Excerpts from a conversation between director Vasanth and Baradwaj Rangan.
This is an important year for you because Keladi Kanmani released in 1990 and Aasai in 1995. So, it is the 25th anniversary of Aasai and 30th anniversary of your becoming a director. Congratulations!
Thank you. And it is the 20th year of Rhythm as well.
Yes. So looks like you’ve planned all movies from an anniversary point of view (laughs)
It took me five years to make a good film (laughs).
Was it a conscious decision to do a slight thriller genre with Aasai as opposed to your first two films that were based on strong human relations?
Yes, it was kind of like that. I had a feeling I was not doing films that placed importance on the hero. I always say that the story is the hero and I absolutely believe in it too. I started thinking of which hero I respected the most — it was Ram from The Ramayana. I am a huge fan of his kalyana gunangal. In my family, during the holidays in April and May, we brothers and sisters would sit together and read at least a chapter from The Ramayana every day, because only then could we go and play cricket. Ram never left me. I say all this now because I feel that is where I got hold of the concept of Good Man Syndrome. It was Mani Sir who asked me why every character in my films is always good (laughs) and if I don’t get bored. And so, I decided that let me also create a bad character, and you saw that in Aasai.
You mentioned shooting a hero-centric film. When you introduced SP Balasubrahmanyam in your first film, this was a hero’s role right? So did you mean movies with young heroes?
No. Not in that way. I meant a hero who could handle villains. SPB was the hero who handled situations, whereas Ajith has a fight sequence and he is against a big antagonist like Prakash Raj in the film. In the first scene, Ajith gets up and asks Prakash Raj why he couldn’t take the purse, and I knew there would be applause for the scene. That could have been shot in a wide angle too, but I felt that he had to stand and ask the same question for the heroism effect. As a director, I wanted to underline and emphasise on it and even the music, shot, angle and everything else supported that heroism. There was not a single punch dialogue, but the audience in every theatre clapped for it, and that is how the ‘hero’ was born.
When you cast Ajith, what made you feel that this person will be a strong hero? I am asking you this from a flashback point of view, because now he is one of our biggest stars. So, when you go back 25 years, and this being Ajith’s first break, why did you believe he was the right choice?
Until now, I have always searched for actors for my story. Secondly, I cannot do things that I don’t believe in. It’s like torture. When I was searching for actors for the three characters, I thought from my mentor’s point of view. Because I worked with KB Sir from an impressionable age, I would always look up to him for everything. I could have intelligently and easily made a film with established actors. I felt I could do everything that he did, of course, I am not great like him. He introduced Rajini Sir, Kamal Sir and around 47 actors by then. I had kept that as a goal in my mind. I’ve reached just 21 now (laughs). So when this story had to be made, I never thought of any popular faces, because I believed their image would stand out and not the character’s. Of course, these thoughts have changed over the years.
I wanted an artiste who is not very popular but someone whom I could introduce and who would play the character well. I am never easily convinced and so I kept searching. Manoj K Jayan was on my mind for the character eventually played by Prakash Raj. I almost confirmed him, but I still felt that something was missing. I told my assistants that he was confirmed but I wasn’t ready to go ahead with shooting. I was in touch with KB Sir and he asked me to come to his set. Prakash Raj was on the sets of Duet for only two days, but the moment I saw him act, I knew he was the guy I was looking for. I then asked him and I asked the same question to Ajith as well — what was in their mind and how long did they plan to be in the movies.
Ajith had all the factors he has now, back then as well. Logically, you cannot make it without that, and I noticed that even then. Ajith is a very, very confident person and that impresses you. And, I am also someone who is mad about beauty. This was the period when girls were asked if they would like to marry someone like Arvind Swami, because of Roja and Thalapathi. I wanted to cast someone like him.
That is when I saw Ajith in a veshti advertisement and felt there was something very interesting about him though he was a little lean. It was very hard to find someone through an ad, especially because ads were only a part of Doordarshan. I wanted a fresh face, but he had already done a film. I kept searching for other actors but was not convinced. I went back and watched his Amaravathi, really liked him and decided to go with my gut feeling. His confidence, his looks and the way he carried himself impressed me.
I did have doubts if the audience would like him the way I did, because his first film did not do well. This is why I had a different kind of hero introduction scene for him. Three young girls ask him if he would marry all three of them. When he asks ‘Why’, they say that he is very handsome and he laughs. This was an easy tool, an injection where I fed the audience that thought. Ajith is a very classy person. He speaks very less. Everything in that period was very pleasant. He was a very nice man and always came on a bike; he was interested in racing even then. And like I said, he is very well mannered and well behaved. I have always liked meeting him and talking to him. I don’t even remember getting angry with him, because he never gets into such situations. He always has a positive vibe, was very determined and had a fire in him.