Major Mahadevan will be back: Major Ravi in ‘Balcony Baatein’
Four mammoth films that have been shot on a gigantic scale over, film director Major Ravi sounds like he is simply raring to go ahead with his next mega project. Here is the director in an exclusive interview with Balcony Beats, where he presents before us his perspectives on film making, talks about his passions and answers the million dollar question as to whether Major Mahadevan is going to be back again!
BB: Perhaps it’s a first time in the country Major, that an Army officer, who’s the recipient of the President’s Medal, and with over two decades of meritorious service in the Army, takes to directing films! Have you always aspired to be a film maker?
Major Ravi: I have always believed that there is this most important thing that you need to have within you, if you are to become a film maker – an intense passion for films. Even as a child, I used to watch films with such fervor, and eventually the awe and astonishment in me gave way to a critical sense that made me all the more curious as to how films were actually made. It’s this analytical film viewer inside you who makes you recognize that you have a passion within yourself to make a film.
BB: How would you describe the film making process?
Major Ravi: Making a film, no doubt is a gargantuan task and an intricate one at that. As a director, you need to know every tidbit regarding your film, and you need to be right there from the first frame till the last, until the final credit has rolled off the screen. Meanwhile you have a story to tell your viewers; one that spans across several scenes that need to blended together into a cohesive whole, and presented convincingly before an audience.
BB: There has been this labelling of feature films into commercial and art house categories, and how much as a film maker do you believe in such classifications?
Major Ravi: All films, believe me are works of art. A film, basically needs to put across what it attempts to convey to the viewer, and I don’t believe in a film where the maker has to stand by and explain things to someone who has taken an effort to watch his film. Now, if that is an art house film, I don’t think I I’m all for it. As a film maker, I want the viewer to watch my film and enjoy what he is watching.
BB: You started off as a military consultant in films, and also acted in a few movies. Not surprising too, with your good looks. Why was it that you never took up acting after a while?
Major Ravi: I have always wondered if I should get into film making, since it has struck me as a much demanding profession. Yes, I did have a brief stint as an actor, but I soon realized my limitations as a performer. Acting is a God given talent that becomes obvious when you see an artiste like Om Puri in action, and unfortunately I knew that I didn’t have it in me. And it’s just not about looks either. There are any number of men out there who are as tall as Amitabh Bachchan, but isn’t it a fact that we have only one Amitabh in the world?
Major Ravi: Surprisingly, I knew all the while that I could extract what I wanted from an artiste in front of me, and this realization struck me all the more when I did a small children’s film, ‘Punarjani’ with a limited budget, way back in 2002, that won the child artiste in it, Pranav Mohanlal, the Kerala State Film Award for Best Child Actor. What’s more, I wanted another child to do a supporting role in the film, and none of the children in front of me fit the bill. It was then that I picked up Vishnu from the crowd, and as if in confirmation of my instincts, he won a Special Mention by the Jury in the State Awards as well.
After the Preview of the film, Shaji N Karun, renowned film director, whom I didn’t know personally as yet, asked me what my plans for the future were. I replied that there weren’t any plans as such, and that I was quite happy doing films and the military consultancy was going quite good as well. It was then that he suggested that I should take to direction, and added that I had an eye for it. I was astonished when he rang me up the next day morning to remind me of what he had told me the day before. Today, as I speak to you as a director, I realize that his words on the evening of the 20th of December, 2002, were the ones that changed my life! By the 30th of December, the same year, I had the one-line script of ‘Keerthichakra’ ready with me.
BB: How did you convince the producers that this army man could make films?
Major Ravi: It was difficult for people to believe that a military man could direct films, and it was difficult to find a producer as well. People were apprehensive of my talents as a director, my technical knowledge as a film maker and so on. Sunil Shetty, who is a good friend of mine, wanted to do this film, but somehow things didn’t work out. I just left it at that, started working with Priyadarshan again, and two years went by in a flash. It was then that I thought that I should do something about this script that I had with me, and I approached Mohanlal and gave him a narration. After the narration, Mohanlal asked me why I hadn’t discussed this story with him earlier, and told me that we are doing this film. A producer was still nowhere in sight, and it was much later that R B Choudary agreed to make the film. It was thus that ‘Keertichakra’ was born, and the film made history in Malayalam films!
