He has been working as an assistant to many filmmakers in Malayalam. When he first dreamed of making a movie, he had seen it in Malayalam. Yet, Rajeesh Bala, who hails from Irinjalakuda, Thrissur, had to move to Tamil after six years of toil to get the dates of a Malayalam actor to do the lead role. Though 'Vandi' was not the first film he had initially decided to do, Bala's destiny was put on course by this Vidharth-starrer. In a chat with Onmanorama, Rajeesh gets candid about 'Vandi'.
How did you hit upon the idea of 'Vandi'?
I had started off with two other scripts, not 'Vandi'. But those stories required high-profile artists and I realised that securing dates of an artist was the biggest challenge for a debutant. So I thought of an alternative. Once, during a train journey, some dusty two-wheelers parked outside the railway station caught my attention. Who might be owning those bikes, which seemed abandoned for ages, what if those bikes could speak and had a tale to narrate – these thoughts sprang to my mind and slowly took the shape of a one line. By the end of that journey a full length story was ready.
Being a Malayali, why did you choose Tamil to debut?
Of course, Malayalam cinema is my ancestral home. However, I had a penchant for Tamil films since my childhood. The fight, the chase, the colourful dance all used thrill me to the core. Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Telugu star Chiranjeevi and so on turned out to be my evergreen heroes. Later, when I desired to be into films and decided to wield the megaphone, Tamil was equally my fascination.
You took some time to get your acts together. Your experience from scripting to screening?
I came to Tamil after six years of efforts to do the same film in Malayalam went in vain. Producers were ready, but the hurdle was in getting the dates of a lead actor. When I came to do the film in Tamil along with many others there were two persons who I can never forget – actress Surabhi Lakshmi and Jithu. If it were not for them I wouldn't have completed the film. I had no prior acquaintance with Surabhi, but when I presented the project to her, she supported it in a selfless manner.This despite the fact that she was not playing any role in the movie or making any personal gains from it. Surabhi introduced me to producer Hasheer despite the fact that she could have made use of her acquaintance with him for making something that would have benefited her as well. Without her support I would not have made the film, it has become a reality because of her. Jithu, who assisted me in the film, was also of great help.
Any setbacks during the making of the film...
One of the biggest setbacks we suffered during the six-year journey with the script was the announcement of another Malayalam film with bike as the central character by a prominent director under a major banner. We had almost shelved the project when issues were sorted out and our film revived.
How did you select Vidharth and Chandini for the lead roles?
When I went to Tamil film industry I had no plan of casting Vidharth or any other familiar actor. I was apprehensive when I started working for the film in Chennai, but I came to know that actors there were co-operative if we had a good story to narrate. We approached as many as seven artists. Six of them had okayed the project. We zeroed in on Vidharth as we were planning to pitch on live mood for the film and he had showcased natural acting in his films. I had watched 'Kuttrame Thandanai' around that time. Besides, I found him an unassuming personality sans the airs of an established actor. It was an actor named Kishore, who suggested Chandini. We narrated her 'Vandi's' story at her shooting location. When we gave her the account of her character she readily agreed.
How is Tamil filmdom different from Malayalam industry?
In terms of aesthetic sense and technical aspects there are not much difference between Malayalam and Tamil. But in the approach towards filmmaking, professionalism makes a big difference. I am telling this on the basis of my personal experience in the short span of making one film after approaching five actors in Malayalam and seven actors in Tamil with the script. Others may be different, I don't know.
In Malayalam I never got a response from any of the actors whom I approached with my story – whether they liked it or not, whether they were willing to do it or not or anything, even after pursuing them endlessly. But in Tamil it was different. Most of the artists have their offices. So, there was no confusion as where to find them or when to tell the story. All the seven actors I contacted in Tamil, gave me appointment, heard my story and gave their feedback on time. That promptness from Tamil actors for a newcomer like me was encouraging. This professionalism was evident in all the areas of film-making in Tamil industry.
What was the toughest challenge you faced in making 'Vandi'?
Shooting at real locations was really tough. We shot at crowded locations like Chennai's T Nagar. Shooting at bustling streets and traffic signals was really hard. We had already decided that the no scenes would be filmed at a set created in a studio. Whether it was a shopping complex or a mall they were all real. We were always apprehensive if we could pull them off. But finally, we could make it.
Have you planned your next project?
I have a couple of subjects. I am planning to move ahead with one of them soon. I haven't finalised it though.