Edited excerpts from an interview between Baradwaj Rangan and director Ram. Watch the video interview below:
BR: Peranbu is the first time you are working with a big star. How was it different to direct someone like Mammooty, a man with so much acclaim, awards, and recognition from a relatively unknown actor like in Taramani? And, what did Mammooty bring to your film?
Ram: Okay, with any newcomer, the director is required to push them a little. Even if you rehearse, things to do with the camera while acting comes only with experience. Doesn’t matter how talented you are, when you are acting for the first time, there are limitations. That’s because you are also acting for an editing table, for the lens and the distance. All of us think we have to make it real, but to understand it is not about being real but to make it seem like one, takes a long time. So at times, we are required to push, maybe even overdo. Sometimes you ask the newcomer to do stuff so will people like him in 10 minutes. So it is like manipulating someone. So when someone like Mammootty sir performs, you don’t need any of that. There is no issue of making him act in a way people like him. He just needs to be the character, and that’s the only challenge. But in the case of others, they will be a character and you have to make them act. With Mammootty, it is easy, because he has worked with unbelievable writers.
He knows the nuances of scripts, the nuances of emotions and the purpose of shots. He knows why he is being asked to stand wherever he is. If a shot has 8 purposes, he will already be aware of 6 of them. And if someone doesn’t understand, it will be a problem. If he thinks as a star that, I have an image and see they aren’t lighting me up, it will create tension. But that never arose with him, because off the set he was a star, but on set he was just the character.
BR: But haven’t you argued with him at all?
Ram: That’s there right from day one. But it is healthy. If he gives 10 reasons why something isn’t needed, I will give him 100 reasons to explain why it is. So after 5 days, he probably thought, if I ask he will go on for an hour, so I better do what he asks. We had our differences of opinion, but I started liking him. One reason being his voice. His voice is like Balu Mahendra’s. That Malayalam mixed Tamil, that Eelam Tamil tone. Also Balu Mahendra has a European body language, in terms of his walk and behaviour.
BR: European meaning?
Ram: You know, one whom you would call British. It will be wrong to call one now, but in the 80s and 90s to impersonate them, the way they eat, the level at which they express emotion, the way one shakes hands with a stranger. All these were similar to Balu Mahendra. The way he wears his hat, the speed at which he walks. You can feel that he is an outsider. It is because of the way he is born and brought up. That was probably the style then. Now we say you can be whatever you feel like but it wasn’t that then. It is like how directors used to wear white. So I felt he was a person with the same understanding of things. I felt quite comfortable. I used to pull him by his hand, put my arm around and the realization that he is a star, struck me only after seeing the Kerala response to the trailer. But I had lost that sense of him being Mammookka. I still feel I can call him anytime and talk whatever I want. I even made him dub four times for the film.
BR: Why did you make him do it four times?
Ram: To get the Tamil pronunciation correct and also to bring out that Tamil quality in his voice. He knows Tamil well, but it took time to erase the Malayalam accent. Also in the festivals, they prefer movies with live sound. If the sound is added in dubbing there is not much interest in it. So we tried to bring out realism in the dubbing to get the distances correct. So it took more takes in dubbing that shooting. I spent a lot of time in dubbing. If he had refused to do it, we could not have done any of this. His cooperation might be the gift to the passion and dedication to this movie that the saw in me.