BB: People work for years and years as Assistant and Associate directors before they finally venture out to independently direct a film. How much had you been exposed to the technicalities of film making when you made ‘Keerthichakra’?
Major Ravi: I had been working with Priyadarshan for a long time, and had been assisting him in ads and commercials. I worked as a military consultant with Kamal Hassan for the Hindi film ‘Abhay’, with Rajkumar Santhoshi while he was directing ‘Pukaar’ and ‘China Gate’ and with Mani Ratnam for ‘Kannathil Muthamittan’. I was constantly observing as to how films get made while working with these fantastic film makers, and frankly I don’t think it matters much that you have been working in the industry as an associate or assistant director for the last twenty five years. What does matter is your personality, the hard work that you are willing to put in, and of course your self confidence. You also need to learn to accept your faults and limitations, and the earlier you learn to get them right, the better.
BB: How much concerned is Major Ravi as a film maker about the box office performance of his films, critical appreciation, and of course awards and accolades?
Major Ravi: As a film maker, I think you have no right to be in the industry if you see film making as merely a money spinning business. The director needs to have a commitment to the audience whose hard earned money is being spent watching his film. I am not too much concerned about awards and appreciation. That doesn’t mean that they do not matter, but I guess it’s futile to go chasing after them. Once you do your work with conviction, they are bound to follow.
BB: ‘Keertichakra’ gifted us with Major Mahadevan who has chosen to occupy a definite place in our hearts ever since the film and its sequels graced the screens. I have always wanted to ask you this; how much of Major Ravi is there in Major Mahadevan?
Major Ravi: Major Mahadevan is a replica of my character; he is a screen representation of Major Ravi in real life. When I wrote the script of these films, I never had to take another look at it, since these are real life events that I have been through. The dialogues in the films are those that I have said in my life, or which I have heard myself. In ‘Keertichakra’, you might remember a scene that involves the character played by Sphadikam George and Major Mahadevan, and believe me, I have seen officers like that in the Army. As a dedicated officer in the Army, my nation was always my first priority, and everything else including my family was only secondary, just as it is for Major Mahadevan as well.
Major Ravi: Nothing went wrong with the making of the film. I guess it’s the huge expectations of the audience that took its toll on the film. I was told that some people at least were let down by the fact that Sivarajan wasn’t killed in the climax. Today things have changed, and I somehow feel that ‘Mission 90 Days’ was a film that was well ahead of its times. The DVD of ‘Mission 90 Days’ is currently used as a study material in so many visual communication courses, and I believe that it was well appreciated by discerning viewers.
BB: And what happened to ‘Kandahar’?
Major Ravi: People were disappointed that there wasn’t enough of Mohanlal in the film; at least not as much as they had expected him to be. He was undoubtedly the hero of the film, but they wanted even more of him. Some even asked me why I had made Mohanlal land the plane, and it took a bit of effort to convince them that an army officer could indeed take the risk of landing an airplane carrying 192 passengers. Of course, I wanted an actor there, who could credibly deliver the expressions that a pilot goes through when entrusted with such a task! And who could deliver it better than Mohanlal!
BB: The military is known for its discipline, and from the layman point of view at least, the film industry is just the opposite. How do you deal with the ideological conflicts while being a director? Are you a strict disciplinarian on the sets?
Major Ravi: If the commander is disciplined, everyone else eventually falls into line. If the director is sure of his business, is meticulous about the things that he does, then his unit would follow suit in no time. I agree that for this to happen, sometimes you need to shout and even abuse, but I make sure that the people around realize that I am the one who decides things around here. They also know that they get shouted at, only if and when they fail to perform their duties. This has been my attitude while directing every film of mine, and this is exactly the reason, why I have been able to finish all my films off within thirty days. The fear of punishment works well every where to get people disciplined, whether it be in the army, the industry or elsewhere. It’s this fear factor that makes people adhere to traffic rules in countries like Dubai or which leaves the cities of Singapore all spick and span.
