In an exclusive conversation with Only Kollywood, Director Naviin Raghavan talks about his upcoming release Manja Pai, his tryst with the industry and his deepest veneration for Raj Kiran appa.
How did Manja Pai happen?
I was working as an AD to Sargunam sir in Kalavani and Vaagai Sooda Vaa. One fine morning, I opened up to him about moving on and expressed my desire to direct a film on my own. He was quite surprised and happy at the same time. Then, I narrated the story which I had in mind for a long time. He was impressed and said, “Don’t tell this story to anyone else. I’ll produce your film.” We decided the technicians for the film in a jiffy. Sargunam sir suggested Raj Kiran’s name for thatha character and I was totally satisfied with his choice since I hold the veteran actor in high regard and always call him Raj Kiran appa. While the pre-production works were going in full swing, Sargunam sir took me to Thirrupathi Brothers office and I narrated the script to Lingusamy and Bose. They were evidently moved by it and in a blink of an eye, they’re on board.
Tell us about the relevance of film’s title to the story.
The title Manja Pai symbolises the manja pai village bumpkins carry when they go for a town or city. People mock at villagers when they carry manja pai. The story deals about a grandfather and his grandson who come to Chennai for the latter’s profession and how they come to terms with the modern life style. The film registers the beautiful love between a grandfather and his grandson with seriocomical elements that give the story its life and freshness. It’s a complete family entertainer and does not have a shred of glamour.
Vimal has mentioned in an interview that Manja Pai will be a career-changing film for him. Is it a bit of an overstatement?
Both Vimal and Raj Kiran have lived in their respective roles as peran and thatha. Vimal is a good friend of mine when I was working as an AD to Sargunam sir in Kalavani and Vaagai Sooda Vaa. So, it was really comfortable working with him. After finishing the script, I felt Vimal would be apt for this role and he has delivered a heart-warming performance. It will be definitely one of the best films in his career.
After Thavamai Thavamirundhu, Raj Kiran was called fondly by everyone as appa wherever he went. Now, Raj Kiran has told that after Manja Pai, people will call him thatha with much more love.
Naveen, understandably, laughs.
The idea for the story of Manja Pai is borrowed from my real life. When I reached Chennai, the ordeal which I underwent and the experiences of meeting new people in the city along with my grandma formed the storyline of Manja Pai. I replaced my paatti with thatha, that’s all. We have films like Poove Poochudavaa which depicts the relationship between a paatti and peththi. We barely have films that portray the love between a thatha and peran. Even though we have loved Raj Kiran appa in many of his films for his inimitable acting and idiosyncratic gestures, his performance in Thavamai Thavamirundhu was top notch and heart-wrenching. That’s why we wanted to cast him in thatha character. Initially I had apprehensions whether he will accept this film since he would be cast as thatha to a hero for the first time. But, when I narrated the story to him, he said, “I’ll do this film. When shall we go for shooting?,” after five minutes of silence. He has literally lived in this role and I was shooting most of his scenes with awe. Before we started the film, Raj Kiran appa called me and said, “Think of me as your grandpa and ask me whatever you want me to do. If you think you are not satisfied with the shot, never be hesitant to tell me.” Raj Kiran appa’s character in the film is what he is exactly like in real life too. He is always affable, child-like and large-hearted.
Tell us about the dusky damsel Lakshmi Menon. Is her role a typical dancing around the tree for three songs or does she have a meaty role?
No, definitely not. She hails from a middle class family in the film and plays the role of an eye doctor. She does have a meaty role and it’s not confined to dancing around the tree with the hero for three or four songs. The entire story of the film revolves around thatha, peran and the heroine. And, the interesting exchanges happening between them form the crux of the plot.
We have seen hints of a dignified lip-lock in a 10 sec promo released recently. Does Lakshmi Menon share a lip-lock with Vimal in the film?
As I told before, you will not see any shred of glamour in the film’s entire run time. In that lip-lock scene, you will not even see their cheeks slide each other. This film is about relationships and will be a complete family entertainer in all aspects. Neither does the film have any distasteful puns nor does it have unsavory double-entendres.
The film is certified U. What was the response of the censor board after watching the film?
Whatever was finalized in the editing table before we sent the film to certification is what you will be watching on screen too. Not even a single visual cut was suggested by the censor members. One of the members in the board said, “It’s been ages since we have come across a film like this.” And they were highly appreciative of our efforts.
Only Kollywood wishes the Manja Pai team for a good success.