What happens when you wake up from a coma after 16 years only to find out that you live in a completely different world? Or what if your lover, who thinks they know everything about you, gets to sneak into your phone? Such sharp plot lines could aptly introduce the kind of films that Comali (2019) and Love Today director Pradeep Ranganathan has come to be known for.
Three years after Comali— which followed the life of a comatose Jayam Ravi waking up and struggling to adapt to a new world — Ranganathan’s sophomore directorial is all set to hit the screens on November 4. This film, which is an extended version of his short film App(a) Lock (2017), also features the director’s acting debut.
Ahead of the film’s release, Ranganathan gets candid about his entry into filmmaking, a turning point in his career, and the decision behind making his viral short into a feature length film.
You rose to fame for making shorts back in 2014. What drew you into the world of filmmaking?
I started making shorts around that time and the first one was WhatsApp Kadhal. I followed it up with College Diaries in 2016. With two consecutive short films, people started noticing my work and I got a lot of subscribers on YouTube. Before that, I only looked at filmmaking as a hobby. But at the end of my second short film, I wanted to start making feature films.
However, I ended up joining an IT firm because of a few circumstances. In the orientation program, when they asked about our ambitions, I remember people saying that they wanted to become CEOs and entrepreneurs. But I remember telling them that I wanted to quit in two years and start making films.
You left an IT job to take up filmmaking. Was that shift difficult?
I’m not really into money. The decision is tough only if one needs enough money. But I felt that I had only one life and so I wanted to take the risk. I didn’t want to have any regrets later. After working for a year and a half in the IT field, I had saved enough money to look after my basic expenses for the next two years. That’s when I decided to quit my job.
After Comali, I was gifted a car, but I returned it. I didn’t even have money to put fuel in it back then. So, instead, I requested them to give me the equivalent of it in cash and I used that money to survive the next three years and meet my basic requirements. That’s what I need. I want to pursue my passion. If I wanted money, I could have started shooting the next film immediately but it is more about creative satisfaction for me. Many didn’t understand that because I was also not making any films when I had the opportunity even when I didn’t have money. But not everything is related to money.
Tell us about your short App(a) Lock. You even called it a huge turning point in your career.
Oh, have I? (laughs). Yes, that short film was a turning point. My short films were well-received on social media. I got around 2 million views for WhatsApp Kadhal in 2014, which was really good. It was around the time when the ‘Why this Kolaveri’ song got famous and the YouTube space was getting bigger. So, my short films became viral and reached many.
App(a) Lock got an even bigger reach when it was also shortlisted for the ‘First Clap’ competition conducted by ‘Movie Buff’. Producers began noticing the short film and I started getting offers. When I approached production houses to narrate a script, they had already watched my short and immediately recognised me. That is how I got to direct Comali.
Most of your films have something to do with technology and its impact on human relationships. What draws you to such ideas?
I think it is because I don’t think about the past. There are many filmmakers who look at the past and make films such as Vetri Maaran sir who has made Vada Chennai (2018) and Asuran (2019). But as of now, I am not much into the past. I tend to think a lot about how things might change in the next ten years. So, it is not technology per se. But I look at how relationship dynamics and human values change over time. But my films have somehow had the common concept of technology.
When you decide to make a feature film based on a short, what are the aspects you look at?
I own a YouTube channel and I earn money through it. So, I’ve always looked into the stats and done a demographic analysis, understanding the city-based viewership for my films. But when I made Comali, I knew there was a different set of audience for it and so I wanted to make the film palatable to everyone. So this is the primary thing I look into while converting a short into a feature. The main line would remain the same but the way the story is told should be understandable and appealing to all.
The short film has only three characters but the feature film has several others like Pradeep’s mother, sister, etc. With just three characters, the film might become monotonous. So, I created characters that would help make the film more appealing. The film also has a wedding backdrop to make it more mainstream.The film is not just about Pradeep and Nikitha, but also about the emotional journey of their families.
How did you decide on the title Love Today, given that it is also the title of Vijay’s super hit film from 1997?
The answer is your question. It is a Vijay film and it might help with extra publicity. Another reason is that the title suits the story.
The film poster's initial tagline – ‘Dedicated to the girl who left me’ — triggered some backlash with people alleging it to be misogynistic. Was that reaction unexpected?
My intention was to be funny but people took it differently and thought the film was a revenge concept. But when we changed it to “Dedicated to all ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends” in the trailer, it became a joke. But the earlier tagline was perceived to be chauvinistic. So, I analysed the response and changed the words in the trailer.
When you direct and act in a film, how is a typical day on the set for you?
I’ve had the practice of working as a director, actor, and sometimes even the cinematographer for my short films. So I am used to juggling different roles. But when it comes to films, the scale was bigger. You have to manage more than a hundred people and also plan your acting. So, I used to plan and finish 50% of my work the previous night. After each shot, I would check the monitor. Then, I get back to a retake or the next shot. It was tiring but I enjoyed it because I wanted to do it.
Do you want to act and direct simultaneously in future films as well?
It took me three years to make Love Today and it might take another two years for my next film. So, in the meantime, I can act for other directors and I can also direct other stars. I am open to everything.
How do you see Comali and Love Today, both personally and in terms of the kind of response you have received?
I don’t look at Comali as my first film and Love Today as my second. The latter is somewhat like my second debut film. If I make one wrong move, I know the kind of talks that will arise. The money I would get now is not what I would have gotten had I made my second film with an established hero. So, it is nearly my first film again and it is my own choice. But the response has been sweet.