BB: But isn’t there a slight difference between the way the military works and the way the film industry functions? Like for instance, I’m sure you don’t have to deal with star egos in the military!
Major Ravi: Let me tell you, I have worked with the biggest of stars, and I have never had any issues. I first worked with Amitabh Bachchan while shooting for ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and came to know of what a disciplined artiste he was. We had planned for a shooting at 6 o clock, and he was there all ready for the shot, when the clock struck six. Years later, while I was directing Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Kandahar’ at Ooty, he asked me when I intended to start the shoot. I told him I would have loved to, at seven in the morning when the sun would just be coming up, and added that it would be incredibly cold. He agreed to be there at seven, and my unit was up at five getting everything right. At five minutes to seven, we found him standing there, ready for the shot. Amitji was a bit surprised too, since I had got everything ready including the lighting for the shot to be taken. I had made sure that such a magnanimous person shouldn’t be made to sit around waiting for Major Ravi, and had planned the entire day’s shoot well in advance. When you see the film, you will be shocked to see that there is about twenty seven minutes of Amitji in the film, and we had canned it all in about one and a half days. It’s been a great pleasure working with Mohanlal who is a close friend. Mamootty was cooperation personified as well and we finished ‘Mission 90 Days’ in twenty eight days sharp. But of course sometimes you come across artistes who walk in late to the sets, sit around and gossip and then go online, unmindful of the happenings around. Sorry to say that it doesn’t work that way on my sets.
BB: We often talk of actors being typecast, and now we have directors being typecast as well. All four of your major commercial films have said stories set against a military backdrop, and why is it that you haven’t thought of doing something different?
Major Ravi: The new film that I am currently planning with Mohanlal in the film, should serve as an answer to your question. It’s a family oriented subject that I would be dealing with this time, and I have drawn from my own experiences at my Tharavaadu for this film. I would love to break away from this so called military mould, and do something different. We expect to start shooting pretty soon.
Major Ravi: That’s indeed right. I’m often asked why there aren’t many women in my films, and even when they do make an appearance they are around just for two or three minutes. Frankly, if it’s a man, I feel I could very well deal with them, with all my anger and fury. (laughs) I prefer to keep a safe distance from women, lest an accusation gets hurled at me that Major Ravi shouted at a woman! But I’m a person who holds every lady in highest esteem. And the respectable depiction of women in my films is what gives any female artiste the confidence to do my film without any reservations whatsoever.
BB: We also heard of an anthology film called ‘Oru Yathrayil’ that you would be directing along with four other directors. How has that project turned out?
Major Ravi: Yes, ‘Oru Yathrayil’ in which I’m working as the project director, is complete, and should be releasing by May 2012. Five directors – Priyanandanan, Vinod Vijayan, Rajesh Amanakara, Mathews and myself – would be narrating five stories in this anthology that get merged at a particular point of time. We hope it would be a different kind of an experience for the viewers.
BB: Now this is one question that I’m sure all our readers are waiting to ask you. Is Major Mahadevan going to be back sometime soon again?
Major Ravi: Yes! Major Mahadevan has instilled a spirit of patriotism in today’s youth, which I believe is the need of the hour! I guarantee you hence, that Major Mahadevan is going to be back, and I’m not gonna allow him to die; not for the next hundred years at least! I also have plans to make a mega film based on the ’71 war, that I hope would help reduce the hatred between India and Pakistan.
BB: Thank you so much for the assurance! Such a pleasure talking to you!
Major Ravi: Nice talking to you too!
Tags: Kandahar, Keerthichakra, Kurukshetra, Major Mahadevan, Major Ravi, Mammootty, Mission 90 Days, Mohanlal, Oru Yathrayil