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This interview appeared in India on the Net (INET) Sujatha is the nom de plume of Rangarajan, a computer engineer by profession and a writer by vocation. He is the Tamil novelist with the largest number of stories converted into films. He has worked with topdirectors K Balachandar in 'Ninaithale Inikkum,' Mani Ratnam in 'Roja,' Shankar in 'Indian' and Bharathi Raaja in 'Nadodi Thendral.' He has been closely associated with Kamal Hassan right from Raj Kamal International's maiden venture 'Vikram.' And it was he who ignited the spark in Kamal for 'Marudha Naayagam.' He is now working with Mani Ratnam for 'Dil Se,' starring Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala.
Q: Are you happy with the way your stories have been filmed?
To be frank, no. Not only I, no writer has ever been happy with the way his/her stories have been converted into films. Asked to give his reaction after his novels were filmed, Hemingway put it succinctly: "Take the money and run." Sathyajit Ray's 'Pather Panchali' is a great film, but the original writer was not happy with it. Hitchcock once said that he would just read the novel he wanted to film, throw away and would never get back to it again during the making of the film. I am certainly not blaming the directors. It is just that the medium is different. Compared to those who see the film, the readers are a minuscule percentage. Probably my novels would have been read by 3040 lakh people, but the films were seen by crores. In a medium like cinema where the stakes are high, compromises are unavoidable. They don't affect me. People who have read my novels are unhappy with the film versions, but those who have not read them are happy with the films. That in itself explains the differencein audience tastes.
Q: The two stories you wrote exclusively for films for two top directors, K Balachandar and Bharathi Raaja, flopped. What do you say?
'Ninaithale Inikkum' for Balachandar was the first script I wrote for a film. Before that, my stories had been filmed, but I had not played any role in writing the screenplay or dialogue. For 'Ninaithale Inikkum,' I had written a totally different kind of screenplay. Unfortunately, owing to constraints like star dates, Balachandar did not follow my script exactly. He made several changes and looked at the film as an opera on the lines of Abba. My original script was lively and if it had been faithfully followed,it would have been a model screenplay. Anyway, no regrets and I enjoyed working with Balachandar, his assistant Ananthu, Kamal and Rajni. The same was the case with Bharathi Raaja's 'Nadodi Thendral.' The original story I gave was about the assassination of a collector and I had put in a lot of effort. But Bharathi Raaja changed it into an ordinary triangular love story set in the pre independence backdrop. I don't blame the directors for these failed projects. As I told you. the target audiences are different and the directors know the medium better. My most satisfying efforts were Mani Ratnam's 'Roja' and Shankar's 'Indian,' though I wrote only the dialogue forthese films. 'Roja' especially was a gratifying experience because I participated in all the discussions during its making. For 'Indian,' the director did the thinking , gave me the sequence order and after I wrote the dialogue, Shankar would choose what he wanted.
Q:Was it you who suggested the 'Marudha Naayagam' story to Kamal?
In a way 'yes'. For the last 7 or 8 years Kamal had been searching for the right story to make a historical. He even had plans of doing a historical musical on the lines of 'Ambikapathi' and toyed with the ideaof making a film which had only verses for dialogue. While he was examining so many ideas, I suggested why not we go into immediate past history instead of going to ancient period. It was around that time I came across a folk ballad edited by Tamil scholar Vanamamalai and published by Madurai Kamaraj University. Impressed by the ballad, I showed it to Kamal to find out if it has the potential of a good film. Kamal was initially reluctant, but agreed to go through the ballad. In the elaborate and excellent introduction was a footnote which said, "This Yousuf Khan was originally a Hindu Vellala called Marudha Naayagam. Kamal immediately jumped at it and felt that the story had all the potential of a good historical film. Kamal felt that the religious conversion could be owing to some social oppression and that would form a good subject for filming.
Q: The story of Marudha Naayagam is relatively unknown...
We chose the life of Marudha Naayagam for its substantial story element and episodic content. His is not a conventional story of a king. Starting his life as a supplier to the French Army, he sneaks through enemy lines with messages effortlessly. The French train him and the British, spotting his talent, elevate him to the position of a tax collector of Madurai district, only to hang him for disobedience to the British Raj just one year after his rise to the top. It is this stunning elevation from the lowest level and again touching the nadir, this graph of Marudha Naayagam's life, that interested Kamal to make it into a film. As for deviations, nearly 80% of the film will faithfully adapt Hills' biography of Marudha Naayagam. Only on certain aspects, where no solid or substantial information is available, have we used our imagination. For instance, no reason is available for Marudha Naayagam's conversion to Islam. Here Kamal has worked back on the character and has imagined the reasons for his conversion beautifully.
Q: Don't you foresee the danger of 'Marudha Naayagam' being compared to Sivaji Ganesan's 'Veerapandiya Kattabomman' (a folk tale)?
Kamal can stand the comparison easily because he is not going to follow Sivaji Ganesan's style. Knowing well about Kamal's yen for perfection and precision, we can be sure that the level of realism in 'Marudha Naayagam' will be high. There is no question of any Indian actor playing a foreigner as Javer Sitaraman did in 'Veerapandiya Kattabomman' and spoke his lines in broken Tamil. In 'Marudha Naayagam' wherever the British or French officers speak, Kamal, I think, is planning to para dubbing to give it an authentic touch.
Q: Do you think 'Marudha Naayagam,' a film with a distinct nativeflavour, can have a national or an international audience?
Why not? 'Marudha Naayagam' may be a historical character, but he is not a larger than life character. It is a story which depicts a man with all his strengths and weaknesses. 'The rise and fall of a man' is the one line story of 'Marudha Naayagam,' a plot that will interest anyone in any part of the world. When films like 'Jurassic Park' can run for its grandeur and technical brilliance, the same can be said of 'Marudha Naayagam' which will be made using state of the art techniques. Kamal is
adopting the linear narrative style where through off screen narration a person tells the background of Marudha Naayagam, the historical context of the story and so on.
Q: Kamal is supposed to be following the Hollywood style in writing the screenplay of the film. Could you explain that?
I think for the first time in India, a computer has been used in screenplay writing, a method usually adopted by Hollywood film makers. Various software are available for this and Kamal is using a particularsoftware called 'Movie Magic.' All the information about the movie can be accessed with it..
Q: What is you actual input in 'Marudha Naayagam'?
I created the Tamil fonts for 'Movie Magic.' I am also overseeing the screenplay written by Kamal. In Hollywood films, you have a 'screenplay doctor' and that is the role I'm playing.
Q: What are your other assignments?
I am working for Mani Ratnam's 'Dil Se'. For this film, Mani Ratnam has given me the plot and has asked me to make it into a story. He has told me not to bother about its conversion into film which he would take care of. He just wants to see how I visualise this story. We are planning to release the book and movie simultaneously. Already one schedule is over. Shankar's Assistant AR Gandhikrishna is making a film called 'Engineer' with Madhuri Dixit and Arvindsamy in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. Its also an interesting film I'm working.
Interview with Sujatha, courtesy of: India on the Net (INET)