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    Mammootty laughed, on went Sumathi''s celluloid dream

    Wednesday, November 03, 2004
    Sumathi Ram, a non-resident Indian from Houston, is a film director with a difference. She had embarked on a journey from her familiar, secure home ground to the uncertain world of films -- solely to realize a celluloid dream.

    "Viswathulasi" had been her dream for three years.

    Fortunately, she had top talents like Mammootty, Nandita Das, Sukumari and Manoj K. Jayan to breathe life into her characters and maestros like M.S. Viswanathan and Ilaiyaraja to give music to her lines.

    Also she had Navnit Karikar, the make-up man with the magic touch, to support the cast. Above all, she had her highly successful businessman husband -- a "pillar of strength" -- to fund the whole project.

    "Yet it was a lone journey with no leader or follower. But single-mindedly I was focusing on the project. Call it ruthless determination, if you want," Sumathi told IANS about her reel and real experiences.

    Now that the movie is released, are you happy with the end product? Do the mixed reactions bother you?

    I am unaffected by good or bad responses. My goal was to deliver a clean and different movie without sex or violence. According to me, completing the movie itself was a great achievement. It was a hypnotically magical experience to see my story unfolding on screen.

    Did you have any particular type of audience in mind while you elaborated on some scenes showing the customs and rituals of a typical Tamil family? Like the people abroad who are crazy about our "exotic India"...

    Not at all! I never had any special section of people in mind. The scenes were vital for the story. Also, profit was not my motive. Of course I wanted my movie to be popular.

    I wanted the audience to enjoy a differently filmed story, a beautifully romantic one, of a particular period when love was expressed with dignity, not in a loud or boisterous manner. My script was about a mature and poignant romance between two highly cultured individuals, which remained fresh even after two decades of separation.

    How did your fascination with film directing begin?

    It was a process of evolution. I used to write poems in English and Tamil. It was an evolution from poems to songs to stories to script writing. I made a music album too.

    When I sent my songs to M.S. Viswanathan, he replied immediately to my husband: "Your wife has music in her words. She is very talented." Those words gave me tremendous confidence. The thought of writing my dream in celluloid occurred then...

    Without any prior experience, how did you plan your actions?

    My first act was to note down each and every scene of the script to minute details of the character, background sets, props, costumes and even the small gestures, poses and movements of the characters of each and every shot. My M.Phil and Ph.D. experiences came in handy in the production of a perfect guidebook. And this treasure of valuable instructions and information served me well through my directorial sessions.

    How did you choose your artistes?

    Being away for the past 15 years, I was totally out of touch with the film scene here. It was my friends who suggested Mammootty, Manoj K. Jayan, Sukumari and others. And, after watching their movies, I was more than satisfied.

    For my Viswam I needed a handsome and strong personality with a mature look. Mammootty seemed perfect for the role. I was impressed with Jayan's powerful body language and acting, which were needed for Siva to strike a perfect balance with the hero.

    Did Mammootty agree immediately?

    No. He wanted to know first about myself and about my story in detail. The dialogue went on almost for one hour over the telephone. At the end of it, he just started laughing and then he said, "It is not easy to make dreams come true. But I appreciate your passion and obsession."

    What about Nandita Das?

    I was always attracted by her powerful gestures, striking expressions of pain and pleasure, bold features, control over her body language and her invisible yet magical beauty. I decided after watching "1947 - the Earth" that Nandita should be my Thulasi. And she readily accepted my script.

    How was the tinsel experience in general?

    I realized that filmmaking was a collaborative and challenging process. I knew what kind of a battlefield it was. Having seen only my small world of close relatives and friends, it was not easy to be with a crowd of almost a hundred most of the time. It required a lot of patience and perseverance.

    I found the work ethics somewhat shaky, and promises were not fulfilled always. Yet I discovered the basic goodness of human nature from my artistes and technical team who cooperated and understood me perfectly.

    Were you worried about the returns?

    No! "You get a gift of Rs.30 million, but just let me know how and when you want to use it," he (my husband) said. "You may make or lose money, but what is important is the satisfaction you gain from your effort." That was his philosophy. My concentration, therefore, was totally on the movie.

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