He entered the film industry in 1994 as a cinematographer and ended up winning a national award for his work on debut. Ten years and 13 projects later, he settled into the director’s chair and gave us hits like Ayan and Ko . K.V. Anand, now 51, is waiting to release his sixth film, Kavan, starring Vijay Sethupathy, Madonna Sebastien and T. Rajender. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What’s happening with Kavan right now?
I’m editing the ‘Oxygen’ love song. My team saw the first cut and said it was pretty good. But I feel I can improve it further. That will happen during the rerecording. We need to make things slick and fast for the audience.
Speaking of fast-paced films, did you see Si-3?
No, no. But Kavan doesn’t have that much of action. It’s more to do with an ordinary man dealing with a situation.
You earlier said Kavan is about a David vs Goliath conflict, where a common man is pitted against a powerful entity. What else can you reveal about it?
Kavan literally translates as a tool used to aim at a target — like how David used a catapult and stone to bring his adversary down. Goliath is in the form of a corporate giant and an ordinary guy is pitted against it. Vijay Sethupathy fit that bill. This script wouldn’t have worked with a superstar like Suriya, Vijay or Ajith.
You also have a new team to assist you …
Yes. Instead of Harris Jayaraj, Hiphop Adhi is the music director. The cinematographer is Abhinandan and Kabilan Vairamuthu has contributed to lyrics, story and screenplay. The reason for this change is … when you’ve worked with the same team over the years, we end up agreeing on what everyone says. I wanted to break with that familiarity. The only person who has remained constant in my team is editor Antony because he and I differ on everything under the sun except the food we eat.
Why have you chosen HipHop Tamizha specifically among the new crop?
I had my eyes on Ghibran and Imman too, but he was the only one who was free. There’s a great difference in the way he approaches music. Harris composes music in an almost meditative, transcendent state. With Adhi, there’s a playfulness in his tunes, there’s unpredictability. In Thani Oruvan, he has done a fantastic job with the BGM and songs. I think a substantial amount of the film’s success is owed to him. My feedback to him simply was that lyrics were not discernible in his music; he said this is what youngsters like these days. But we made some compromises with each other.
We hear you rewrite your scripts as many as five or six times. Where does this quest of perfection arise from?
From my critics, especially those who work with me. Most of the time, you have a lot of jalra cases. But then, some of them conclude that it is only criticism that I like and give me an overdose of it.
How much of a critic are you of your own work?
I can’t watch my old films on screen or on the TV. I can’t sit through even 10 minutes of them, all the mistakes start appearing. The film that I’m making currently, I can always try to improve it as much as possible.
Which of your earlier films would you say were most satisfactory to you?
Ko and Maatraan.
Ko was based on a lot of experiences from your time as a photojournalist. Tell us a bit about that part of your life.
When I was doing my BSc in physics in 1985, I had applied to become Junior Vikatan’s student reporter. I was rejected. Then, I began freelancing for Kalki and as part of their reportage series, went to many districts to cover civic issues. I hardly went to click photos of heroes or heroines. My very first assignment was in Thindivanam where my reporter and I had to interview a doctor who complained about poor government hospitals facilities. He was none other than Dr. S. Ramadoss (founder of Pattali Makkal Katchi). I went on to click more than 1000 pictures for Kalki (including 110 cover photographs). I freelanced for Illustrated Weekly and India Today also. I didn’t apply to The Hindu because they would never give bylines for photographers unless you were sent abroad to cover sports. Only India Today promised a byline and good money. So I applied for a full-time job there. In my mind, I thought I would get it and settle there for the rest of my life. I didn’t get it. So I showed my portfolio to P.C. Sreeram, who at that time was working on Nayagan. I loved his work and ended up assisting him for three years before he recommended me to Priyadarshan for Thenmavin Kombath (a Malayalam film).
Does your approach differ when you work for a different film industry where the language isn’t the same?
