Pepper in those days was the King of Spices and when
Vasco da Gama came for the 2nd time to India, his
intentions were different and he showed his violent
streak by attacking the ship that came from Mecca
and killed many people and cut the ears of Brahmins
who came for negotiations Since our people were not
united, it was easy for him to overpower us. The guns
came, the cannons came and finally they conquered
us and ruled us for 400 years.
A small peppercorn changed our
I thought it would be interesting to make
a film that would show the small peppercorn
changing the entire history of India. I think
for every Indian it would be interesting.
I decided to do Urumi in different languages because
every Indian should see this film as these are the
events that changed their lives. And also in those
days there was no Malayalam as it was a mix of many
languages like Tamil and that’s how the script
How did you manage
an ensemble cast in Urumi?
discussed with Prithviraj and we decided to
produce it ourselves instead of going to a
producer. We also had a lot of help from other
actors like Prabhu Deva and Arya. Genelia
took extra effort and got trained in horse
riding and Martial arts to put up a performance
as warrior princess which is very different
from the roles that she had earlier played
in her career. Whenever you give challenging
roles to these artists, they put in lot more
into it. Vidya Balan also got trained in dance.
The cast included Nithya Menen and Tabu who
did a guest appearance. We also had people
from all over India like Amol Gupte of Stanley
Ka Dabba and Taare Zameen Par fame.
Genelia took extra effort and got
trained in horse riding
Once the subject is interesting and you narrate the
subject to everyone, there is a curiosity as to how
you are going to pull it off because it is not easy
to show Vasco da Gama coming with 16 ships and attacking.
There is an interest and most actors are very supportive
when it comes to doing something different.
People who wrote history are the
people who won
much of fact and fiction are there in Urumi?
is a lot of fact in Urumi. The script writer
Shankar Ramakrishnan has researched extensively
about Vasco da Gama’s life which is
90%. The other part is a universal story which
could happen anywhere in such circumstances,
which of course is fiction. Unfortunately
the people who wrote history are the people
who won. After 15th century when Vasco da
Gama came and went back, there were many discoveries
in the Western world. We might have lost a
lot and things may have gone from here too.
There is no one to tell our side of the story.
Hence I wanted to tell it from our perspective.
Urumi is actually a flexible sword to keep away outsiders
and it also has a very strange character in that it
rolls back. The film is designed in such a way that
it talks about the present and the past. In the past
some people came and exploited our land and it is
happening even now. Perhaps the people who lived then
are the people who live now. Still we are not united
and our progress is not uniform. The film has also
portrayed this aspect in a different manner. Besides
that, Urumi has its entertainment commercial aspects
like song, action, humor and there is a universal
storyline. However, beneath all that you also come
across the main knot.
Why is the Tamil
version being released after the Malayalam one?
We wanted to release it simultaneously but due to
elections and IPL, we decided to release the Malayalam
version and then the Tamil one. Anyway, they are two
How has been
the response for Malayalam Urumi?
Very Good! It has completed 110 days and has done
well critically and commercially. I feel it is good
for a film to be viewed by as many people of different
nationalities and languages as it talks about a very
interesting time in History.
Biggest challenge while making Urumi
you make a film based on History, it is easy
to make sets. The more money you have, the
bigger the sets. But I feel that 15th century
is a time which was pollution free. It had
an ambience which we dream of. To get that
feeling without telling it was pollution free,
you need to get into that kind of ambience
where people really feel it was pollution
free. It is difficult to get these kinds of
subtleties. For instance, there are these
waterfalls which are there for 6-7 days when
it rains and then it disappears. It is difficult
to shoot in such places as they are dictated
by time and nature. This was challenging.
Film making has only challenges
To coordinate people from different languages into
a scene and integrating it is challenging as there
are many people who do not understand Tamil or Malayalam
or Hindi. And all of them are acting together. But
this is not new to me as I have done this before and
worked with foreign crew. And as such, film making
has only challenges.
