Deep Focus With BR: Vineeth Sreenivasan On The Writing Of Hridayam And The Magic Of Chennai

I had the content for two films and for me, Hridayam was much bigger than this, says the actor-director
Deep Focus With BR: Vineeth Sreenivasan On The Writing Of Hridayam And The Magic Of Chennai

In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan, Vineeth Sreenivasan talks about why the movie was titled Hridayam, its making and the nuances of writing the film's screenplay. Spoilers ahead: 

Why did you name the movie Hridayam? When I first heard that name and saw that it was one man and two women, the automatic assumption was that it was going to be a love triangle.

I thought about many titles and it was all becoming too specific and uninteresting. I mean, it's boring if I say, "from 18 to 30" or someting like that. I had a lot of titles but nothing that was fitting. When I say Thattathin Marayathu, immediately people understand that this is about a Muslim girl. It's very specific. Jacobinte Swargarajyam was specific as well.

But when I did Thira, the subject was vast and it's about human trafficking and more. A title like Thira was needed. Priyadarshan's  films too had a lot of titles like these. For instance, Chithram gives me the feel of the film without being too specific. So at some point, I felt that if I titled it like that, people would connect, because that is the kind of connection people should have with the film. They should see it but not from an analytical point of view, but with their heart.

In a way, Hridayam is a love story, because it is a love story between Vineeth Sreenivasan and Chennai, right?

Yeah. I really like Chennai. I mean, if there is any place in Tamil Nadu, which I like more than Chennai, it is Kumbakonam. I have shot two films there, Oru Vadakkan Selfie and Aravindante Athidhikal. If there is an airport and some good schools there, I would easily shift to Kumbakonam.

I came to Chennai in 2000 and the city is magic for me. I mean, if I go to Kerala, and if I ask somebody, how's life, they will say 'Kozhapam Illa' (No issues or it's ok). Even if it's good, that is the standard answer. But if you go to a tea stall in Chennai, and you ask them, how is life? They say  'Super ah poikittu iruku' (It is super). That's the attitude, that's the positivity that the city has. I have felt it many times during my life in Chennai.

The first half begins with a train pulling into Chennai and the interval point is a train pulling out of it. Was that always the structure?

The first half, as it is was like a film for me. It's like two different films. The first half was one film and the second half is another film. The first half, it's in the campus and there are more dramatic moments and events. There are always a lot of characters in the frame. The second half is more like, the feel-good cinema that people expect out of me. It's after college and most of our lives are limited with a small set of friends, and we spend most of the time in our apartments. So that's the thing I had in mind.

On the surface, this is a fairly simple movie. It's a series of scenes from episodes from a man's life. That's the structure of the movie. Everything is a bit of a cliche because we have seen it earlier. Be it the college fests, freshers and ragging, first crush in college, everything we have seen earlier, but you always give a twist. How hard was it writing the screenplay?

While I was writing the film, I have these voice notes which I had recorded for over two years. So before writing every scene, there is a competition that happens with the voice notes. I know there is some good stuff in in them but then I want to write something which can be better. My father always told me, "it's always great to have different kinds of characters in the frame at the same time".  You don't have to follow any structure but if there are characters with different behavioural patterns, it's great. There is one guy who is getting beaten up, there is another lean guy who's punching him and then someone else walks in.

Also, I was very intimidated by English when I came to Chennai, because I studied in Kerala until my 10th. In Kerala, I studied in an English medium school but if you try to talk in English, every other friend of yours will make fun of you. You're considered a showoff if you do. If you come in your own car to school, that's it, you're done. That's the kind of crowd who were around me.

So I have never spoken to anybody in English and when I came here, I was not able to understand what people were saying. When they say a word like 'obviously', I have to check the dictionary. This is the case with a lot of Malayalees who studied in Kerala. So I know that they will get the humour.

What about writing these characters?

Sometimes the characters shape up in such a way that you will feel that they are speaking to you. You just have to write down what they're telling you. A lot of my favourite writers also do that. Ruskin Bond, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer and P. Kunhiraman Nair who wrote Kaviyude Kaalpaadugal. These are the writers who talk about the most simple things but we know that there are a lot of complexities and hidden layers inside their writing. On the surface, they make it very simple. So that's the kind of inspiration. Even my father and Lohithadas sir…they all do this. They simplify the surface level and if you go inside, you find something deeper.

Some incidents play out fairly short, some are longer and some incidents seem to rush by. Did it ever strike you whether people will be able to register all of this or maybe it's going by a little too fast?

I was always worried about that. Before preparing the scene order, I had to go through all of these voice notes. I then realised that I had enough content for two films. So many characters from that scene order didn't even make to the final film. Like Dileesh Pothan had a role in the film, and it was chopped off even before writing. Kani Kusruti too had a character which I didn't then write. Johny Antony's character too was far longer. So for me, Hridayam was much bigger than this. There was also scene between Kedar and Darshana where she slaps him and then he manhandles her inside a studio. We changed that scene as it was too dark and that is the only scene we reshot. That was the only scene we chopped off from the film. A couple of sub-scenes also have been chopped off, other than that, whatever we shot is there in the film. I have to thank my editor Ranjan Abraham for this because he knew what we should do. 

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