Filmmaker Arun Prabu Purushothaman discusses Tamil film Vaazhl, which was conceived a decade ago and is releasing tomorrow
Arun Prabu Purushothaman’s sophomore feature Vaazhl was supposed to have had a theatrical release in February last year, but was pushed due to the pandemic.
By then, he had sent it to a couple of film festivals. But as the release kept getting delayed, Arun grew nervous and decided to do something that most filmmakers vehemently vouch against, in fear of bad press: hold a test screening for audiences. In doing so, he was able to gauge responses by observing their reactions.
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Arun does not fear losing exclusivity. Even when Vaazhl was at the scripting stage, he narrated it to a host of people to get feedback.
“We got a satisfactory response from the screening and I wasn’t scared about bad press. In fact, it gave us a better finding about our film and the boxes we need to tick,” he says over phone, ahead of Vaazhl, which is dropping on SonyLIV tomorrow.
It has been four years since the release of Aruvi, which opened to lavish praise and became successful. Were you at all pressured by the weight of Aruvi?
We decided to make Vaazhl as our second film because of the response we got for Aruvi. The script is too unconventional. At least Aruvi had a few generic moments for mainstream audience. But that is not the case with Vaazhl, whose screenplay grammar is very different.
You wrote Vaazhl in 2010 and it was supposed to be your first film. Did you have to make changes to what was originally conceived a decade ago?
Not many changes, to be honest. Its subject doesn’t have an expiry date…. because it is a story about life.
I wanted this to be my directorial debut and worked on the pre-production for nearly two years. In fact, my team — Shelley Calist (cinematographer) and Raymond Derrick Crasta (editor) — got together to make Vaazhl but eventually made Aruvi.
I was not able to make this film because of its unconventional nature. We needed a producer with a lot of trust and hope. That is how Sivakarthikeyan anna came in. He knew the story in 2010 itself and then later, we met after Aruvi. He said, ‘You please finish it the way you want, I will watch the final product’. That gave us an additional responsibility.
Arun Prabhu Purushothaman | Photo Credit: SRINIVASAN L
Why the ‘l’ in Vaazhl?
When we send the film to festivals and curators, we had to give a synopsis. But most of them couldn’t get the ‘zh’ sound right because it is very specific to Tamizh. We wanted to make sure they get ‘zh’ right, so we added an ‘l’.
Vaazhl’s trailer leaves a mixed bag of emotions. Would you call it an experiment?
If you screen Karagattakaran for someone outside of Tamil Nadu, they might think it was an experiment. It was strongly rooted in culture yet, it was a massive blockbuster. Tamil audiences are precious because they have always been supportive of such films. So, yes, it is important to experiment.
But Vaazhl was inspired by my friend Prakash, who was working in an IT company then. The protagonist was etched keeping him in mind but there are a few character he meets. Once you watch the film you will know the absurdity behind the trailer.
How would you describe Vaazhl’s theme?
It is a film about travel. There is a journey. It speaks of something that is global. Everyone has this question of ‘who am I?’ in them. We have tried to reflect the basics truths of life. The film’s not just an outer search but inner.
Could you talk about working with Pradeeps…
We had a lot of people audition for the lead character, but we were satisfied with actor Pradeep’s [Antony] who appeared briefly in Aruvi.
He is a natural actor and has a great reflex. He doesn’t need prompting and I share a comfort level with him. Singer-composer Pradeep [Kumar] and I go back in time. There were lots of musical notations in the script itself. I didn’t have to communicate much to Pradeep.
But we composed and recorded the background score before shooting. It’s a reverse-engineering process that sort of helped us and the actors to grasp the mood.
Are you disappointed with the film’s digital release?
Good content will reach its audience, irrespective of the canvas. The medium doesn’t matter.
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