Going with the flow

Going with the flow

New-age directors

Going with the flow

Candid: Gautham Menon

Two construction workers on a building site drew out from Gautham Vasudev Menon the story line for the pacy blockbuster and Kamal Haasan starrer Vetaiyadu Vilaiyadu. The relationship with his father inspired Vaaranam Ayiram. “Love,” he says, is what drives him and, “This took shape as Vinnaithandi Varuvaya.” Well, that is the secret of Gautham Vasudev Menon’s filmy success — all his films are drawn from real life, even if they do get stretched imaginatively. 
“When people tell me they relate to the scenes in my films, I feel happy,” he says. And he is also particularly happy with the praise he earned from award-winning, yesteryear director K Balachandar, who focused on relationships as well.

Curious as it is, subtle and contemporary romance were key ingredients of even Kaaka Kaaka — a film directed by Gautham Menon that was woven around the life of an encounter specialist. Given a chance, love stories are all he would do, says this 37-year-old director, who is self-assured, down-to-earth and candid all at the same time.  
Somewhere down the line, Gautham Menon has acquired the tag of being an ‘urban’ director, but he believes that it is not intentional. It might perhaps be a natural fallout of his being an urban person, having grown up in Chennai. Films were always on his mind, even while he completed an engineering degree in Trichy.

“I wrote the Kaaka Kaaka script when I was in college,” he shares. However, he rejects the urban tag. He explains, “At college, I was part of a gang of 10 among whom only two or three could put together sentences in English. But now, they are all heading corporations in the US. So, when did this transition happen? I don’t believe in the urban-rural divide.” 

After finishing college, the young man came back to Chennai and put in a couple of stints with a few engineering firms, before he found himself in the role of assistant director to Rajiv Menon for the film Minsara Kanavugal. After that, Menon did a few ad films “to keep the home fires burning.” That is, until he took a script (which incidentally was inspired by a real life relationship of one of his cousins) to actor Madhavan. “Madhavan loved the script and took me to a few producers, and we began shooting Minnale, just like that,” Menon says. Life has always been like that for Gautham Menon, going with the flow, with no major plans or targets.   

Menon now basks in the success of Vinnaithandi Varuvaya, which has been appreciated as a clean and refreshingly real love story, even if a bit slow-paced and laced with many confusions. “It could have been better, considering that it is Gautham Menon who is the director,” says veteran film critic Mallini Mannath. But the film has been lapped up by the urban audience. In fact, Vinnaithandi... has the kind of contemporary urban feel that makes Chetan Bhagat’s novels click with Indian readers today. The film opens with the line, “Of all people in the world, why should I have fallen in love with Jessie.”
This was the very line Menon first put down on paper when he thought up the Vinaithandi story. This is typical of Menon — the tendency to go with the line of inspiration as it first hit him. “I never sit down to think if any particular scene would be understood, or if I should have handled it a bit differently. I just go with thoughts which move me,” says Menon. The only specific he admits to is that he likes to work with good actors. “Good actors can effectively bring out the nuances of a scene,” Menon says.    
After delivering an unbroken line of hits characterised by contemporary romance, slick cinematography and lilting music (by Harris Jayaraj) that set his script on fire, Menon made eyebrows rise when he chose A R Rahman to do the music for Vinnaithandi Varuvaya.

“I love the music Rahman gave me,” he says. In the same breath, he admits that Jayaraj’s music worked really well for his films. “I am open to working with him again. It is Harris who has gone around saying that he wouldn’t work with me again. Perhaps he felt hurt that I chose to work with Rahman,” says Menon, without a trace of unease. That in a sense reflects Menon’s candour, and the sense of ease he has about all the decisions he has taken in life. 

After producing Vinnaithandi Varuvaya in Tamil and Telugu, Menon is on a break now. A break he laces with reading, watching films, hanging out with friends and colleagues at his favourite Chennai haunt — Amethyst, besides spending time with his wife and three sons of course. “It is a well deserved break, I think,” he says. Though a film with actor Ajith is on the pipeline, there are no immediate projects ahead. “I have no idea what my next film will be like,” says Gautham. “I never got back a great deal of money from Vettaiyadu or Kaaka Kaaka. But money is not what I am after. Now, I can make the kind of films I want.”