You've launched many trailers and posters before this, but how was the poster launch that you did now for The International Journey of Fakir different? Was it more thrilling?
Yeah, for sure. This was really thrilling. I'm really happy, this is an extraordinary journey for me too. I'm one with a humble beginning. Started my life from the bottom. So today I felt really happy in coming here, to represent Tamil cinema and Tamil Nadu in Cannes.
Fantastic, I actually make a mistake by calling it The International Journey instead of The Extraordinary Journey, but that was my next question, because you've also been through an extraordinary journey starting from Thulluvadho Ilamai – you've won the National award, worked in Bollywood, directed Pa. Pandi, produced Kaala and now an international film. And you've been doing these things step by step. How does it feel? Isn't this an extraordinary journey in itself?
In my life, God has always blessed me with more than what I asked for, I feel really blessed about that. More than our doing, I think these things happen by themselves and I feel that's really important. I'm really thankful and happy for this. I think it's the blessings and the prayers of my parents that's guiding me through this path.
You play a person from Bombay, usually when there is a role like this, Dev Patel is immediately sought after. That's become a cliché, a stereotype. If not him a Bollywood actor is cast. Even the last name of the character in Patel. But how did they approach you? Have you ever asked them?
Actually, it's only right to say that this film found me and not the other way around, I was shooting for Maari part 1 when they contacted me. They plan much ahead. During that time, I got a call from Aditi – she's the Indian producer for the film. She told me about this project, she told me it's based on a novel and that she has suggested me for the role. They have done their homework – they saw films done by many Indian actors and shortlisted and it came to me. This itself made me happy and they respected talent.
So I didn't think or care about how it'll materialise or how it'll end because I was really happy that they identified me. I can only say that the film came to me, I met with the director, the producer and after meeting them, I read the novel and then the script. Today the most important need for the world is positivity, it's really less nowadays. Everything is problematic nowadays, even if you do a good thing people find faults, so all of us feel that we're going in a wrong direction.
This story was spreading positivity, and I saw this as an opportunity to travel to many different places. I'm working in the Tamil and the Hindi industry, but outside this, French or any European film industry, this was an opportunity to learn how they work. Actors from many countries have acted in this film. Their methods, their approach towards acting, was stuff that I could learn from this film. Like the Tamil saying goes, 'You know as much as the sand you can hold in your hand, knowledge that you don't know is as vast as the world.' I wanted to use the opportunity to learn. I learnt a lot from this other than acting – I learnt about film making, a lot about production, a lot about planning, this was an opportunity to explore and I think I utilised it to my best, let's hope so.
India is associated with a lot of western stereotypes like yoga, snake charmers and even fakirs, so when you read the script did you feel like you were playing a stereotype propagating part?
This film is not like that. That's one of my favourite things about the film. My character is very confident and charming – the characterisation is very beautiful. The Ajathashatru is very similar to me. We both started from a very simple beginnings and even my life is an unexpected, extraordinary journey.
You see the film – there won't be any stereotypes, and If I continue working in international films, I would do my best to express India as a country with so many special things – our culture, our festivals, our languages, we have so many languages. It can be seen as a plus and also a minus but what are its plus points? Our history, in places like Banaras; our temples, like the Madurai Meenakshi Temple. If I continue doing international films, I'll work in films which talk about the greatness of our country.
While doing Raanjhanaa, you said that after the narration, you couldn't refuse the film, because of the connection between a character and your life. You had told about you also having a love affair in school. Were there any personal identification points like that between you and fakir?
Yeah there were a lot. Compared to Raanjhanaa, the character Fakir was more relatable to my life. Especially in the first 15-20 minutes, they show the neighbourhood of Ajathashatru – that was my life, my beginning was similar to that. Looking at a wooden toy and craving for a remote control car that the other kid had was my childhood. That was exactly my life, so I was able to relate a lot.
What are the differences between working on an Indian production and an international production? Did you learn anything that you can use/implement in Kollywood? In our Tamil industry?
