“Doing Maari helped me go back to where I originally started”

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Fill in the blanks below. In all of Balaji Mohan’s Films, ____ continues to play a central character. In all of Balaji Mohan’s Films, ____ continues to characterize his protagonists. In all of Balaji Mohan’s Films, ____ continues to be integral to his style.

Well If you have guessed it, kudos to you. If you haven’t, the answers are:

1. Environment

2. Innocence

3. Honesty

If you have watched his recent work “Maari”, then you might disagree with the above answers. Maari was a commercial film made for the masses. It however did receive ‘not so good reviews’ from independent filmmakers and aspirants.

What was the exact intention behind making such a film? Was it made just to prove that he can also come good on the commercial arena? And where is the director heading to in terms of content. A lot of questions were bothering us and it seemed inevitable to catch hold of this man.

The college in Kadhalil Sodhappuvathu Eppadi, colony in Maari, Panimalai (hill station) in Vaayai Moodi Pesavum played integral characters in their respective movies. Was the story inspired from these environments or it was kept just to augment the original script? what is the impact of these environments on your stories?

Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, in particular, demands such a remote location where this disease has crept in and then a ban is announced, so, there has to be a place like Munnar where everybody knows everyone and hence, they stay connected in the limited region. Whereas in Kadhalil Sodhapuvathu Eppadi, the college as an environment was just the backdrop. If you have seen Maari, you would know that the colony under the local don’s influence was, again, just the backdrop. If you ask me, I would say the impact was more profound in Vaayai Moodi Pesavum, since the story wholly depends on that place.

Along the same lines, your previous films were mostly shot in outdoor locations, in a hill station, or in a college. But when it came to Maari, you had decided to show a plastic colony, which is again evident to most of our eyes. Was this a conscious decision to exercise production control or did you think this could well play along with the motive of the movie: celebrating Maari – the local don!

The script was written keeping in mind that this whole story about Maari was happening in a slum. We had initially decided to shoot in a slum and started shooting in Mathakuppam. The arrest scene that comes during the interval block and the tournament scene was shot in the same place. But soon we realized that shooting the major portion in the slum will be next to impossible. There will be 50 to 60 people running behind Dhanush whenever he gets off the caravan. A similar crowd would stand between me and the monitor. At one point of time, it looked like a stage performance. The actor would recite a dialogue and these guys would reply with a loud cheer. So we had to go with a set turned into a colony. But I am glad it worked for us.

Let’s talk about your local don. What inspired you to opt for Maari? You were carving out a distinct route for yourself. Why this sudden change in approach?

I grew up watching Rajnikanth films. The cinematic taste that I had developed for commercial cinema precedes my taste for world cinema. I can’t deny that. Maari was supposed to be my second film. In fact, I had submitted similar scripts, gangster-action types after my first, but my producer, Mr.Sashi opted for one of the off-beat scripts which went to be made as Vaayai Moodi Pesavum. Since Vaayai Moodi Pesavum resembled Kadhalil Sodhappuvathu Eppadi in terms of approach, people naturally assumed Balaji Mohan is one who prefers doing offbeat films. Doing Maari was personally enduring and it helped me go back to where I originally started as a filmmaker.

Maari was not the usual don. Infact as I observed, the focus was more on the softer aspects of the protagonist. He doesn’t get emotional, rejects the love proposal, makes people’s lives around him miserable, but we were still able to enjoy his tantrums. Some thought on the characterization of Maari.

The characters was formed first and then a plot was drawn around him. I was excited about the prospect of making a movie on an individual who is bad, but not evil. He knows he is bad but he doesn’t consider it as a big deal . He, who stays as a bad guy from the start till the end, who doesn’t have a major goal in his life and unlike other dons does not go after killing people to go to a big level or run after money. Even Dhanush was excited as there was a lot of scope for acting in him and yes, he did it with ease!

Let’s talk about our indigenous mass movies. There is an increasing notion that mass films are of a low quality and don’t stand a chance against the taste of today’s intelligent audience. What is your take on this notion? What would you say to someone who is interested to produce such films?

Well I don’t have the authority to pronounce what can be done to stay relevant to the intelligent audience. One can have mass moments in an action film, You could have one in an intentionally tight thriller or a spooky film. It all depends on the writer on what he intended to give to his audience. But all I will say is, irrespective of whether it is a mass or some other genre based film, one should create films for oneself. You cannot make films just because the people want it. You should recreate what was there initially in your mind and that’s what I call ‘being honest’. From the script to the post to seeing it on the first day, I thoroughly enjoyed Maari and I am happy about it.

I wanted to ask you this earlier: The second half was fully silent in Vaayai Moodi Pesavum. This must have been challenging for the team, wasn’t it?

Yes, throughout the second half, the film has to move in silence without any dialogues. Initially, I had a doubt on how we could cope with this as this is new to our people but once we had a plan, it was all easy. But it was still a challenge. We used to verify with the crew members such as the lightman on what is exactly happening and if they understand we would happily proceed. Largely, we had to adjust ourselves in acting, manage through shot divisions and cuts and in the end we were able to tackle it with ease.

One last question, where is Balaji Mohan heading, in terms of content?

There is no definite plan. But I will continue to attempt and experiment on genres and content that excites me as a viewer. Even Maari is an experimentation, a positive reinforcement, gave umpteen lessons as a director. I don’t have a solid plan. But I will continue to create movies that are varied in content and style. And that is for sure!

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