As Arvind Swamy marks his comeback to Hindi cinema with Dear Dad, directed by Tanuj Bhramar, the duo speaks to Team Box Office India about their upcoming film
Box Office India (BOI): Arvind sir, after 25 years in the industry and back to Hindi films after 15 years… what has the journey been like for you?
Arvind Swamy (AS): Good. I started early, when I was 20, with Mani Ratnam sir’s Thalapathi. After that, some of my films like Roja and Bombay were dubbed in Hindi and other languages. In the year 2000 or so, I decided to take a break from films and do other things that interested me. Then, two to three years ago, Mani Ratnam pulled me back in as he wanted me to do this film Kadal. So I started again.
BOI: Did you miss films or shooting while you were away?
AS: No, because I deliberately wanted to leave cinema. So in 1999, I decided to take a break. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back, I just wanted to do other things that interested me at the time.
BOI: Mani Ratnam brought you back to the industry but Tanuj (Bhramar) is a new director. What was it about the film that made you sign it?
AS: They sent me the synopsis first, and to be honest, there was something very startling in the story. I wasn’t expecting anything like that. I was taken aback by the situation the protagonist finds himself in. At a certain level, it caused a certain amount of discomfort in me, to think of myself in that situation or in that role. So if I were to do it, I would have to be way out of my comfort zone. It made me think that if I consider myself an actor, then I must do it.
One must find ways to express oneself as an actor without personal comfort coming in the way of portraying a character. So, in a nutshell, the first thing that made me take up this film was the situation that we try to articulate on screen. Then we started engaging in discussions and something evolved from that. Also, I thought that if somebody is brave enough to make a film like this, I should consider it my responsibility to chip in and support it.
BOI: Was it an immediate ‘yes’ when you read the story?
AS: No. As I said, it put me in a confused state, where I was uncomfortable with some parts of the story personally. But, as an actor, it becomes a greater challenge and therefore I thought I must do it because I have to act with a level of conviction in spite of being uncomfortable. But, the truth is, the journey of that character helped me understand more about those situations and it also helped me grow personally.
BOI: Tanuj, how did you zero in on Arvind sir, especially since he was doing barely any films at that time?
Tanuj Bhramar (TB): When we were working on the script, I had an image in mind about how a father should be – warm, expressive with his eyes and stoic. Once the script was ready, my casting director and I were talking and he asked me if I remembered Bombayand Roja. I replied in the affirmative and he asked if I remembered Arvind Swamy. That’s when I realised that sir perfectly fit the bill as the father in Dear Dad. We decided to directly approach him and see what happens. Of course, sir got on board and everything went great.
AS: I had started doing films then, and by the time he came to me, I had done Mani’s Kadal and last year I did Thani Oruvan.
TB: Yes, we also had a visual reference with Kadal.
BOI: What was so compelling about Mani sir’s Kadal that made you want to come back to films after so many years?
AS: A lot had happened during those 10 to 12 years. I was doing well in my business; I was a full-time parent and raising two kids, so I wanted to be available for them. Then I had an accident, which injured my spine and I was immobilised for a long time. I was recovering from that and, by then, my kids had grown up.
Also, I had already established my business and the technologies I had developed were already deployed, so I was in a good space. My only worry was that I had not fully recovered physically. But Mani asked me to do Kadal even though I wasn’t thinking of doing any films at that time.
I took it up as a challenge to get back in shape and start this film, and then Thani Oruvan happened, which was very interesting. I realised that the audience today has changed so much, the kind of scripts I always wanted to do are now available and people, including the Tamil audience, were happy to have me back and welcomed me with open arms. So that too motivated me.
BOI: Can you tell us about when you debuted as an actor and when Mani sir got you back with Kadal?
AS: The first time I faced the camera, I was more confident than the second time simply because I didn’t know anything about the film. When I was a 20-year-old, I had this idea that I could do anything I wanted, I could accomplish anything I wanted if I put in the hard work and focus. It was as simple as that. I wasn’t nervous because it was Mani Ratnam’s film; I wasn’t nervous because there was Rajni (Rajinikanth) sir or Mammootty in Thalapathi. I just went ahead and did the film. The second time, just a day before the shoot, I suddenly realised that maybe it wouldn’t be the same. I was apprehensive, which normally happens but within an hour or so into the shoot, you realise that all your fears are unfounded.
BOI: How has the audience changed? And, having been part of path-breaking films like Rojaand Bombay, what kind of scripts are you looking forward to now?
AS: Yes, even in those days, I was trying to look for films that were a tad different from conventional films but they were very hard to come by. These days… I think I will attribute it mostly to technology. What it has done is given access to anyone to make a film. Earlier, filmmaking was considered very secretive, something that one had to be very knowledgeable about, and then there were filmmaking costs to be considered. But, today, my son makes a movie or a clip on his iPhone and he can shoot whatever he wants to, load it on his computer, he can get a freeware, edit and add music. Now, anyone can learn how to make a film, not feature-length but short films, and it is not complicated. It is just a matter of understanding and knowing your options and making choices which will differentiate a film I make from one that anyone else makes.
