Edited excerpts from a longer interview between Baradwaj Rangan and director Ram:
I thought we could start by talking about your teacher Balu Mahendra. There is a character named Viji in Peranbu. Kamal named Sridevi as Viji in Moondram Pirai. Is there any connection between these characters?
Ram: There are no such connections. I liked the name Viji, especially after Moondram Pirai. I would like to name the characters using names I like or the people I know. Mammotty sir's name in Peranbu is Amudhavan, which is my associate director's name. Prabhunath from Taramani was named after my assistant. So I like to use the names of my close circle. Viji is a remembrance for Balu sir.
BR: What did you like in Balu Mahendra's films and what did you learn from him? The reason I am asking you this is because he is a very sensitive filmmaker. But filmmakers coming from his school are furious. Why is that?
Ram: I think you should ask each and every one of them separately. Even though he is soft and gentle, there is also a fit of anger within him. He exhibits anger very subtly. He had to control his anger because he was a refugee. So he had a lot of restrictions. Most of his films are based on relationships between a man and a woman because he thought that he was living in another country. He thought that his view might be wrong. Similarly, I too would hesitate to make a film based on the Eelam. But he is the only person who made an extraordinary political film like Veedu. He was also the first person to address the teenage issue. He made Azhiyadha Kolangal based on adolescence. So the plots he chose gave him a separate identity. He had to make humor, thriller, and action films within the same genre which became both his weakness and strength.
BR: It became a compulsion?
Ram: Yes otherwise we would have seen his anger. If I had to comment on a Marathi film, I would have to be very cautious. Being a Tamilian, he had this discomfort about portraying or showing Tamilian in a negative way because he liked Tamil Nadu, Tamil people, Tamil language and also Kerala. He, being a refugee, who makes mainstream cinema, was conscious of his limitations even at the sub-conscious level. It played a role in his writing and the subjects he chose. But we don't have any such issues. We can speak whatever we feel like saying because this is our homeland. So I think this might be the difference.
BR: What did you learn from him?
Ram: I first learned the distance between literature and cinema. We cannot convert literature directly to cinema. We need to have the experience of literature to make good cinema. I studied literature. Literature is a different medium; cinema is different but both share similarities and dissimilarities. I can write certain things which I cannot shoot. So the expressions of both mediums are different. Film language is like a descriptive writing form of expression. Are we starting a shot because the actor has started acting? Or are we finishing a shot because the actor has stopped acting? I learned that there is a reason to say "Roll" and "Cut". We have to know the position of the camera, the purpose of a shot and the various reasons behind the purpose of a shot, the layers inside the film and also the rules of cinema. I also learned not to imitate others and to be original, to be crazy and mad.