Vineeth Sreenivasan is so calm, unaffected and even apologetic about his fame and talent that it takes a while to digest it. It’s the kind of calmness that perhaps runs deeper than you think, because everything he utters can easily be categorised as a Zen quote. Or better, the greatest ever Zen quotes that make you feel happy about yourself. Every prodding question is gently and serenely listened to and simplified in a manner of speaking. With his next film, Manoharam releasing today after the superhit Thannermathan Dinangal, Vineeth is definitely on a roll. But well, try telling him that…
Is it that you are concentrating more on acting these days?
Not really. After Manoharam I plan on taking a break for a while and focusing on direction. Now we are also working on the film I am producing, Helen. Kunjeldo is going on parallelly.
In which you have been credited as a creative director. What’s that really?
You need to ask director Mathootty that. We are all backing him up as friends. There is June’sdirector Ahmed Kabeer associating in it. Mathootty, who wrote the script, initially wanted me to direct it. But then he already had a visual picture in mind and so I told Mathu to direct it. These are incidents that have happened in his friend’s life.
Are you enjoying acting more now?
It’s after OrmayundoEeMukham, that I started enjoying the process of becoming a character. Before that I was just following the director’s instructions and was more fascinated by the thought of working with other directors and understanding their style and technique.
Ravi Padmanabhan was way out of your comfort zone…
I remember being on the sets of Manoharamwhere I play a very calm and introverted man. But then the ThanneerMathancharacter was the exact opposite. It took me a day to get into the loud and flamboyant Ravi. I had conversations with Gireesh and then I sort of figured it all out.
What was your understanding of the character?
He was a fraud. Some people, no matter how intelligent, might think in a twisted manner. In an otherwise realistic film Ravi exists on another register, therefore drawing attention to himself.
Did you think of the contradiction in him? He was a great teacher, yet a fraud…
He is learned, it is just that his brain is a bit twisted. I haven’t thought much of it. When he narrated the character, I got a few things and followed it. During the Kannada recitation scene, I switched into the theatre mode where you have Kings speaking—since I didn’t know Kannada, I could acquire the fake confidence of someone who knew the language. Humour is always great to do. There will always be something to tweak. Even the Mohanlal mannerisms were suggested by the director.
Friends are always my driving force. I float in their world. I can write but it’s not just about the creative process, right? When I work with my friends, they are cushioning a lot of things for meVineeth Sreenivasan
Are you tempted to give inputs?
I want to trust the director and act according to their guidance. The way they explain the character would be enough to understand his mettle. I am just an actor on the sets. Acting for me is a break from when I am making cinema. So, I don’t really overthink it. Just do it according to the screenplay. Nothing is planned in advance.
When do you feel like making a film?
Thira for instance was my cousin brother Rakesh Mantodi’s idea, I co-wrote it with him. We did a lot of homework and research. I wrote the rest of my films. Lot of stories come in our head, and a few leave our minds within days. But some stories, however much you try to ignore them, they keep coming back to you. And at times you try to look at it logically and filter the idea, but it still comes back to you. That’s how most of my films have come up.
Why do the title cards always say Vineeth Sreenivasan and friends?Friends are always my driving force. I float in their world. I can write but it’s not just about the creative process, right? When I work with my friends, they are cushioning a lot of things for me—they take away the stress of filmmaking. Brotherhood is there, and it’s also about wanting to see each other’s films do well. If tomorrow I need 10 lakhs, I have friends who will give me that.
Aju Varghese and Ganesh Raj talk about belonging to a Vineeth school of media studies?
Eh, no, that’s just a joke they invented. It’s just warmth and friendship. Ganesh will come tomorrow even if I asked him to assist my next film. All of us see it as work, we think we are working for a common goal. There is a lot of respect, and give and take.
The feel-good element is an underlying theme of all your films. Is it deliberate or does it simply slip into that?
When I was doing Thira, the raw materials were always about trafficking and it affected me a lot. I would get tense when Divya didn’t get home by 7 pm. After a point it starts messing with your head. Now I have a 2-year-old son and we are expecting another child so until my mid-40s I want to do happy films. Cinema is only a part of it.
At one point the characters develop and start talking to you, you are following them rather than creating them. This was something my father told me when I was a kid—once you develop your characters and expand their arc, they begin to converse with you.Vineeth Sreenivasan
ThattathinMarayathu has completed 7 years. How do you see your evolution as a director?
I don’t really evaluate such things. I am only thinking about my next film. Changes might be there. Maybe it reflects in our cinema. I think about characters and travel with them in a parallel world.
Sanjay of the Bobby-Sanjay duo says they are the Gods of their characters?
When I sit down to write… it’s only when these characters develop and form a picture in our mind that we start writing. Most of the time, we don’t know what we are going to write, especially the conversations. Scene order will be there but why are these characters silent, what they are saying, their conflicts, how do they bond and so on. I don’t know how I am going to write. But there will be help from God, which makes me think I am not writing, but just editing. At one point the characters develop and start talking to you, you are following them rather than creating them. This was something my father told me when I was a kid—once you develop your characters and expand their arc, they begin to converse with you. At that time, I didn’t quite understand but now I get it. Because it will reach a point where you cannot write what you want to write, only write what they tell you. They are becoming our Gods. Then what we are doing is editing, cutting short and giving it a structure.
What excites you about Malayalam cinema?
Our possibilities have expanded. Earlier when movies had scenes which require you to hold silence or such crucial moments, the audience would get distracted. Now we are used to different kinds of cinema, so the quality of viewing has improved. Earlier our editing pattern for cinema never varied, it had no space for silence as the audience would get easily dissuaded. You can keep silences, hold on to the characters and take your own time to convey the emotions. I think it’s a great thing for the audience. People are getting attuned to the kind of cinema given to them.
Political correctness is being dissected…
I don’t think like that. My thoughts are simple. When I write, characters form in my mind and I let them trail according to their wish, journey through the places they like to travel. I don’t overthink when I write. I write how I want and then try to find logic. My likes and rights should be what my cinema should be all about. I think our rights and wrongs keep changing during every era. I don’t write thinking people should think of me in a certain way. If I do, then I don’t think I am being sincere to myself. Let people find my flaws and then I can correct it. I don’t take offence for what I see on screen. Most of the time. Now I don’t have a lot of dreams. I am happy at my home. It’s more than the happiness I have when I make movies. Every aspect during the movie making process also comes with a lot of stress. Even when on day one you get good reports, you are still worried about day 2. When I gaze at my son, it’s priceless. It cuts you off from all the negative energy.