As RJ Balaji's Veetla Vishesham, a Tamil remake of Badhaai Ho, releases on June 17, the filmmaker-actor talks to Ramya Subramanian about making a good remake and managing to write, direct and act in a film.
Edited excerpts below:
What do you think should be the components of a good remake? A lot of people make it and it's usually a slip-and-miss most of the time, so how should a good remake be?
I'm not sure how a good remake should be but for this film, we didn't want to translate and make it another version of the original. I didn't want to make it like that. So, we took five months to rewrite the film. The reason for rewriting it was that no matter how good the original was it has already been dubbed and broadcasted on the TV.
So, this movie needs to have some special elements to make someone come to the theatres to watch it. When you have good actors like Sathyaraj, Urvashi, KPAC Lalitha, and Aparna, it won't even look like a remake. The writing needed to justify the hundreds of films that actors like Urvashi ma'am and Sathyaraj sir come with. It doesn't do justice if we ask Urvashi ma'am to act like Neena Gupta from the original.
So, I'm not sure if it's a good remake but this remake is an attempt at creating a fresh film. We've taken the skeleton from the original but we've rewritten it. People in the industry often think remakes are easy and fast to create but as I've said we took five months to just write the film. It's not an original film, it's adapted from Badhaai Ho but it is good enough to look like a standalone film.
There is an audience that saw the original, Badhaai Ho and there's an audience that hasn't seen it. Since the Tamil audience is also very sensitive did you have any anxiety in dealing with this concept?
Absolutely no. For my earlier films like LKG and Mookuthi Amman, I might have worried that the contents might offend someone but Veetla Vishesham is a complete film. Veetla Vishesham is even more rooted. While this movie has been rewritten, I'd call this a disciplined remake only. I don't think it's a disciplined remake to copy every word of the original. To take that original and enhance that further is what I think is a disciplined remake.
I've spoken about this in other interviews but for instance, in the original "abortion is a sin" is the reasoning Neena's character gives in the movie in order to keep the baby. I don't speak as a filmmaker but as a human being, I don't believe that. I believe it is pro-choice, I think it's up to the woman to do what she wants with her body. In doing this as my own film, my team and I felt that this should be left out. I was very clear about this from the very beginning.
The second question then was, why would a character who's 50 years old want to keep the baby? I felt that women don't need to justify their decision to have a child. Similarly, she should have had some past stories that are justified without saying. So, I wanted to take out that abortion is a sin angle. Though we have taken some parts out, I think it is this change that makes it a disciplined remake. A well-made remake of the original.
You've handled multiple departments as an actor, filmmaker, and writer. It's difficult for me to conceive this in my head even; in front of the camera, behind the camera. So, tell me how does this process work?
It was very chaotic in LKG. I didn't even direct it; I was just the associate director. I had to run around and do my duties. In Mookuthi Amman, it got better. I started directing that film along with NJ Saravanan. He is there in the industry since 2001. Whatever I am not, he is. So, the comfort from that movie made it easy for us to make this movie too.
When directors are approaching you, they approach you by seeing RJ Balaji as a personality. They won't be like we'll have him and make him lose ten kilos and make a horror script or a thriller movie. Is this playing to your advantage? Do you think you are losing out on opportunities?
For instance, it took me three films to remove my spectacles on screen despite having had Lasik eye surgery to fix my vision. If I change so suddenly it would come off as a rude shock to the audience. In cinema, people accept me for what I am and how they find me relatable.
Now if I went to the gym and looked like a Bollywood hero who most often looks like models, I won't be relatable. I love Dhanush as an actor because in Asuran when he was to act like a 50-year-old man he could've easily used prosthetics. But instead, he was himself, yet we were made to feel like he was 50 through his acting. This is a great gift as an actor. While I'm not that kind of an actor yet, I like the space that I'm in because it allows me to be myself.
You are so self-made, so I want to know if you have genuine friends in the industry. In the Telugu industry, for instance, there seems to be a togetherness despite its competition. Do you think that exists in the Tamil industry too?
I'm not sure if you can call it togetherness but I do have people who respect my work and are rooting for me in the industry. For example, Ishari K Ganesh produced my first movie, and what he did to me is he trusted me 200% and I think that trust will make me give my best. I work on trust and freedom.
To be very honest, I must give credit to Gowtham Karthik, and Atharvaa for actually making me believe I can write and be my own hero. Atharvaa was the one I acted before writing LKG. He gave me lots of confidence to write LKG. Gowtham Karthik did a cameo in Mookuthi Amman which never came in the film, but he was there for me. And Arya, we are happy for each other's successes. When Sarpatta Parambarai was released, I was genuinely happy for him. Similarly, if something good happens for me, he'll call up and say nice things.
To conclude, I'd like to ask how you treat the highs and lows of your life?
I get happy and sad in my highs and lows like a normal layman. Recently, I did a big thing giving my best, but it didn't work out and I was very disappointed. That night I was really sad. The next day I pushed myself for a plan B. Turns out my plan B was my actual plan A.
I felt really happy, proud, and accomplished when that plan worked out. I gifted myself a watch. I did that because despite being sad, I was able to pull up my socks and do things that I wanted to do. I think my ability to get back and do things is very strong. But if things get bad, I know I can always go back to therapy. The stability I have today is largely because I've been able to speak to learned professionals and non-judgemental people.