If I have to speak frankly, I learnt a lot about planning. Not just Tamil cinema, in every industry, planning is a very important thing. If you make a film investing 150 crores and you sell it for 160 crores, it's just pointless. So when you know your market, the math is very very important. As a producer, who's investing in a film, that person should surely make profit. To make that profit, a film must be completed in the allotted budget. To do this, planning is necessary.
The pre-production phase must and should consume 5 months of time, so that the planning is solid. Execution/production should be finished in 2 months. Post-production, when there aren't many graphics, should take only 3 to 4 months. This is the correct way.
Pre-production is the most important because, if you fail in your pre-production, you won't make the profit that you want to make. So I understood the value and importance of planning. For the next film that I'm going to direct, I've been doing the pre-production for the last one year. We're going to shoot in August. A lot of people became restless about me paying so much attention to detail, they feel such meticulous planning is not needed and they feel it can be figured out during production. I told them, "Every second we spend in figuring out during production is a waste of money. That is the money we have been losing – this is what we haven't understood. Everything should be done here. In production we should only film, not discuss." So that is very important I think.
Can you state one similarity and one difference between the directors you have previously worked with and Ken Scott?
The similarity is that, for every director, emotion is the key. If you leave the emotion, you have left the film. His focus was fully on capturing the emotions, like any other director. Capturing the emotion right is the most important thing for every director.
The difference is, in our industry, if we get a correct shot, we move on to the next one. But in their industry they don't. Even after getting the required shot, they keep shooting to see if they can get anything better. They have allotted time for every shot depending on the number of shots that day. Till that time is over, they keep shooting that particular shot, hoping for the magic that happens on sets. That's the difference. This was a little difficult – in our industry, if we get a good take, we can say that this is difficult to get again, there even after getting a great take, they shoot because the time is there and wait for some other magic to happen. Their planning is that good.
We are searching everywhere while we have everything. We have so many beautiful stories, stories, epics – we have so many treasures. We leave it and look outside for content and people from outside come and take this
You told me that you read the novel that this film is based on, why do you think in Tamil industry, the tradition of making films from novels and short stories is going down? Actually it's really rare nowadays.
It's not there right now, but it's going to start again. I'm telling you, this is going to be the next trend. Every novel is going to be a movie soon.
How are you saying this?
I know sir, I'm able to sense it. We are searching everywhere while we have everything. We have so many beautiful stories, stories, epics – we have so many treasures. We leave it and look outside for content and people from outside come and take this. We are going to do this. The first time I heard about Life Of Pi, I could only think of the riddle about the goat, the cow, the tiger and the hay. I don't know whether you've heard about this riddle. We have everything around us. These novels are going to come out next.
When you worked in Bollywood, in a lot of interviews people asked about how it was acting with Amitabh Bachchan, and you said that you are a confident actor and that you weren't intimidated. Did you have the same confidence while acting with an international cast too?
Yes sir, I wasn't intimidated in any way. The only problem I thought I had was my English. I just had a work stress while thinking that I should be able to convey the message in their language properly, one shouldn't be over-confident, but should definitely be confident. Because, in such a big opportunity, you won't deliver your best if you're not confident, so definitely I handled it confidently.
When you speak in Tamil, you obviously have an intuition about where to pause etc, do you speak in French in this movie?
No sir, I speak only in English.
Were you able to do it intuitively in English also? Or did you have to put in effort?
As I use English in my life a good amount of time for practical purposes, I'm comfortable with it. It's not like Hindi, I don't know anything in Hindi. English we learn from school. There was a 40% of difference, in my comfort level, but maximum, I was sorted.
Did they help you out?
Naturally sir, in home work, during workshops.
When I interviewed you last time, you said, the only character technique I know is to become the character. So how easy or difficult was it to put yourself in Fakir's shoes?