I enjoy creating my own world
seem to have a fascination for history and
folklore e.g. Anandabhadram, Asoka and now
Urumi. Your comment
am not sure if it is a fascination. When I
did Anandabhadram, it was a grandmother’s
folktale. There are different kinds of film
makers. I might be a filmmaker who is fond
of the visual language, a writers’ style
could be more verbose and a musician’s
angle could be musical. Everybody has their
own sensibilities. The more perceptions you
have, the more interesting the film making
In my case I would say visual language is very interesting
as I have done films in many languages. As a visual
language person, I enjoy creating my own world which
might or might not have existed. To create that world
and ambience to tell my story, I need complete freedom
and it is very challenging. Hence it (creating my
own world) is very appealing to me. It may not be
about a period or folklore. I think it is interesting
just to let your imagination run free.
Your acting debut
as Raja Ravi Verma in Makaramanju
Where do you think Urumi stands with respect
to Pazhassiraja, Asoka or Jodha Akbar?
don’t think these films can be compared
with Urumi as they are period films. Urumi
has a lot of facts in it. For instance when
your ancestors first saw the gun or the cannon,
the reaction that is being shown is something
that happened and it is the fact. We are exploring
the world where our ancestors might have seen
this or faced this. And our ancestors were
very hospitable to foreigners who came here
and ruled which is very interesting to watch
Our ancestors were very
hospitable to foreigners
Acting was just an accidental thing. I am in the industry
for quite some time and if I had wanted to act, I
could have done it long back. But I am not kicked
My grand mom used to teach music in the palace.
So, I remember as a kid going there and seeing the
paintings. My grand mom would come back and show
us the calendar with Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings
and she would describe their mythological relevance
which I thought was very interesting. These were
one of my first visual education which is why may
be in Anandabhadram, you would see influences of
such images. Wherever you go in the world to a Malayalee
house, you will find a Raja Ravi Verma painting
which is some kind of nostalgia and a sort of connect
with your moorings.
So when Lenin first gave the offer of acting and
not shooting, I almost fainted. But because of all
these factors and may be in a way they associate
me and my work with these things, I was approached
for this role. Sometimes opportunities come and
it is up to you to take it or leave it. Since he
(Ravi Verma) was a painter and they wanted someone
new and since I also paint and I can understand
the sensibilities, I thought I could give it a try.
I of course warned them but it was interesting to
be on the other side of the camera and it was very
easy especially to work with Madhu Ambat who I have
known for a long time and it was all friends working
“My God, you have four
everyone said, “My God, you have four
heroines in the movie”. As Ravi Verma
was a painter, he had many muses. But I also
had good feedback from people like Giridas
Gupta who was in the jury. But sometimes it
is easy to do a role like that not any role
because you need genuine actors to portray
Despite being a highly respected name in mainstream
cinema, what makes you do small films very
often, like Navarasa or Tahaan?
First, when I started making films, I did
children’s films and made Halo in Hindi
and Malli in Tamil and then I made Terrorist
which won many awards and international patronage.
Then I did Asoka with Shah Rukh Khan. So I
have been doing different kinds of films including
one in Hollywood - Before The Rains. I always
feel that making films is like reading literature.
Sometimes, it is newspaper, sometime you want
to indulge in a book, sometimes it is comic
while some other times it could be a non-fiction.
I feel film making should have that freedom.
I don’t do films as a means of survival
or for financials reasons. Whenever I do a
film, I would like to do something that I
feel like at that moment. I would like to
keep it that way. I am fortunate enough to
have a career in cinematography where I can
go and shoot whenever I feel like. And there
also I can do a big film or a short film.
Sometimes I do commercials. It is good to
keep yourself enjoying your job always. I
like the variety which does not mean I will
not do 100 % commercial film.
Making films is like reading
What is the point in doing a film
where everything looks like
are yet to work in a film which has employed
a lot of special effects. Your comment?
is very interesting to work in a film involving
special effects. There are a lot of special
effects in Urumi but you can’t catch
it. It is a big challenge trying to do a film
with lot of special effects without the audience
realizing it. What is the point in doing a
film where everything looks like special effects?
With the kind of digital platforms and the
knowledge of technology that we have today,
we can do a lot of mythological stories as
we have treasure-trove of such stories in
our literature. We can make them into movies
without them being tacky or special-effects
oriented. We can actually make it very natural
and we need to go with the flow of the story
which is very important.
Would you like to associate yourself in a project
that has special effects too?
