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Interview : Manian Pillai Raju – Part II

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The editors of Varnachitram recently had an opportunity to chat with Maniyan Pillai Raju (Actor/Producer). Raju, a successful producer with movies like Ananthabhadram, Chotta Mumbai, Vellanakalude Naadu, Ey Auto, and Anaswaram gave us insights into various aspects of film making. Like the characters he plays on screen, he was jovial, honest and informal. This is the concluding part of the two part series. Please click here to read part I of this interview.

VC: Our next question is about music, In films we usually see that there is no match between the voice of an actor and voice of a singer. This looks odd. But it is so common now that people have accepted this oddity. We asked Deepak Dev and he told that singers are chosen by the producers and not by music directors. How do you pick singers for your movie?

A: I don’t think that is a correct observation. In last 5 years if there’s something revolutionary happened, it’s about music directors. At least 6 new music director got established in this field during that time. In Chotta Mumbai, I am introducing a new young music director, Rahul Raj. He’s done a wonderful job for Chotta Mumbai. One day, during the pre-production of Chotta Mumbai, he expressed his wish to get Shankar Mahadevan to sing the song Thala. Shankar Mahadevan’s salary would be at least 10 times more than what I pay for a singer in Malayalam. And moreover I will have to take care of his flight expenses from Bombay. That means for each song Shankar Mahadevan sings I will have to pay at least Rs.50000 extra. But since Rahul Raj badly wanted to get him, I said ok. But that worked out well. The song did well. Rahul Raj immediately got offer for directing music in Mohanlal’s own production Alibhai. He also did Shaji Kailas’s Time. He’s got very busy and is doing very well now. Similarly Mammootty’s Big B also has a new comer. Good thing about music is that we can try different singers, if one doesn’t sing well then we can try another singer. What I am saying is that, when it comes to singers we can take risk, but we cannot take a risk when it comes to heroes.

VC: the song Chettikulangara has come out very nicely …

A: Yes, that’s one of the highlights of the movie.

VC: Now lot of family sad stories which were the forte of Malayalam cinema have now moved to TV Serials. Also lot of families are now addicted to those. What can Malayalam film makers do to attract more audience to theatres.

A: That’s true, TV serials attract a lot of people, especially women. In US sometime back there was a similar crisis. Hollywood movies faced a similar dilemma. TV shows and series were hugely popular. Then they changed track and started producing spectacular movies and themes. Movies like Star wars, Jurassic Park are the examples. It was unaffordable for TV studios to produce such movies in such a grand scale. People started coming back to movie theatres to see such spectacular productions. Here in Kerala, most of the TV serials are tear-jerker serials. A producer like me would plan to make movies with themes which could not be produced for TV serials. That’s why I am producing movies like Chotta Mumbai, which is a fun film and a lavish production. Every aspect of a movie like Chotta Mumbai would be costly, for example we chose the best art director, similarly every department of the movie would be done by best people and equipment. So movies should have ingredients that would attract people to theatres.

VC: But how many producers are there in Kerala who could spend such spectacular amounts of money? And is it a practical solution?

A: No, No, I didn’t mean to say that we should spend money in Star Wars level. The movies should be at least better than TV serials. The themes for movies should not be light like TV serials. People would think that they can shed tears at home, why spend money in a movie theatre and see similar fare. Movies should be technically better and have very good star cast and themes should not be like the ones you see in TV serials.

VC: You mentioned that movies should deal with subjects not dealt in TV serials. There are so many other genres remain unexplored. For example, Children in other countries get to watch many movies made for their age group which teach them morals and values, while children in Kerala are forced to watch movies like Kilukkam Kilukilukkam and CID Moosa for entertainment. Why are no good movies made for children like My Dear Kuttichathan or Manu Uncle? Don’t you think our children deserve better children’s movies?

A: Previously there were not many options for entertainment. When a movie like My Dear Kuttichatan releases, parents whole heartedly take kids to the theatres. Nowadays kids have more fun than us. Nowadays cable operators offer so many channels, many of them are cartoon channels. Some channels show movies like Hulk and all. Kids are happy and satisfied with what is offered in the TV.

VC: So do you mean to say that kids would not need a full length children’s movie in Malayalam?

A: Nowadays movie making involves lot of money. It’s not easy to get producers for a children’s movie. On the other hand, kids drag parents to theatres for movies like Chotta Mumbai. It’s not a serious movie, nor has it any depth in the story. Kids love the Chettikulangara song. Mohanlal’s act in that movie is enjoyable for children as well as grownups. It’s a very long time since Mohanlal has done a down to earth character. Maybe last time he did such a character was in Aey Auto. It’s Women and Children who made Chotta Mumbai a success. Kids have adopted it as their movie.