It was very easy for me, like I told you before, the characters life and childhood is very similar to mine, even though the character is a north Indian, the emotion is the same right? I was never disconnected. The things that we crave for, that is what Fakir's journey is about, a guy goes through an adventure that is not in his control and that he knows nothing of. His priorities are messed up, life teaches him a lesson and sets his priorities straight. This has happened to me too so I was able to easily relate.
You said to me that you learnt from working with this cast, Bérénice Bejo has acted in this film – she has won best actress in Cannes, she has acted in The Artist. Barkhad Abdi who acted in Captain Phillips has acted in this film too. Can you give one example of what you learnt from an acting point of view?
Everyone has their own speciality, people from different places have different methods of acting. I'm able to feel it, but I'm not able to explain it. They all have their specialities, their own unique style. Depends on the industry. Some people consider Indian films to be loud. We say that French films are slow. This is our style, that is their style. And I learnt that the same goes for acting.
Ben Miller has acted in this film, I learnt about comedic timing from him, he was a phenomenal actor. And Bérénice was very natural and everyone had a plus point like that. I was able to identify things like this in everyone.
Let's talk about your Indian films, VIP 2, I liked it quite a lot, but results weren't as good as VIP 1, do you think the expectations were really high? What do you think happened?
If you take my career – collection wise, critique wise, and audience connect – it's in the top in all the films I have done. When you take a sequel to a movie like that, audience will always compare it to the first part and get disappointed.
We expected this and still made the film. But it's not about the profitability of that film. The opening was phenomenal, we were a little bit disturbed by the rains at that time. It was raining continuously in TN throughout the second week of release. That disturbed the film a little but still it's a profitable venture.
I personally feel Soundarya made justice to the sequel, and we are pretty happy with the outcome of the film and when you say "I really liked the film", it actually encourages us to think about another part of a very successful franchise. We are thinking about it already. We are very happy with VIP 2's results.
Will there be a part three?
Yes sir, for sure.
Pa Pandi, your directorial debut, how did you find the response? Did you feel you could have done anything different?
I thought of a lot things that I could have corrected. But I wish I was a little more patient. I was directing the movie in between my acting commitments, I had to direct it in between, I could've been patient in two ways, one I could've finished the other movies and then started this, or I could've shot it in a more leisurely schedule, there are a lot more. It could have been a more beautiful film, I can see my mistakes every time I see the film, So if I get to make in another language, or if I get to make a sequel, I'll correct all these mistakes.
You said that you're directing another film, can we talk about it? Or is it too early?
Way too early – we're starting in August. It's a very big film, We have compressed a 100 crore film. Like I told you, 1 year of pre-production. We have to finish the film in 70 crores. My market is not 70 crores. So what can we do? What are the markets that we can exploit otherwise? Regardless of Telugu or Malayalam, or even international, where all can we exploit? How to make it profitable in the table was what the pre-production was about. Already in the table the project is with a 5 crore profit. How to make it a bigger profit to the producer is where my fight lies.
Fantastic. After Shah Rukh Khan's Zero, there is a rumour that you are doing a movie with Aanand L. Rai?
Can you say anything about it? Or is it way too early again?
It's too early to even speak about Zero, so to speak about a film which is going to be made after that it's way too early. They are aiming for a Diwali or a December launch for Zero. After that the pre-production for this film will start, so there's nothing to talk about it.
In the 80's both Kamal and Rajinikanth couldn't do much in Hindi, simply because their home base was Chennai. Even your home base is Chennai but still you're working in both Hindi and International films, How do you explain this? Has the times changed?
The world has shrunk, if the exposure that we have nowadays was available during Sivaji sir's time or Rajini-Kamal sir's time, who already are legends..They have proved so much, but they would've proved at an international level if they had that exposure. Now there is so much exposure, everything has become easy. Now speaking with a French distributor is easy. Before, it wasn't like that. Back then Bombay was like America now. For Rajini and Kamal sir, I think majorly it's their choice – they chose to do more Tamil films.
