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Gautham's Contemplative Approach to Filmmaking – Sit Back, Read!

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If you ever get a chance to listen to a filmmaker talk about his craft and his style of filmmaking, of course the lessons that you’ll take back is gonna be a big inspiration. But the inspiration varies between different filmmakers right? With Gautham Menon, the filmmaker somehow creates a very delightful aura, and the things that he’ll share will not only inspire you, but it’ll leave you contemplating a lot about films on your way back home, his conversations and philosophy on filmmaking will move you in such a way that your thoughts start drifting to whole new different angles, it’ll make you feel a lot more closer and connected to the characters around you. That’s what you reap out of a 45 minutes cinema rendezvous with undeniably the most stylish filmmaker we have today – Goutham Vasudev Menon.

Gautham’s Inspirations

Unlike most filmmakers Gautham Menon does not hesitate to confess that he is largely inspired by the depth and aesthetics that Hollywood cinema creates. Talking about his favorite film, Al Pacino’ Scent of a Woman, his face instantly lights up with a heavy load of the film’s beauty that’s ingrained in his mind and in his craft. He says, “I yearn to make films like this, in fact we in the industry have to make films like this. If you look closely at the film’s story, Al Pacino’s compelling acting, and the writing, the screenplay, the scenes one after another pulls you close and it drops the characters inside your head.”

Gautham’s Characters

Influences like this, seems to created Goutham Menon’s artistic corner and that’s probably why we are loaded with magnetic scenes and characters through his films. Goutham Menon is one filmmaker who manages to pull out honest emotions from the actors through their roles that we as audience’ can relate to. In a time when Tamil Cinema is trying to experiment with the actor’s characterizations and roles, somehow every single time, Goutham Menon’s characters stand out so uniquely. And the sketch of his characters can never be imitated. Goutham Menon says, “I always want my characters to be defined by how they walk, smile, talk, and their voice. These are little details, but if woven neatly they tend to forever stick in your mind.”

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The female leads in my movies are in a way a reflection of how the women I’ve known in my life carried themselves. 

When asked about the staggering female characters in all his movies, he says that he owes it all to his sister and his mother. He says, “ I grew up watching these two women in my life closely. The female leads in my movies are in a way a reflection of how the women I’ve known in my life carried themselves. They are defined by who they are.”

His Journey

Of course looking back at his first film, the filmmaker has indeed hit the significant mark, and through  his films one after another he has definitely come a long way. His filmmaking style as we can all see through each one of his movies, they sound refined and one of a kind. When asked about his journey from his first film to the last film, he says, “ Minnale was never meant to be my first film. I narrated Kaaka Kaaka first to Madhavan, but he suggested that I make Minnale as my first film.” Recollecting about this, he definitely seems happy about the decision, because after that, his very second movie Kaaka Kaaka gave him the break that he deserved. Goutham Menon sounds like someone who pushes himself to his creative edge, and maybe that’s why he has always been thrown  certain constraints from the industry. He recalls, “Once I was done with Kaaka Kaaka, the producer wanted me to remove the love part saying it was unnecessary, and that the film would do just with the violence texture alone. I was almost taken back at this interference, because the love between Maya and Anbuselvan is what moves the story, and without the love part the film as a whole would not have any meaning at all. I almost got to a point of frustration where I told the producer to remove my name and put someone else’s name as the director. Somehow in the end the producers were convinced that the love story is in fact an important part of the film, and they decided to leave it alone. Kaaka Kaaka was designed, and made just the way I wanted it to.”

The Journey With Obstacles

Goutham Menon believes that every filmmaker should be allowed to release their artistic ideas when they are given the ground to be a filmmaker. So does this sort of interference exist even today? “Yes,” he says, “These days a lot of constraints are thrown on my ideas and on my films. There are distributors and financiers telling me what should and should not be in a movie, they want me to tweak this and that, they want me to cut down on the elements that I know is essential for a film. To be honest all this is only drifting my thoughts, and makes me feel like I’m loosing my creative freedom.” He says that he often travels a lot to fall deeply into his story, and to allow his creativity flow. If this happens with Goutham Menon, a man who is well know to make beautiful and relatable films, you could only imagine the kind of restrictions that will be thrown at an aspiring filmmaker by the producers and distributors.