I love doing special effects film and technology is
fascinating. I would like to execute it in a way that
is believable and technical people also should feel
it is done well. Graphics and special effects need
pre-planning. You need to have a thorough study and
understanding and when you actually go about executing
it, you would have actually done all that in detail.
Then you will come up with an end product which people
will find it fascinating.
You handle the camera for your directorial
ventures. How do you manage?
don’t differentiate between cinematography
and direction. I think the most important
factor that a cinematographer can bring about
is the one I was talking about showing a pollution
free atmosphere on screen. In most of my films,
landscape is a character by itself. I think
we are also able to give it a lot of scale
without actually paying for it. I think there
is a little coordination. But that does not
mean that I will not work with other cinematographers.
And I am always supported by a very good crew.
I don’t differentiate between
cinematography and direction
find the multiple roles taxing?
Everything is taxing. When you know you can capture
something in a particular way, it becomes easier
to weigh the possibilities. I think everyone comes
with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
Sometimes it is advantageous while some other times
it is not because you are always at it. It is how
you look at it. I can say 70% I enjoy and 30% I
feel someone else can handle.
Do you think
the Indian film industry is up to date with the
latest developments in cinematography?
I think we have an interesting set of talented cinematographers.
There is also this digital boom that is happening
now. There are many who are shooting films digitally
and as long as your sensibilities remain pure and
interesting and you have something new to offer,
then there is something to it.
Can you compare
the candid cinematography with the difficulties
of engineering images on sets and locations?
I think it is like ‘horses for different courses’.
You can have a film for style which is dictated
by the script. I think sometimes you can have highly
mobile camera and I don’t think there are
any sets of rules. It is like music- the piano is
there what kind of music you want to play in it
depends on you. Camera is just a tool and what you
want to do with it rests with you. movie.
Can you tell
us about your working with Mani Ratnam and Shah
It has been a pleasure working with them.
Subrata’s work has a timeless
like Subrata Mitra’s work and also D
K Murthy’s. In those days none of the
current facilities were there and Subrata’s
work has a timeless quality. Even now, when
you see them, it is not dated. He did not
do fashionable cinematography because when
you do fashionable cinematography, it goes
out of fashion. It is the timeless things
that stay on.
When I went to study in film institute, I saw Charulatha
and even now when I see the film, it has the timeless
quality. This is how one’s work should be.
When you embrace nature and its beautiful ways,
then I think the timeless quality will come. Cinematography
is very taxing and you are always a student. When
you think you have shot in every different type
of setting, something new will emerge. And hence
you always remain a student.
What do you enjoy the most- acting, directing
don’t know about that. Like I said before,
I don’t know about acting too much.
Directing a movie is very fulfilling and it
is an interesting journey. When you make an
issue based film like Navarasa, or a children’s
film like Halo or a very serious film like
Terrorist, you are not looking at the mass
appeal. It might have a niche appeal but it
is a statement that it is very interesting
to male. In those respects, it is a fulfilling.
Directing a movie is very fulfilling
At some point of time you would want to do things
in your life that are not materialistic that will
belong to you even when you are not there like a
book or a film. It remains for a longer time. No
on can take it away from you because it is your
thinking. It is interesting to invest in your thoughts.
For instance Navarasa is a film that I really treasure
a lot because it is done in a very simple way. When
I did films on AIDS, I came across the third gender
who said that they are always being ridiculed in
our films. I wanted to look at them in a very different
manner and they liked it. It is not a planned move
or a conscious effort to do a particular kind of
film. Something that triggers inside!
There is never an enough point
thing about money is that there is never an
enough point for it. You can say enough to
many things but not for money. That’s
why you have so many scams these days. The
fact is that there is no end to money and
you are not going to take it anywhere. I think
it is interesting to put your hard earned
money in something which becomes a film or
in such creative output.
I admire people who write, paint or make music.
I think those are very interesting creative areas
where your work will turn out exciting if you are
a little truthful. I am not saying you have to be
truthful all the time and do only original kind
of work. May be one complements the other. You make
a commercial film and with that money you do something
that you like. That’s what I do. After shooting
a big film, I take that money and do a children’s
film. May be I am not the typical director and I
also have the advantage of knowing a lot of actors.
But that’s how it is with me.