At the same time, it also gives access to people to learn on the Internet. You can access tutorials or YouTube, so anybody can enrich their thirst for knowledge and progress. Coming to the audience, you have 100 television channels playing the best of world cinema. You have Internet and Netflix, and the audience is also exposed to so much more. I mean, you are exposed to different genres of films, films from different cultures and countries and different styles of filmmaking. So, now, if my choice was to watch any one of the 100 channels, say, a sports event or movie vis-a-vis a movie that someone makes, I am expecting the same quality that I see readily available around me. I can’t have a film that is dated, I want something that appeals to me.So, let say, we have cinema that talks about real situations but people are behaving in unreal ways by being more dramatic or it is not very believable, then it jars, right? Even if it is fantasy, where everybody knows there can be superheroes, you still want people to behave in a believable way. Realism is something I was very comfortable with even in the ‘90s and now I have more opportunities. I am getting more scripts, I am getting more acceptance. That is a lot of change.
BOI: Being a father yourself, how much of that do you bring to this film, which is primarily about the bond between father and son?
AS: Not much, since the situation in the film is drastically different from anything that I have experienced in real life. So I couldn’t bring any real-life experiences to my part, except for the interaction with the kid.
TB: That becomes more believable, actually. When I was writing the script, it was from the son’s perspective. But the moment sir got involved, he brought in his thoughts and we were able to strike a balance. It worked well for us.
BOI: Tanuj, knowing that Arvind sir will be part of your film, were you anxious before the shoot began and what was the first day of shoot like?
AS: I think it was more during the shoot. (Laughs)
TB: (Laughs) Yes, mostly during the shoot. But, yes, sir has been directed by Mani sir and he is one of the directors I look up to. Sir has so much experience and to direct him meant that I didn’t need to tell him much as he was prepared for the character when he came on the sets. He had already done his research and knew how to approach the character and the film. The moment he stepped in front of the camera, it was smooth sailing.
But the surprising thing is when I told my parents that Arvind sir had said ‘yes’ to the role, they had a bigger fan reaction. My mother was so excited and asked me when she could visit the sets. I told her, ‘You are not coming on the sets, please!’
BOI: What do you have to say about marketing becoming a huge part of filmmaking in today’s times?
AS: Marketing was anyway a big part of every film, even years ago. Today, the choices are more, the distractions are more and so marketing has to put a film on top of your mind. Beyond that, it is the film and word-of-mouth that prevails. Earlier, word-of-mouth took place when people met or called each other and talked about the film.
Now, you can simply tweet and that’s word-of-mouth. Now everything happens on day one, so all the marketing that you do will pull you through the first weekend but beyond that, it’s word-of-mouth. The inverse also works. A lot of smaller films don’t have competing budgets like larger films do, so say you release it at 200 screens and then word-of-mouth makes it grow and you see it expanding to 500, it becomes a hugely successful film. So marketing does so much but it is not everything. At the end of the day, it’s all about the content of the film.
BOI: Earlier, films used to celebrate a silver or a golden jubilee run at cinemas but now it’s all about the numbers game, with opening numbers and the first weekend.
AS: Yes, it is primarily about the number of people who have watched the film. Back in the day, we didn’t have as many cinemas, we didn’t do simultaneous releases and we didn’t have the risk of piracy. So a film had to either be watched in a cinema hall or when it aired on television a year or two later. Pirated CDs came in much later.
But the reason we had silver jubilee runs is because we had no other way to watch the film. Nowadays, the risk of running a film like that is huge because of streaming sites and piracy sites. So before they get hold of it, you maximise your revenue. Also, the scale of a release is now more than 1000 cinemas.
BOI: How impressed were you by Tanuj’s technique of filmmaking?
AS: For me, the process of filmmaking is not just about the fact that we have to agree on a lot of things. We need to debate and we need to come to a conclusion, we should be able to voice our opinions. He has a production background, so he has the skill set and the knowledge. Also, Mukesh was there, our director of photography, and Shaan (Vyas), who is producing it, and Radha who is the sound designer. So all of them had experience as well. I don’t think the fact that he was directing his first film mattered in the decision-making process of the film.
BOI: Have you ever thought of writing a script or directing a film?
AS: I have and I always used to write. But now I have seriously written the first drafts of two of my storylines. Within a year or so, I will take up direction as well. I have some film commitments for this year. I am doing the Telugu version of Thani Oruvan. Once I go back, I start working on the Tamil film Bogan, produced by Prabhu Dheva. Then I work with director Bala, on an outstanding film in Tamil. So I start work with him in the second half of the year.
BOI: Will you also feature in the films you want to direct?
AS: No, I won’t. I would rather just direct those than act.