They could've made more movies in Hindi if they had wanted to, they both have a huge fan following. They chose to do more Tamil films here because back then they were making 5-6 films every year. They couldn't make time. Same goes for Bhagyaraj sir – he had a huge demand in Bombay as a director after making Aakhree Raasta. Every top star wanted him to make a movie with them. Bhagyaraj sir made a choice to do films here. That goes to Balachander sir as well, so a lot of things come into play, so it's unfair to compare.
I wasn't comparing, I was asking the reason.
This can be the reason.
So how do you think the Kolaveri Magic has helped you? The overnight success of the song? Has it really helped you a lot? In terms of non Tamil industries?
No sir, definitely not. I have said many times, Kolaveri was an accident, I don't know how it happened and it's not like I'm proud of that song. I'm really not, it just happened. Raanjhanaa I got through Aadukalam, as Aanand L. Rai wanted someone like my character in Aadukalam. The international opportunity came from Aadukalam, Maryaan and even 3 for that matter. So my performances as an actor got me these chances, Kolaveri didn't do much, in fact it has just created problems at times.
When you made VIP 2, you said you did it to explore the market in Hindi, similarly is this a way to explore your market in the world?
For sure sir, this is a really big chance, not a small one. I feel the responsibility as well, I feel ill open many doors with this film, also show those doors. In Wunderbar, we have been helping a lot of talents, I think I'll be able to find a balance, a new market, wider the market the more you'll be able to make bigger films, better films, and I believe that we can do it. Don't think I'm being over confident, but I think we should do it, it is time. All Indian films are running well in china now, the market has been there. We hadn't found it, Aamir Khan showed us the market in China.
Similarly the whole world is watching because now it's a digital world, entertainment has become digital. After platforms like Netflix and Amazon, everyone's watching everything. There are subtitles. I'm getting a lot requests for web series in Wunderbar and even they say that there audiences around the world to watch a Tamil web series. World has shrunk and people are ready watch all forms of art in any language, we should just find the right gateway. I got a very big experience through this film, and a lot of exposure, now it's in my hands to crack this by pursuing it and not being lazy.
I was about to ask this question but you already started it, Fakir has been sold in more than 100 countries around the world, I read recently in Variety or something like that, why hasn't that happened for a Tamil film? Because we didn't seek the opportunity?
Yes sir, for sure. We can't compare with Fakir, it's an English film. A Tamil film might not have a market in 100 countries but I firmly believe the market is at least twice as big of what we perceive it to be. We can't sell everywhere like we sell in Tamil Nadu, but 10 places together can bring a big sum into your hands. Such a market is waiting for us to exploit is what I believe, and I believe we will do it soon.
Can you tell about your current projects? Enai Noki Paayum Thota, Maari 2 and Vada Chennai.
First Vada Chennai, Vada Chennai is done, He (Vetri Maaran)'s locking the final edit. We are trying to release it in August, we are trying our best. Vetri Maaran is a perfectionist – so till he is satisfied he'll keep editing. We are waiting. after that Maari 2 will release. Enai Noki Paayum Thota, I think we'll get a clear picture soon.
Have you seen Kaala?
Yes, I have.
As a producer, what is your opinion?
Definitely it's a big treat to the superstar's fans. After a long time we are going to see him in a local role. It's going to be big fun. More than a star, he's done brilliantly as a performer, there are a few sequences where people won't stop applauding in theatre. I'm looking forward to it.
I'm looking forward to it too, and my last question is, for the first time, you film is releasing in France on 30th may and not in Tamil Nadu simultaneously, how to you feel about that?
The truth is I'm a little sad. I would have been happy had they released together but distributors have their own reasons. Everything happens for a reason. I think Tamil people will like the film.
Do you know when the Tamil release is?
It's going to be a summer release most probably. I hope they like it, or at least appreciate this as an attempt.
Fantastic, it's wonderful to see you at Cannes, and all the very best for Fakir.