VC: Udayananu Tharam showed us an inside glimpse of the film industry. Was that an exaggeration or is it all true – the unreasonable demands of actors and stealing of scripts?

A: Whether it was an exaggeration or not, it was very well portrayed by Srinivasan.

VC: Yes, no doubt, we agree.

A: Lot of the things shown in that movie is true. If something is shown as it is people won’t laugh. Comedy happens when things are a exaggerated.

VC: Ananthabadram came in 2005 and now Chotta Mumbai. Why are you not producing movies more often?

A: I was told that Ananthabadram would do very well abroad, business wise as well as in festivals. Nothing of that sort happened and it caused me a lot of heart burn. Another issue was piracy. All my friends saw Ananthabadram using pirated CDs. Now the new government has taken lot of steps, including widespread raids to control this menace. Now you cannot sell such CDs, nor you can keep such CDs with you. As a result of that there is lot of rush in the movie theatres. It’s easy to act in movies compared to producing a movie. Movie production involves lot of tension, but it’s a passion for me. Now onwards I would like to produce one movie every year.

VC: You are an actor, as well as a producer. Double roles. There are many organisations representing Actors, technicians and producers, like AMMA, MACTA etc. . What is your views on tension between these organisations? How do you handle these conflicting interests?

A: All these are fiction written by newspapers. In reality all these Organizations have a lot of unity and they cooperate a lot. If MACTA needs some help they call AMMA and vice versa if AMMA has any issues they don’t hesitate in getting MACTA’s help. Small issues are magnified in newspapers. All organisations are in peace with each other. Moreover our organizations set example for other states. AMMA has done some pioneering work, and we are a case study for other states. For example, AMMA gives pension for 52 artists. We give an amount of Rs.2000, and we call it Kaineettam. There are many artists who live just by this pension. Now we are going to produce a movie. For that we’ll get an amount of 1 crore. With that we are hoping to double the number of people receiving Kaineettam. We don’t want to call it pension, we prefer Kaineettam. No other organization in India does such a thing, maybe barring BCCI which is giving pension to former Ranji players. Such good things does not happen in Tamil or Hindi Cinema. What I would like to emphasize is, these good things happen only because we have organizations like this.

VC: While producing a movie what are the common reasons for cost overruns? How do you control the cost of producing a movie?

A: It’s a common misconception that if new comers are acting in a movie the cost of the movie will be low. Even if the newcomer is hero , the other actors in the movie, would not reduce their salary. Film price could not be lowered. Rental rates for the camera could not be lowered. Hotel rooms cost could not be lowered. So every other cost other than newcomers salary is fixed and could not be bought down. On the other hand if we have Mohanlal or Mammootty or Suresh Gopi or Dileep as hero, they would have to be given a big amount as salary. But if these persons are lead actors then we can negotiate good amounts as foreign distribution, satellite, TV and many other rights, which will recover the cost we have paid these actors. Where as if it’s a new comer I would not even get 5 lakh rupees as rights. That’s the reason why producers hesitate to have newcomers as leads. And since newcomers don’t have initials, the movie won’t stay much in the theatres.

VC: Regarding rapport with Director – Do you give complete control to Director on all the matters or is it a collaborative effort?

A: It is the director who would be able to control the cost of producing a movie. It is the director who has the responsibility to deliver a quality movie. So I feel that the director should be given maximum freedom. I take part in initial discussion about the movie. I am also involved in selecting actors, as it involves the budget. For example, if Director wants a particular actor if actor says that if he were to do a role in Chotta Mumbai he would loose four other opportunities, so he should be paid 4 times his salary to compensate. In such situation I would put my foot down and decide to bring in another actor. Also I prefer to finish the shooting in one schedule. All the movies I have produced have finished in one schedule. I plan everything very well.

VC: So you concentrate only on financial aspects of film production? You don’t get into story and all?

A: I get involved with story also. If an NRI is producing a movie and he is producing the movie via phone, things won’t happen. Just like any other worker on film set, I run around and get involved in every aspect of movie. I have more than 30 years of experience in this field. If a newcomer is producing the movie, he would feel like an alien in the film set. Even during the story discussion, I would give my opinions. A producer should be a person who should be able contribute constructively during movie discussions. I feel that if a producer is just a money bag, then he would end up as a laughing stock.

VC: Thanks a lot for talking to us and sharing your experiences with us. All the best for your future ventures.

A: Thank you, it was nice talking to you guys.

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