Edited excerpts from an interview between Varalaxmi Sarathkumar and Vishal Menon.
You’re one of the few of us who has done something really productive during the lockdown, finding great ways to manage time. Tell me a little bit about how you got into baking.
I’m not a kitchen person at all. I don’t cook. But I used to bake occasionally. If I had time, I’d make a cake and stuff. But, during this lockdown I started experimenting. Once, the experiment turned out to be cheese tarts. And my friends said, “Listen, just start selling, because they are really good.” All this happened in just half a day. We came up with the name ‘Life of Pie’. It happened overnight.
It’s taken over your life now?
Yeah, I’ve completed about 200 orders. The thing is I need to keep myself busy. I can’t sit quietly. I’ll go mad if I sit quietly, so…
What was your routine like before you discovered this love for baking?
I’ve got a puppy. So she takes up quite a lot of my time. And, of course, I go for an evening walk; I try and do about 5 km, every day. And, I learnt Spanish.
Have you always had an animal in your life?
I have three dogs right now. Ever since I can remember, we’ve always had dogs.
So was that a major clincher when you got a script that involves a dog as a central character?
Yeah. That was the selling point for Danny. The minute I was told there’s a dog involved, I asked them to count me in, no questions asked. I always wanted to work with an animal and it was amazing to work with the dog. So, I was really happy.
Tell me a little bit about that. For instance, there’s a scene where you have to really interact with the dog. Because you’re used to having pets in your life, was it very natural, this bonding?
Yeah definitely. Dogs are very sensitive and know how you feel towards them. They can sense if there’s fear, if you’re nervous or if you’re friendly. Every time I was with the dog, I was hugging it and playing with it. So I didn’t have too much of a problem.
Tell me a little bit about the movie. We pretty much get the hint that you need the help of the dog to solve a major case. So how does it work?
These dogs play a very important role in the police academy itself. They have ranks too! So, both of us have a high-ranking position. Dogs play a huge part, because of their heightened sense of smell. That helps out during the investigation.
There’s a genre called a ‘buddy cop’ movie, right? Is this pretty much a buddy cop movie?
Yeah… but on a more serious note. It’s not a ‘friend in the house’ kind of an animal; it’s a police dog. It’s like watching two officers on screen.
What about important scenes where there is no scope for dialogues, because it’s between a human and an animal? How do you fill up these silences?
I think Pinky did a fantastic job of acting. We didn’t have to say anything. There was no retake or commotion because of her. She did everything absolutely brilliantly. She would follow the trainer’s command. So, we never took much time to shoot.
When the title of the film is named after a dog, do you think it’s important for the film to appeal to children? Or can you still make a very gritty, realistic investigative film?
No, I don’t think this has anything to do with children, because it has to do with murder and rape and a serial killer. So, the dog is, of course, an element in the film, but the story is a serious one.
When this lockdown talk started and when there were talks of releasing films directly on OTT, did the team have to re-edit the film to make it OTT-friendly?
As it is, the film is very crisp. It’s a very clear investigative thriller. There is no scope for songs. It’s very, very straightforward.
Were there any compromises made, because it needs to appeal to a B centre and C centre audience too?
No, it’s made for everybody. The film is based in Thanjavur. You always see thrillers set in Chennai or the big cities. This film is different.
How do you look at the whole OTT thing? It’s probably something you wouldn’t have had to think about in detail before, right?
See the thing is, this is the next level of change. There’s nothing to fear or feel negative or positive towards anything. It’s just the next step. You never thought that people would watch TV serials so seriously. What happened? Many keep re-watching Game of Thrones and Friends. I also feel that many more actors can be discovered through OTT, because you might not get a chance to star in a movie but you might land a chance to be in a web series or movies on OTT platforms. Many actors are not being discovered because they don’t have the opportunity to work in films.
Have you at any time felt when listening to a script that while it is edgy it is not meant for the theatre? So, suddenly when an option like an OTT opens up, do you think those films suddenly make more sense?
All this while, we’ve been making films only for theatres. So OTT was never a part of the thought process. I think OTT has now become a part of the thought process because of the Covid-19 situation. Also, all said and done, you’ll never be able to recreate the experience of watching a film in a theatre. Because, even for us, to see ourselves and see the live reaction of people is what we live for. When people go to theatres, watch the film and say ‘It was good’ or ‘It was , you feel great. We will never get that on an OTT platform. Having said that, you have to be adaptable to change.
Tell me a little bit about what you’ve been watching or the kind of series you’ve been following up during the lockdown.
Honestly, I’ve not been watching too much TV, because I’ve been really busy. The last one I watched was Paatal Lok on Amazon Prime. And then I watched Dark on Netflix. I haven’t been watching too much.
Do you see those kind of shows happening for us in Tamil as well?
I hope they do, because we’ve got some great actors and I just hope that they start.
In terms of acting, does every project seem stuck? Were you supposed to finish a movie by this time?
I have two releases in Telugu actually. I have Naandhi and Crack, which have pending work that I haven’t shot for. And I’ve got three films in Tamil ready for release. And almost close to seven or eight films that work was to have begun on. But, we just have to wait.
Is it time for you to listen to scripts and sign up?
Yeah, I’ve been hearing a lot of scripts and I’ve almost okayed close to about six to seven. So maybe once this whole thing gets over, we can probably resume.
Everyone is hopeful that this will resolve itself in four months… What’s your take?
We are hoping. But, practically speaking, I don’t think the cases are going to come down any time soon because of the way the infection is spreading. Probably, this whole year is going to be a little bit [gestures with hand] this way or that way. So, I don’t know, honestly.
Looking back at the start of 2020, what kind of a year did you expect this to be?
Certainly not like this [laughs]. I was working on back-to-back projects and I had to complete a lot of work; that came to a standstill. But, life is very unpredictable, We just have to go with the flow.
How can people keep themselves engaged and productive during this time?
Personally, I need to be productive. I can’t just sit like a couch potato. Maybe, for a couple of days I’ll do that, but then I start getting restless. So my tip would be to use your time wisely, be productive, learn something new, help people… The small things you do make you feel a bit useful. Pick up a talent. Learn a language. Learn an instrument. There are so many things you can do.