't we in Tamil?" was the thought. Guna too was similar. Many would ask me why I had not worked with Kamal. I would reply by saying, "if it is with Kamal, it has to unique. It can't be one among many others".

As a director, do you worry about the commercial success of your films? In Mahanadhi, the heroine is introduced 1 hour and 15 minutes into the film, though we hear her name early on. Also, conventional heroism is something absent in this film. Did you think would these be a problem?

No, I didn't think these were problems. Kamal and I were working on the same wave length. As I said, this was a very different film for me and we wanted to work on it with the precision of making an English film. So Kamal, the art director, cameraman and I went to Central Jail to absorb the surroundings. The art director made notes, including the cell measurements which we used later while erecting a set in the Campa Cola compound. Many didn't even know it was a set.

A few years back, Kamal said he had written Mahanadhi after he learned that a few of his domestic staff had hatched a plan to kidnap his daughters. So it was born out of that feeling of a father dealing with losing his children. Were you aware of it? 

No, I wasn't. Maybe he didn't want to publicize it and kept to himself.

When it comes to Kamal, people think he does all the work. What was your experience? You have already said that you give inputs, but when he acts, will you say "don't do that"?

Yeah, I do. Not just my film, even if he does other films, and if I'm on the sets he'll look at me after a shot for my opinion. And if I give any suggestions, he'll take it. There is no such issue between us. On many occasions, people ask "Sir, why are you with Kamal, he does everything by himself anyway", and I'll say "In our films, it is never him or me. I am the director, he's the actor. When I say something he'll consider it and vice-versa. Every hero does that. And the reason they do that is in the best interest of their films. If you consider that interference, it is, but if you take that as a suggestion for betterment, then it is that.

So in Mahanadhi can you recall a scene in which he may have acted a certain way but you corrected it?

I'm not able to recall any particular scene but there were shots where he had asked me to not say cut, particularly that jail sequence where his grown-up daughter comes to visit him. In that scene, he himself called both "start" and "cut", not me, but he had informed me earlier. In Guna, I remember saying corrections, but I don't remember anything from Mahanadhi. Because he was the screenplay and dialogue writer he would have already internalised it well.

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