The visual and aesthetic quality of "Meenaxi" is remarkable.
That's because the film undertook a remarkable journey. Before "Meenaxi", my wife Reima and I were the associate directors on my father's previous film "Gaja Gamini".
Our job profile was to translate a 100-foot painting to celluloid. I worked with art director Sharmista Roy and cinematographer Ashok Mehta, and got a grip over the cinematic medium. Earlier I travelled all over the world looking for pictures to paint.
Painting is my mother tongue. Ever since I was a child I was fascinated by the medium. I think and speak in paintings. In cinema I've found another form of expression. My paintings are figurative. Films show me how to use space.
"Meenaxi" is a celebration of the feeling of love.
Everyone is fascinated by love. But I'm consumed by it. I can show different shades of love in cinema, but not in painting. There's more room and space for expression. I was given a lot of freedom to do so.
Though my father wasn't sceptical, I insisted on A.R. Rahman for the music. I was told Rahman needed more than year to do the music. I immediately flew down to Chennai.
The next thing I knew he came up with seven brilliant tunes. We flew down to Prague to record sounds. I worked very closely with Rahman on the music. We're in many ways, similar. We both share a passion for food. I made sure he had enough kebabs and biryanis to make him creatively charged.
I wanted the song "Yeh rishta kya kehlata hai" to be a dialogue between the girl and her heart. I got that. My choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant came to me from a hardcore commercial film. I told her I'd give her a playground that had to be filled with beautiful elements.
Did your father agree with your views on the music?
Dad only wanted two songs in "Meenaxi". But I insisted on seven. In the "Titli daboch lee maine" song, I had to convince my father that it wasn't an item song although it was set in a brothel. I told Santosh Sivan we needed to create the visuals of a Brazilian carnival. Santosh fought with me. "How can you not have a central girl-dancer in an item song?" But I was sure this wasn't an item song with girls sliding up pole vaults etc. The camera was a voyeur. The result was more exotic than erotic.
The two principal performances by Tabu and Kunnal Kapoor are remarkable.
In "Meenaxi", I needed a pure performer. On the sets I needed someone who could understand me instinctively. On the first day, Tabu had some difficulty in understanding what I wanted. I joked: "You're a great actress. Why can't you figure it out?"
As for Kunaal, we went through some 60 screen tests. My wife Reima discovered Kunnal. I spent a lot of time preparing him for the role. For two to three weeks he would come to my office and just practice the walk. I wanted a specific style and personality.
A lot of things in the film are so underplayed, you either get or it passes you by. Kunnal is somewhere the writer Nawab's alter ego. In real life Kunnal comes across as capricious. That added to the character.