Multiple award-winning Indian film-maker Biju Viswanath gets candid in this interview with Only Kollywood where he talks about foraying into Tamil cinema with Orange Mittai, Vijay Sethupathi and more.
How did Orange Mittai happen with Vijay Sethupathi?
Vijay and I have been good friends since a long time. We had common friends – Manikandan, Karthik Subburaj and we all used to meet. I had narrated the story to Vijay even before Pizza. He liked the story and he said he will do it but as time passed he got very busy. I couldn’t find a producer for my project, then I went back to US because I was making my own movie there. When I came back he was a big star here, he had his Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkaththa Kanom released. Now the scenarios have changed and his dates were not available for the next one year and he was the most in-demand actor at that time. Then I planned to go back to US, I had a production house in Florence. On a casual talk he said that he is setting up his own production house and we will do the film in that production.
Was Orange Mittai originally conceived as a English-language film?
I generally write my scripts in English not because of anything but it was meant to be done as an international film first. And I find it more comfortable to write in English, I can’t write the dialogues in Tamil since it is not my mother tongue. We were also sending it to few funding agencies and obviously English is the easiest way. It is written for the sake of convenience since we had the funding agencies in Switzerland and some in Italy, at that time I was planning to do it like that. This was before Vijay and I planned to make it. Then we reworked on it.
At what point of time did Vijay Sethupathi decide to be a co-writer for the project?
He has co-written the script, basically he started as a dialogue writer and we both wrote the script together. We had lots of discussions about the dialogues. We wanted one promo song.
Vijay has also made his singing debut.
He had a unique voice and I thought it would be nice to hear it on his own voice because, it needed different kind of modulations even the Singam Nari song and we needed an expressive voice with broader range rather than a conventional singer.
Very few directors take up additional responsibility like editing and cinematography too on their shoulders. And, only a minor chunk have succeeded.
I didn’t find it difficult, I have been doing it for the past 15 years so it was nothing unusual. And I always believe that if you have control over your visuals or visual style you will be able to. Am not a cinematographer turned director but a director turned cinematographer. From a director’s perspective. I am clear about what I want. If I think this frame would look nice in a 35 lens or 85 lens or to have a key light I was very clear about it. I never felt it was a daunting task to handle these three things. In a way Balu Mahendra Sir is my Guru, I have met him long back. I never worked under him but he did few Malayalam films, and I was in school at that time. Those films were very diffrent and stood out from the regular crop of Malayalam films. In fact I learned about cinematography watching his films, that was the first time I was wondering, why is the light coming from there, what happens if the key light comes from here? Later when I met him I have told him all this and I was very close to him till his demise.
I dont believe in narrating the story. In a nutshell it is about a father son relationship. The story opens on the first death anniversary of the protoganist – Sathya’s father. Sathya had a very bad relationship with his father and now he is guilty that he didn’t take care of his father when he was alive. He gets a call from an old man Kailasam and goes to meet him. He finds that this guy has an uncanny resemblance to his father, it’s not the appearance but the way he treats and the way he approaches life. In a way Sathya is given a second chance in his life to make amends , Kailasam is also like that – he had a very bad experience with his son. So it is about how you meet a father and son in another time and space. Another theme of the movie is ‘The journey is the destination’. The present is the moment because you have nowhere to reach, there is no destination. It is the process that makes life. We have tried to approach it in a lightly funnier way rather than being melodramatic.
Jayaprakash was the first choice to play the old man?
Not only Jayapakash, we had so many other characters in mind. Jayaprakash was not available and we tried several other actors.We were really looking for old people and it was difficult since few had health problems. Not only that, the character was not a serious element, it has black humor to it so if it doesn’t work out it will fall flat.
How did Vijay Sethupathi prepare for the role?
That you should ask him (laughs). Every actor has a different way of approaching things. Of course, he did lots of home work. One of the works he did was while he was writing the dialogues, he was performing all the scenes. He used to perform for all characters, because that’s the way the dialogues are written. So, that gave him a clear overview of every scene. There’s no point in me telling that this is Vijay Sethupathi’s best performance. It will be a very matured, seasoned performance. You will see a Vijay Sethupathi who is entirely different from what you see in other films. As a person who has written and directed the film, I feel his performance is more on an international level. Because, this role has to have certain subtleties without overdoing things. A good performance, I believe, is all about subtleties. Not by shouting or yelling or crying. At the same time, you need to convey the emotions to the audience.
How was it working with Justin Prabhakaran, who impressed with his score in Pannaiyaaraum Padminiyum?
Justin was quite good and I enjoyed working with him. He is very open and innovative. And it is a long time since I worked with an Indian composer. My other composer is in Austria and he takes around 3 months to do something. Not only that he is one of the very talented young composers.
You have a doctoral degree in ‘Film Adaptations of Novels’. Do you think the bridge between literature and cinema is wide?
No, it is already there in Malayalam and other languages. Certain works you cannot translate or adapt. When you try to adapt a good work of a literature, we always tend to lose a little bit. Of course, God Father was adapted, adaptation itself means making suitable for another medium. You take any major classic unless it has lot of external actions you cannot adapt it into films. For example, something happens inside the mind of the hero but it is difficult to convey it as a movie. So when we adapt a good literature we lose something, for instance – Alchemist. It was supposed to be one of the best books, somebody was trying to make it into a film and it will never work. Because when you read there are certain nuances and you create a world of your own. When I say an evening, a twilight, a sunset that comes to your mind and my mind are different. The mood and the tone that comes to your mind is very different. Some books are better not to be done as a film. Because movie is very different that is why people complain the book was good and movie was not. There are so many Pulitzer and Booker prize winning books every year but everything cannot be translated into a movie. Kite Runner is one film where a lot of people were disappointed. So to adapt you need to find a story with lot of external actions. It is very easy to say he is very disturbed in one line but in a movie you need 30 secs sometimes you need 3 minutes to convey it with a music. It is tough. It is not only in Tamil. Good literature and cinema, you cannot adapt unless it is Dracula or something which has been done over and over again.
Are you planning to send Orange Mittai to film festivals across the globe?
We have already sent it to few festivals. We are waiting because most of the festivals seek world premiere. So, when you have a theatrical release here, the world premiere status automatically changes. So, we are waiting for the film’s release on July 31st here first. Festival is another thing. I believe a film should reach the widest audience possible.
Only Kollywood wishes Biju Viswanth a great success for his directorial debut in K’town with Orange Mittai.