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These days a lot of constraints are thrown on my ideas and on my films. There are distributors and financiers telling me what should and should not be in a movie

Vaaranam Aayiram – The Perfect Story

When talking about films with Goutham Menon, one can’t avoid talking about Vaaranam Aayiram. And of course this movie was thoroughly a tribute to his father. He says, “ When I was in my plane getting back home to be there at my dad’s funeral, somehow that emotional state that I was in at that time pushed me to recollect the first time I remember seeing him and talking to him. I wrote down in my laptop all the moments that connected us deep,  the days that I spent with him , the lessons and the inspiration, the man that he was, his attributes and his reflection, I was able to bring it all down in my laptop. And before I could know I actually had a story in my hand that I could not separate myself from. When I narrated the story to Surya, he only said, “This is the story. This is perfect. Let us build it from here.” And of course the rest is history. Vaaranam Aayiram went to become one of the most important films in Goutham Menon’s career, and it is simply actor Surya’s finest movie that he has done till date.

It is my story and my Film, as simple as that…

But success was not a continuous factor in Goutham Menon’s career. His film NeeDhane En Ponvasandham didn’t do well, and Nadunisi Naaygal received piles of negative criticisms from the audience as well as from the critics. Talking about NEP he says, “ I was criticized and discouraged when I decided to bring in Illayaraja as the film’s music composer. People wanted me to go for A.R.Rahman’ music, but I think it is important as a filmmaker to have the guts to put front the movie just the way you want it to. I grew up listening to Ilayaraja’s music, and in the end it is my story and it is my film, and I just decided to ignore every criticism and go for it.” As for Nadunisi Naygal, the filmmaker says that the scenes that happened in his life after NN gives him nightmares even now.  A large part of the audience and the critics found the movie quite offensive, they found it’s sexual content unacceptable, and worse people tried attacking his house after the film’s release. But a little contradictory to that episode his fans and the filmmaker himself believes that maybe ten years down the line NN will be accepted and the audience will then watch the film with a different perspective and mindset. In the middle of the rendezvous an aspiring filmmaker stated that NN is in fact one of Goutham Menon’s best movies. Maybe showcasing a little difference in the story by a director who is know to make subtle films confused the audience and the critics. But isn’t that part of the art? To expand one’s ideas and thoughts?

Creative Freedom

Talking about his actors, he says that sometimes the actors do not see the flow of the story like he views it, and so he eventually has to move on with another script. Ask him how many script are laid down that way, “I have three to four scripts completely bound, waiting for an approval from an actor or a producer.” Well known to create splendid female characters, the male leads in Goutham Menon’s movies are no exception. Talking about Vinnai Thandi Varuvaya, Goutham Menon literally gave a complete makeover for a clichéd kind of male protagonist. Simbu’s character in VTV was so unique, and he says, “that kind of a flow comes when the actor gives you the creative freedom. Thankfully that has worked for me with Simbu, because he gives me that creative space to free-wheel my story and my characters.”

I Believe in the first Draft

So about that creative space, where does he find that? – He explains, “There’s no way my mind misses a beautiful story when I sit down to write on a rainy day. I go to coffee shops and I write trying to pour down anything at all that enters my mind.” “I’m a reluctant writer,” he calls himself, “and I don’t really have an end or a middle part when I start writing. I just allow my mind to move in it’s own direction, and of course I believe the first draft is where the rawness of the story hides. Maybe that’s why he always chooses to start narrating and shooting with the first draft. Ask him about this he says, “I believe that once I start tweaking and altering the first draft you’re never gonna be satisfied with anything that adds up to the paper after that. For me the first draft contains the real essence of the story that you had in your mind.”

