Edited excerpts from an interview between Vineeth Sreenivasan and Baradwaj Rangan:
BR: Screenwriting-wise, who is your inspiration?
Vineeth Sreenivasan: Aaron Sorkin.
You’re not going to say Sreenivasan at all?
No, no, no. My father, yes, definitely. When I was writing my first film, I gave him my script. And he told me that there is nothing in this. So that’s when I started learning about screenplay. I had some six to seven sessions with him. I would write every draft and I would go to him and he’ll have a lot of corrections to give me. During Oru Vadakkan Selfie also, this happened.
Can you give me an example of a scene that you wrote that was a nothing scene according to him? And how you corrected it.
It’s been a long time but Oru Vadakkan Selfie, the second half of the film didn’t sit well with him. That whole story didn’t sit well with him. He told me this is going into a zone where the story is not believable. To make it believable, there should be a lot of humour. When there is a lot of humour, people won’t question the logic.
I went for Thanneer Mathan Dinangal with him. He didn’t like the film. I expected it but I wanted him to see the film. After watching the film, he told me, “I didn’t like the film but I understand why people liked the film. It’s a film that would work for the audience but not for me.” He appreciates cinema that has a little more depth and interpersonal relationships and character-wise there is a lot of work behind it.
What was intriguing about Hridayam is that you have Pranav Mohanlal in it. And he did Aadhi but he’s not proven as an actor right? He’s a fresh kind of person in the sense that the audience hasn’t yet put an image on him. What is it that made you say I want Pranav?
When I saw Aadhi, there were these sequences in that film where he was very comfortable. He was very comfortable having a conversation and being that character. Now, with people who are new to acting, they’ll have a lot of hiccups. There will be sequences where they are really comfortable and you can see that, okay, this man can do a lot more than this. I had that thought while watching Aadhi. I liked his smile. I like his eyes. He has his father’s features. So I thought we could bring him to a zone where he is very comfortable and that would suit his personality.
Now, Malayalis who are brought up outside Kerala, they have a different kind of body language and that body language, when it mixes with the native Malayalam texture, brings something new to it. Pranav studied in Ooty. When Dulquer acts in Malayalam, he looks completely different from the rest of the crop because his body language is different, his upbringing is different. So everything changes. That is what I thought Pranav could deliver. And I think I was right. The audience should decide now.
Actually this movie is filled with second generation stars. First there’s you. Then there is Pranav. Kalyani is there. Speaking of the heroines, what were the qualities in Kalyani and Darshana that kind of made you say, okay, these two are the ones I want in my movie?
I went to Darshana in 2019. I narrated this script to Darshana first. In Irumbu Thirai, Vishal’s film, I saw Darshana as Vishal’s sister. That time, I hadn’t seen her in Mayaanadhi or any of the Malayalam films she had done. She was in that film and I really liked her in one scene. Then I googled her and I learnt that she was Darshana Rajendran. And my character was already named Darshana. So that brought a lot of curiosity into this person.
After that Koode released. I saw that film and when the song came out, I was pausing and watching Darshana. She looks a little bit like Karthika who used to act in the ‘80s. I was a big fan of Karthika chechi. Somewhere that similarity of features, I think, that stuck. So I felt this could work. Then I went and narrated the script to Darshana.
Darshana can emote. She can actually take us into that emotion very fast. I don’t think many actors can do that. I mean, you have to create the situation and then drive the audience into that situation and then, when the actor performs, it’s convincing. But Darshana, she can take you into that zone. I wanted an actor like that.
What about Kalyani?
I wanted somebody who can instantly brighten up the screen, bring a certain kind of aura. I think she’s got that. And when I went to Kalyani she had not done a Malayalam film. So I saw a little bit of her work in Telugu and Tamil. I know that she’s more comfortable when she is doing Malayalam because that’s her father’s zone. And she has a little bit of humour that she has got from Priyan uncle. This character needs that tint of humour in places. So I thought it would work.