Not much. For cinematographers, there’s no need for a language. For Malayalam (films), I had no problem. But, in Hindi, I always had assistants would would translate what was required and convey it to me. Even there, some directors, such as Mansoor Khan, would write and work in English primarily. During the shooting of Thenmavin Kombath, the brief we got was that it would be set in a village on the border of Karnataka and Kerala with no electricity. The only source of artificial light would be from the lanterns outside people’s houses. We set things up to suit that.
It has been nearly 10 years since you wielded the camera for a major film. Your last such project was Sivaji. Do you miss it? Would you handle the camera again?
Definitely. When I run out of a script. In fact, Shankar — who is a good friend — asked me to join his team for Rajinikanth’s 2.0. This was immediately after I had wrapped up Anegan. I asked him what the timeframe was. He said it would be a year. I didn’t mind but I wanted to know if he was starting it immediately. He said no. So I said it would be difficult because I had my upcoming (directorial) projects too.
Did you wish that you had been a cinematographer for some of the films during that gap?
I’m not sure. I would’ve loved to have been a part of Gautham Menon’s films or with Mani Ratnam, my favourite director. Good cinematography is not just about showing landscapes but within a single room too. Like in the case of OK Kanmani. Three things combine to give good visuals in a film: cinematography, costumes and art direction. If you want to show something in a very tasteful way, say a person standing in front of a green wall, then he shouldn’t be wearing an eye-popping red. That becomes jarring … like how that Punjabi actor looks like in Messenger of God. The only person in control of those three elements is the director.
What was it like to direct Vijay Sethupathy?
He’s a very sharp fellow when he listens to narrations. He gave a couple of good suggestions as well. At the same time, he’s a very simple man who avoids being pretentious. That’s why he fit the Kavan character — someone who doesn’t immediately attack back when he gets hit but instead tackles it in a different way. The film is a reflection of our society, how some things have become a part of everyday life … like bribing a cop or just paying to get things done.
And that anger is what comes out in your films?
Not anger. Me, I’m just numbed out by these things. Shankar’s Anniyan … that was anger. Whatever maturity I have is because of my reading of newspapers and meeting a lot of people. And travelling — nothing teaches you life like travelling alone.
You managed to keep your love for pulp fiction on the side as well
Well, yes. I took photographs for SuBa’s novels (SuBa is the nom de plume of writer duo Suresh and Bala). Their works had a lot of blood and mystery like James Hadley Chase novels. And I tried to give that effect to their covers by imitating P.C. Sreeram’s styles, like how he did it for Agni Natchatiram. I also loved reading comics: Irumbu Kai Maayavi (Tamil version of The Steel Claw) and Spiderman. Only after college did my reading taste turn a bit more serious.
How is a veteran director like you finding it to compete with the new generation of filmmakers who are churning out content non-stop?
Whether a film makes Rs. 30 crore or Rs. 40 crore, only the content matters. It’s not just about the message but also packaging it with entertainment. Even in the case of a project with a very small budget like Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, the director, a 22-year-old boy, gave us a good, sharp film. There were no songs or anything extra. One pattern is clear: we need to move at breakneck pace and the audience want us to cut to the chase. The challenge is to add romance and comedy within this limited timeframe. People are definitely ready to see good films. We just have to ask ourselves whether we’re providing them with any.
Are you also cued into the forms of quality digital content available on the internet?
I’m a big fan of Netflix serials — Marco Polo, 24, House of Cards and Narcos … what a fantastic series! It is so realistic, almost like a documentary. A fat gangster (Pablo Escobar) who’s a loving father and loving husband but still kills so many people.
Would you be interested in directing something like that if someone approaches you with a script?
In my career as a director, I’ve been approached by lots of top producers and heroes to do films that suit their image. I’ve turned them down. I need my own script. I can’t just go to Ooty or Kodaikanal and form a story there for the hero’s sake … I can’t do it and I won’t do it. I may do a bad film but it will be planned, scripted and executed my way.
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