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I believe that once I start tweaking and altering the first draft you’re never gonna be satisfied with anything that adds up to the paper after that

DOP’s Vision Equally matters

When the craft of Goutham Menon’s films were mentioned, of course the process is not a one man show. The craft as whole has it’s aesthetic parts filled by the lyricist, the composers, and the Cinematographers who bring the scenes that’s running inside the filmmakers mind to life. And Goutham says that he always chooses to opt for a different Cinematographer between each one of his movies. He explains, “Each filmmaker has earned their unique trademark style. You look at a Mani Ratnam movie and you’ll know at once without noticing the directors name, that it is a Mani Ratnam’s movie. This applies for all the filmmakers, and I want to change that in my films. When I bring in different Cinematographers for different movies, their sense of capturing the scenes, and their vision, and they way they see things will be different from the previous cinematographer who worked in my film. I try to give that change in the vibe and vision in my films. But with Dan MacArthur who is working for my film for the second time, the style he puts down on the table is very simplified. His working style and his vision looks so much at ease and he has a knack for getting things done using minimal lights and equipments that in turn makes way for simpler staging.

Show the Change – Audience are ready

Learning about the varied results of Goutham Menon’s films one can’t help but wonder, are our Tamil audience and critics yet to get into a different mindset where they watch movies for what they are with a different perspective? He filmmaker disagrees. He says, ‘I think the audience’ are ready for any kind of movies, but the question is, is the industry really giving them the change that they need to be given? Social media these days largely affects the way one views a film. If there’s a small group of people sharing a negative review about the film , the ones who are reading that negative review somehow settle with the idea that the film is bad and they don’t even care to watch the film in a theatre. But talking about the audience’ aren’t we still asking for larger than life heroism from the protagonist? Goutham Menon disappointedly says, “Sadly that still exists in Tamil cinema. Audiences need to be shown something different and they are ready for that too, but at the same time they still ask for the larger than life heroes, hours of punch dialogues and too much exaggeration of the hero.”

Gautham’s WishList

On a lighter side, Goutham Menon reminisces on waiting on and on to do films with Kamal hHassan, and that he wants to make a film with Rajinikanth, even though it’s out if his hands. He says, “To make a movie with Rajinikanth Sir, that can only happen if he decides to pick me for this next film.  And then he drops this – “A couple of months back I was called to Rajinikanth Sir house to narrate a story, and I thought maybe this is it. I narrated him a script, and in the end he thoroughly loved it, he asked me a lot of questions about where I get the inspiration from, and how I work. After I was done with it all, I was waiting outside for the producer to give me some hints on whether it’ll happen or not. After a while the producer came out and he was so happy that he congratulated me and said that I am in fact gonna make a film with Rajinikanth Sir on board. But he said that maybe I should not talk about it to anybody for a couple of days. On the same evening I got a call from the same producer saying that the film with Rajinikanth Sir wont happen. The reasons were unknown. And that’s why I always say to do or to not do a film with the two legends of Tamil cinema is completely out of  my hands.”

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Thank you Cinema Rendezvous Team!

Goutham Menon is someone who seems to connect himself a lot to music, conversations, literature and of course films. Ask him about the current change and trends in Tamil cinema, he says, “It’s good to see films like Kaaka Muttai, and Sudhu Kavum do well. These films were filmed in a very subtle note, yet the impact it creates on people is huge. This sort of experimentation, and the experimentation in genres is on a roll at the moment in Tamil cinema, and that is definitely a positive rise.”

Gautham’s Love is not fading anytime soon

In the end one could only wish to see more films from Goutham Menon, because the kind of adamant love towards his art is what we get back from his conversations. Goutham Menon is one director who believes and sticks to the concept of showing what is justly possible in a man and women, and his out of the box versatility is the exact thing Tamil cinema needs right now.

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