How would you describe Hridayam? The teaser that has been released has pretty much told us it’s the story of a man who is with one woman but has an ex he keeps thinking about. But what zone is it in?
From the teaser, I think we have tried to communicate Hridayam as a relationship drama. I think it’s not actually just that. I think it’s a coming-of-age drama. It’s about Arun Neelakandan, from seventeen years of age to twenty-eight, thirty. His journey until he arrives at this family man, sort of feel. Personal life, professional life, ups and downs, all those things.
Many films like this have come out. So for the longest time I was thinking should I make this kind of film because Autograph, Premam, Kirik Party, Arjun Reddy, you name it, there are so many films, Vaaranam Aayiram. I was thinking there are these phenomenal films in the same zone. So should I do this. Then it occurred to me, if everyone thought this way, these kinds of films wouldn’t come out. If Alphonse had thought that Autograph is already made and Vaaranam Aayiram is already made, then he wouldn’t have made Premam.
None of those were made with the Vineeth Sreenivasan stamp on it, right? Because you have a unique voice and you have a very unique set of talents. I mean, you’re an actor, you sing, you write. There are all these things coming into you. So when you write a screenplay, it’s coming through you.
I hope so. And it’s not just that. The kind of Chennai that I’ve seen too should be a part of my film. For the first fifteen years of my life, I was in Kerala. I was in Thalassery. And after that, I came to Chennai. And the Chennai I’ve seen, I’ve not seen that in many Malayalam films. Varane Avashyamund showed Chennai in a beautiful way. But very few Malayalam films have depicted that essence of Chennai in the last two or three decades.
When I first arrived, I stayed in Koyambedu, then I shifted to Anna Nagar. There are these housing colonies and these water cans, you know, there are so many images that I have seen. So I feel like Hridayam travels through all these things. And like you said every filmmaker can make that one film out of his personal experiences, right? So I think this is that film of mine.
Now, you’ve said Dil Chahta Hai is your all-time favourite film?
Yeah, not all-time. It took me into that direction where I wanted to become a director. But I still remember how I felt when I watched that film. I never thought that it would work with Indian cinema. But then you see Dil Chahta Hai, right from the beginning till the end, with the kind of music they used and the kind of clothes that they wear, it was like the people whom you see around you. They were not dressing up like heroes. They were dressing up like regular people. And it was sync sound. Back then I didn’t know what sync sound was. But it felt very natural when Akshaye Khanna was speaking to Dimple Kapadia.
They were hardly mouthing their dialogues. And you can feel all the emotions. And now I understand what they do while dubbing and then we came to sync sound, there is a huge difference. Now I know the technical aspect of it. Back then I didn’t know the technicality of it, but it was all new to me.
And the way it was written, the kind of humour. It was in that Friends zone. The humour used in the film was like that in the Friends TV series. All that was new to Indian cinema. So it totally felt like I’d watched a new kind of film. After watching the film, I came out. I wanted to know who did this. And there was a standee outside Studio 5, it said “Written and directed by Farhan Akhtar.” I felt like this is the kind of film I want to make.
Before this, there was a lot of influence from my father. At home he would always talk about cinema. When I was in Thalassery, he’ll come back after the shoot and he’ll be speaking to his friends. Everyone used to sit and play Rummy. At that time, he’ll talk about the films he’s planning to do. I heard Chintavishtayaya Shyamala, two years before the shoot began. And I was thinking this sounds good, my father should do it. Finally the film came out two years later and it did really well.
How long did it take you to write the screenplay?
Eleven days I think. Before that, for some three weeks, I was working on the scene order. I had enough material for two movies. Jacobinte Swargarajyam was also like that. Thattathin Marayathu took a long time. Jacobinte Swargarajyam I think twelve thirteen days. That was also like this. You don’t think about anything else. You think about those characters, and you write, and they start speaking to you. A lot of the time, it wasn’t like what I wrote but what the characters said.