Director Balaji Mohan on Maari and how the secret to being global is to go local
With Maari and its much-awaited audio launch being the talk of the town, we catch up over chaai with the man of the hour, Balaji Mohan. One of the youngest in the new crop of directors in Tamil cinema, Mohan quit engineering to pursue filmmaking. Having worked with the likes of Dulquer Salmaan and now Dhanush, Mohan was noticed with his debut short film, Kaadhalil Sodhapuvadhu Yeppadi, which then became a full length feature with Siddharth in the lead. Four years on, and with two successful bilinguals under his belt, the 28year-old is excited about his new directorial and assures us that it is unapologetically commercial.
Abstaining from divulging too much, he says Maari is a character-led film revolving around Dhanush, who plays a slum chieftain and a pigeon racer. “I’ve always wanted to do a commercial film. Maari will have action, comedy, a love angle and even koothu songs,” laughs the director adding that he created the protagonist with Dhanush in mind. The film also sees singer Vijay Yesudas’s screen début, as a cop.
Given Maari’s rural setting, Mohan believes the more local you go, the more global your product becomes. “Going into the interiors will definitely appeal to a larger audience because we are giving them a slice of life and emotions that they have never seen or explored before,” he says, citing the success of Kadhal, Parutheevarana, Aaadukalam and the recent Jigarthanda.
Speaking about the stars he has worked with, Mohan says, “Dulquer is a perfectionist. He kept re-checking his takes in Samsaaram Aarogyathinu Haanikaram even when I told him I was OK with them.” Meanwhile, he is all praise for Dhanush’s acting, which he says is a combination of a studied approach and a burst of spontaneity. “He studies his character in detail, but when we go for a take he comes alive, like a child performing for the first time. It is rare to find both these traits in an actor,” he says.
Having grown up watching Rajnikanth’s and Jackie Chan’s films, Mohan looks up to directors Mani Ratnam and K Selvaraghavan. “I don’t want to typecast myself. I want to shift gears between different genres,” says the director who has made films for Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema, admitting that doing a bilingual is like “making the same film twice. Sometimes it is tough to keep the energies going the second time round.”
Self-made, Mohan is all for crowd funding options. “Don’t be afraid to tell the kinds of stories you believe in. In the end, if you truly believe in the story you are telling, the audience will too,” he concludes.
Maari releases on July 17.