He is all set to release one of his biggest projects, Anjaan, featuring South sensation Suriya, on Independence Day. In the midst of a hectic shooting schedule and shuttling between locales in Chennai, Mumbai and Goa, director, writer and producer N Lingusamy speaks to Sagorika Dasgupta about the film and the changing face of the South Indian film industry
You have worked with some of the top actors in the South. However, Anjaan is your first film with Suriya. What was it like working with him?
Yes, it was great experience working with him as he is a very dedicated actor. In my film, Anjaan, he plays a gangster from the Mumbai underworld and we have styled him in a very stylish avatar. This is the first time he will be playing a double role in which both the characters are stylish. We have revealed only the first look of the film so far and the buzz is quite good. It is a completely commercial film packaged with a little suspense, drama, action and romance. On the whole, it’s a massy film, a holiday release, which will hit the screens on August 15.
There are quite a few Bollywood actors in the film too…
Yes, there’s Manoj Bajpai, Vidyut Jammwal, Rajpal Yadav, Dalip Tahil and some others. The film is set in Mumbai, so I felt that we needed some actors from here as well. Besides, I have been a big fan of Manoj Bajpai from a very long time. I admired him in films like Satya and I often refer to him as the Robert De Niro of Indian cinema. But this is not the first time I am working with Hindi film actors. I have worked with Milind Soman for one of my films and Atul Kulkarni, who featured in my film, Run, which was later remade in Hindi.
Since you mentioned Run, what is your take on South films being remade in Hindi?
A lot of people talk about how we need to come up with new content and not indulge in remakes but the truth is, remakes have been around for quite a few years. A lot of big producers are buying the rights to our films to remake them in Hindi. So that’s definitely a positive sign. This is only possible because these stories have mass appeal, like Ghajini, Pokiri and Singham. The fact that actors like Salman Khan, Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn feature in these remakes is why they are all run successful.
Almost all remakes in the last 5 to 10 years have made Rs 100 – 200 crore at the box office. So it’s good news. The Hindi film industry has always churned out commercial entertainers which have an emotional chord. Films like Sholay and Deewar are in that category. Our Tamil directors like Puri Jagganadh, AR Murgadoss and Prabhu Dheva have all directed remakes in Hindi.
South remakes have leading men from Bollywood featuring in them and they do well at the box office. But why isn’t a South hero as successful in Bollywood?
(Laughs) I think it’s because they have moustaches which they are not ready to part with! But that’s not true. Actors like Rajinikanth are big even in Bollywood. Why else would Shah Rukh Khan have dedicated a song to him in his last film Chennai Express?
You are a director, producer as well as a writer. Are the kinds of films you direct also the films you like to produce?
I usually tend to write the films I direct and mostly as far as direction is concerned, the call is purely commercial. I have produced films that are a little experimental in nature, so films like Vazhakku Enn 18/9 and Kumki were all those kind of films. I began my career as a director and I rolled out my production house Thirupathi Borthers in collaboration with my brother N Subhash Chandra Bose in 2005. Our first film Deepavali released in 2007. As a director, I try not to experiment too much as the producer’s money is at stake.
Are there any changes you have witnessed in the Tamil film industry since you began your career?
The Tamil film industry has undergone a sea change, the biggest one being that digital print has replaced films. When I started my career as a director, most producers would caution me to take care that I don’t ruin my film print. We would spend days shooting outdoors and there was always this fear not to expose the prints to sunlight. Now, we have digital cameras with a monitor where we can check the progress of a film after every shot. That is a luxury we didn’t have earlier.
Another very important development is that the Internet has become a blessing for newcomers, whether actors or technicians. When someone wants to assist me or another director, they can just upload a video of a short film of theirs on YouTube and we can see the film and decide whether the person is talented or not.
A lot of auditions also take place online these days. This has made the entire process of filmmaking much easier. The South industry has always been up-to-date with technology, whether sound, cinematography or camerawork. So these changes have given the industry a big boost. The fact that corporate houses are coming to the South is another positive sign for our growth. It means that our films are going global and they have attracted these foreign studios to collaborate with us.
The exhibition business in the South has some strict regulations.
(Cuts in) There is rapid development even in the South exhibition industry. Almost every month a new multiplex is being introduced. The existing cinemas are either upgrading their screens or launching new ones. In the South as well as in Hind cinema, there was a trend where films would celebrate a 100-day run or golden and silver jubilees. Now-a-days, thanks to multiplexes, more and more films release every weekend, and 20 days is the longest a film lasts at a cinema hall. Due to this, only the best movies last longest in the race. There is no room for mediocrity any more.