Exclusive: Venkat Prabhu takes Maanaadu to Bollywood
Director Venkat Prabhu talks about his blockbuster films, teaming up with Ajit and Vijay, his Telugu foray, and the complexity of making OTT shows
Venkat Prabhu is undeniably one of the main forces behind the new wave in Tamil cinema. His sports comedy Chennai 600028 gave a new ray of hope to many aspiring filmmakers. After a few box office duds, he is back with a bang with his latest blockbuster, Maanaadu.
“The massive success of Maanaadu is a big boost for my career. Though Chennai 28 II Innings was a hit, the gap (between two films) was too big due to the delay in the release of my other film, Party,” said Venkat Prabhu in an exclusive interview with The Federal. “When your film brings joy and happiness to the audiences, producers, exhibitors, distributors, it’s the best thing that can ever happen to a director.”
“Critical acclaim is a bonus, but I always crave to hear that my film has become a blockbuster, and the joy knows no bounds when people in the trade tell me that all of them have entered the profit zone. Films like Chennai 28, Mankatha and Maanaadu happen very rarely in a director’s career,” he said.
The quintessential guru
Recently, directors Nelson Dhilipkumar and Vignesh mentioned that Venkat Prabhu’s films have inspired them. “It shows their magnanimity,” said Prabhu. “Even (director) Karthik Subbaraj and several other filmmakers have told me that Chennai 28 has opened many doors to them. After Maanaadu, every leading filmmaker in Tamil called me and shared their happiness. Shankar sir, Atlee, KS Ravikumar sir, Karthik Subbaraj, Lingusamy, Lokesh Kanagaraj…the list is big.”
“I hear that many big heroes are now open to exploring different genres after the success of Maanaadu,” he further said. “They are confident that people would accept new attempts, and in fact, producers also want directors to come up with interesting ideas. Had Maanaadu failed, the scenario would’ve been different, but now, things look promising.”
Though he made his directorial debut in 2007, Prabhu said, he always aims to compete with the young generation of filmmakers. “It’s a healthy competition among ourselves. I always try to surprise myself and, at the same time, ensure that the script is also new to my actors. When I did Maasu Engira Maasilamani, I thoroughly enjoyed the process although the film did not fare well at the box office. Suriya sir had never done a horror film before, and I created a kid-friendly ghost film for him with a revenge plot,” said Prabhu.
“The soon-to-be-released Manmadha Leelai with Ashok Selvan and an upcoming film of mine are also different from what I’ve done so far. Sometimes mokkai vangidrom (we get snubbed) and there are also times when the reception is overwhelming, like Mankatha and Maanaadu,” said the director on his urge to explore new ideas and how he endures failures.
On making intense films
“Another main reason for me to explore new ideas is that I’m not good at making proper commercial films by gauging the pulse of the audiences in the so-called B and C centres. I would like to make intense films like those made by Vetrimaaran sir someday — but it will be in my style,” he added.
Asked about the constant pressure among the current generation of filmmakers to deliver hits, Prabhu said: “When your film with a big star fails, no one is going to respect you here; it’s the harsh reality. In the future, if I deliver a flop with a big star, I have no other way but to bring out the third instalment of Chennai 28 to make a comeback. The scenario was the same even in the previous generations, but a few filmmakers managed to survive due to the solid hits they scored over the years.”
“Directors like SP Muthuraman and Kodandarami Reddy (actor Vaibhav’s dad) managed to overcome a few failures because of their array of blockbusters with top stars like Rajini, Kamal Haasan, and Chiranjeevi,” said Prabhu. “All I want to do is to earn the trust of the trade like how KS Ravikumar sir during his heydays. He is a versatile filmmaker. On the one hand, he would make a compact Panchathanthiram and on the other, he would pull off a magnum opus like Dasavatharam. I don’t want to follow the footsteps of Shankar sir or Rajamouli sir — they only handle big-budget films. But I wish to be someone like Ravikumar sir because distributors used to blindly trust his films — he got the minimum-guarantee tag in the industry.”
Children film on the horizon
Another ambition of Prabhu is to make a full-fledged children film in Tamil. “When I say kids’ film, I’m not talking about Kaaka Muttai. Something like Home Alone and Hook, but the problem here is producers wouldn’t invest much in films without stars. Here, even for superhero flicks, we need either Vijay sir or Sivakarthikeyan sir to spearhead the venture. But universally, only fresh faces or little-known stars pull off superhero films,” he observed.
“You wouldn’t believe it, the so-called alternative medium, aka digital platforms, also want big names to bankroll web shows or original films these days. Films like Kadaseela Biriyani are raved about by critics and movie buffs but people only go to theatres to watch Maanaadu because of stars like Silambarasan TR and SJ Suryah,” said the filmmaker.
Hindi foray soon
The director told The Federal that he is fully involved in the Hindi and Telugu remake of Maanaadu.
“Yes, filmmakers like Pushkar-Gayathri (Vikram Vedha) and Vishnuvardhan waited for so many years to foray into Hindi cinema. But I guess, the Hindi remake of Maanaadu will go on the floors by the end of this year, so don’t want to miss the opportunity,” said the director, who is likely to work on a direct Telugu film now. “Mostly my next after Manmadha Leelai will be a direct Telugu film,” he said.
So, is Prabhu going to expand his market by helming films in multiple languages?
“Now, Vijay sir, Dhanush sir, and Sivakarthikeyan are working with Telugu directors and producers to expand their markets. It’s a healthy trend. I’m keen to bridge the gap by roping in actors from multiple industries. Even while penning scripts, I think of big names from either the same industry or different industries. I think it comes to me naturally,” Prabhu said.
An ‘Indian’ adult film
Talking about Manmadha Leelai, the director said: “It’s going to be a full-fledged adult comedy like American Pie but for Indian sensibilities. The teaser will have multiple smooch scenes, but it will not make you squirm. We do not degrade women. I strongly believe that even girls would end up liking the film. Though we originally planned it as an OTT film, the producers now feel that Mandmadha Leelai is apt for a theatrical release.”
All of Prabhu’s erstwhile assistant directors are doing well, such as Pa Ranjith, Shakti Rajan (Teddy, Tik Tik Tik), and SG Charles (Lockup). One of his former assistants is directing actor Nayanthara’s next, O2. “I feel happy for all of them and proud to be their guru. Now, I should compete with all of them,” said Venkat. “Ranjith’s work in Sarpatta Parambarai was incredible. He has also done a tremendous job in our anthology, Victim (which will be out soon on Sony LIV) — watch for it.”
Before Maanaadu, Prabhu also forayed into the web show space with Kajal’s Live Telecast. “Though Family Man and Paatal Lok worked here, it’s a tough market to crack. At least for me, I need a detailed script for my web shows. I’m open to collaborating with other writers. As a first step, the script of my film Manmadha Leelai is written by my assistant Manivannan.”
Films with powerhouses Ajith, Vijay
Any interview with Prabhu is never over without a question about his reunion with actor Ajith. Mankatha remains the most loved film of Ajith even now but, for some reason, he and Prabhu did not come together for another film.
“It was my bad luck. I was supposed to work with Ajith sir immediately after Mankatha but due to my priorly signed agreement, I couldn’t honour the offer. I’m still in touch with Ajith sir. Just like you, I’m also expecting his call,” Prabhu said.
On his possible film with Vijay, he said: “I want to crack open the project somehow. We have been in talks for a long time now. It’s my long-time wish to team up with Vijay sir and do something he hasn’t tried before. Hopefully, things will fall in place soon,” the director signed off.