Saturday, 15 December 2018

I feared of losing 30-year friendship with AR Rahman: Rajiv Menon

When filmmaker Rajiv Menon had a simple conversation with Johnson, a mridangam-repairer owning a small shop in Mylapore, he says he never had a thought that the storyline of Sarvam Thaala Mayam (STM) would pop up as a little spark. “But it has happened, and that is from where I built the plot and its conflict,” the Minsara Kanavu director said about the movie that is a couple of weeks away from release.

As we had a brief interaction at his studio at Mylapore, Rajiv, who is at the peak of excitement, opened up a lot about musical drama STM that is less known to the rest of the world.

Here are the excerpts:

1. Minsara Kanavu was about a few infamous people coming together to form a musical band, while in Kandukondein Kandukondein, Aishwarya Rai is a singer. Now STM is an out and out musical entertainer. What’s the reason behind this musical connection?

I would say it is a genetic connection. Having been brought up in a musical family, I have always had this touch and sense of music in everything. So, I unintentionally end up with music taking a serious role in my screenplay.

2. Was that the reason for your composing a song for STM as well? How was it when you took it to A R Rahman?

When I wrote the sequences for ‘Varalamo Un Arugil‘ for STM, all of a sudden, the first line started to show up from nowhere inside my mind space along with the lyrics and tune. Before I could forget that I recorded it and called Madhan Karky to narrate the sequence and the first line. Karky came up with complete lyrics of the song and I had it all ready. And, now the real dilemma arose whether to tell this to ARR or not. I was actually hesitating for over a month to discuss Varalamo with Rahman, thinking it would end our 30-year-old friendship. ARR accepts if someone is not okay with his tune and will give more options. But, I never knew how he would react to this kind of a scenario. Finally, one day, I gathered the guts and told him I have tuned a song and to my surprise, the song was ready in a few hours with A R Rahman’s orchestration and Rajiv Menon’s composition. My friendship was saved at the end of the day. (chuckles)

3. As we can see in the trailer, the movie’s protagonist seems to be ‘Peter’ and he wants to learn music from ‘Vembu Iyer’. Will this movie speak about Hindu-Christian relationship?

First, this story is not unique and is that of many individuals and families. When I interacted with Umayalpuram Sivaraman’s official mridangam-maker and repairer Johnson, he said his son was learning to play the mridangam from Sivaraman. Johnson’s family seems to be a bloodline of mridangists and only he ended as a repairer. Now, when his son is learning the art from a legend like Umayalpuram, the way Johnson emoted, as his next generation is becoming a musician, gave me the idea of STM. If this is how one aspires to become a musician, what if that really happens. And, that is Sarvam Thaala Mayam. When some people belong to a particular religion, their faith would differ. Before a few generations, they would have originated from the same faith. STM revisits that.

4. What is the significance and prominence of live sounds in a film like STM?

Simple – we will be making a scene now and its dubbing will happen a few months later before which the emotion and the essence of the scene would be lost. Also, during the dubbing session, the engineer would be asking for clarity, which is far from reality. Say, when we are having this interaction, do you really hear every word of mine clearly? No, right? If that is the reality, so should be STM, which is all about sounds and music.

5. The thought process of your films and director Bala’s differ completely. But, how are you connected to him so much that he had the chance of watching STM already?

My two previous films, Minsara Kanavu and Kandukondein Kandukondein have been frequent-telecast flicks on TV. Whenever KK is telecast, I would get phone calls from a lot of people who greet me for making that emotional family drama and would ask me to do more films. But, when Minsara Kanavu goes on air, every time, the next day, I would get a bouquet from Bala who would also call me, insisting I make a film soon. I really do not know what in Minsara Kanavu impressed him to that extent. So, I was already planning to show him a special screening once STM was done. In fact, he was updated every now and then since the inception of STM’s pre-production.

6. What’s unique about Sarvam Thaala Mayam, compared to your previous two films?

It is ‘reality’. In my first film, Minsara Kanavu, you would have seen some improbable events like a barber, a wannabe nun, a bakery owner and a handsome young man joining hands to form a music band. The entire plot was on a hypothetical context and a world of fantasy. But, in Kandukondein Kandukondein, I came a little closer to reality and made the film on family, emotions and ambition. Now STM will be even more real and a struggle of a young boy who sees everything around him in the forms of thaalam and wants to become the No. 1 mridangist. So STM is just another phase of evolution of my films on a scale of realism.

- Santhosh Mathevan,
Chennai, December 15, 2018.

A part or complete version of this interview by Santhosh Mathevan has appeared in