H Vinoth: Valimai is for the fans

The director talks about collaborating once again with Ajith Kumar for Valimai, how his ideologies are different from that of the star and much more
H Vinoth and Ajith Kumar
H Vinoth and Ajith Kumar

The last conversation I had had with H Vinoth was in the summer of 2019, just ahead of the release of his first film with Ajith Kumar, Nerkonda Paarvai. The filmmaker is now in the big league, having done another film with the star, the much-anticipated Valimai. And yet, he retains his modesty, and a sense of excitement and cheer as well. Of course, there have been a couple of changed phone numbers in between, which he clarifies about with another of those trademark smiles. Two years ago, Vinoth had mentioned that the script he narrated to Ajith featured a grey character. However, he clarifies that Valimai is not that script. So, what’s it about then? Here's the filmmaker himself taking questions about everything from Valimai to his next collaboration with Ajith Kumar.

Excerpts from the conversation:

The Journey Begins

“We began the film with a lot of excitement but then, Covid happened. Making a film is tough on its own but this scenario made it twice as hard. But I think it has shaped up to be a film that I believe everyone would like (smiles). A recent interview misquoted me and had me saying that this script was written for a different actor. That’s not true; I wrote this story a while ago, and when Ajith sir came into the project, we had to alter it to suit his presence. We also touch upon two small issues that I believe will become bigger problems in the future. And no, it’s not a film about motorcycle clubs that originated in Europe. Unlike Nerkonda Paarvai, we wanted Valimai to be a more commercial film with action and doses of family drama. The objective is to give everyone a wholesome experience; so, there’s more emphasis on mass elements this time around.”

The Right Vision

“I was more relaxed when doing Nerkonda Paarvai as the story was someone else's. I wasn’t confident that the film would reach too many people, as it was a nuanced film. Ajith sir, however, was confident, and he was right. I was stunned by the support of Ajith sir's fans and how it fostered discussions about this film in cities and towns. I realised that the film had come at a time when society was in a transition. It was not a film done for the business, but one made by a father for his daughter. I will always remember what Ajith sir said about Nerkonda Paarvai: 'My daughter is going to live in this society. I want the men of this society to know how to look at a woman. As a father, I want to show my grown-up daughter that I have done a film like this.' It was quite new to me as my films weren't exactly known for strong woman characters. I accepted this as a challenge. As a society, we fear saying the truth. Poigalaala indha samoogam kattamaikka pattirukku. Behind all the values, all we see are lies. Nerkonda Paarvai will not cause changes in a day, but its long-term effects will be felt for years. It has also given hope for those who want to make films on similar subjects that they can make them with stars.”

A still of H Vinoth from the sets of Valimai
A still of H Vinoth from the sets of Valimai

A Star Who Stands for the People

“Films of Ajith sir and Vijay sir become hits even when the reviews are mixed. Directors who work with them need to understand that fans throng the theatre for the star and not the film. Ajith sir is a brand, thanks to the hard work he has done for 20-25 years. He has convinced the cinema-going audience that his films can be watched as a family. My job is to sell that brand and really, it’s all about how we utilise his value. We are both very different people: Ajith sir prioritises the people around him, and if the work isn't welcomed, he doesn’t really mind. He believes that success comes and goes. But I, on the other hand, desire that personal equations be kept aside and we all work towards the betterment of the film. Our stances may differ, but we are both equally sincere.”

The Covid Conundrum

“Covid caused us to rewrite certain characters. There were rumours that the budget shot up because of the pandemic. It’s not true, and I have kept in mind the importance of making a financially viable film. However, yes, there were restrictions, and where I would have shot with a thousand bikes, I shot with 100. The vision had to be slightly narrowed.”

The Valimai Update Frenzy

“Ah, Valimai update… (laughs) It started like it does for every film, but somewhere, it turned into entertainment. The trend evolved naturally because of the lack of content during the lockdown and no, I was not angered or irritated because it was not in our control. Ajith sir did give out a statement about it. The pressure to deliver updates affects quality. Earlier, it was just a poster and a trailer followed by songs. But now, film content is being judged on the regularity of updates. And often, when too much hype is generated, it causes the audience to be disappointed with the actual film. We have already released posters, a motion poster, a glimpse, a making video and two songs. We will soon release the trailer first, and then two songs on the day of the release, as they are really connected to the story.”

The Rise of Ajith

“I saw tweets about how the making video would be amazing, and we finally decided on making one. Instead of just having it be a making video, we wanted it to showcase the journey of how we came out of problems to make this film and pass on the message of hope. As for that shot in which Ajith sir falls, it was a scene that required him to ride a long distance, behind a rig-bike that had a camera mounted in such a way that the person operating it could not see what was happening behind him. The camera was mounted on a gimbal that was controlled remotely by the cinematographer. When sir fell down, no one could believe it. The rig-bike rider heard the sound and stopped his bike. We saw staff members rushing to him, and by that time, he had already risen. Sir had enlightened me on the importance of safety equipment, and thankfully, he had them on. Even then, he ended up with bruises.”

Motorhead to Cop

“It's no news that Ajith sir loves bikes. Even if he’s starving, he won’t care as long as he has a bike. He pulled off many stunts, including riding fast and doing wheelies. He enjoys doing it all himself. For instance, for a scene in which his character had to ride through five glass panes, he insisted on doing it himself. We were worried but he was confident and got it done. He rides an Italian bike called Brutale (MV Agusta Brutale), made from a high-quality material that allows it to be ridden at high speeds. When Jayalalithaa ma'am was the Chief Minister, a bike racer was made an SI directly. We have taken that as an inspiration for this character, who is an ex-racing professional turned cop.”

A Host of Talent

“Yuvan sir, as everyone knows, is a musical genius. We didn't start with the songs for the whole of the first year, save for one track. After the first wave of Covid ended, we commenced work on the songs. When Vignesh Shivan came on board (as lyricists for two songs), things quickened. I saw a temple festival near Erode, and we wanted 'Vera Maari' to be based on something similar. Vignesh chose a tune from Yuvan's collection of rhythms, and he instantly went, “Sir, 100 million!" (laughs). Cinematographer Nirav Shah has used a new lens for the majority of this film. The off-road freestyle fight sequences are shot in full ratio while a flashback song is in a different one. So, the film will have about three different aspect ratios based on the mood. The crew overall is pretty much the same as my last film. Kartikeya was initially apprehensive of playing the negative role but when he got to know that it's for an Ajith sir film, he agreed. He plays a strong character who believes in his ideology.”

Crime and Cinema

“I guess these stories come naturally to me. I have always liked politics and crime stories. My films don’t concentrate on the crime itself but talk about the why. Sathuranga Vettai speaks of the need for money and of the social dynamics that causes such crimes. Similarly, Valimai is not a regular crime/action film. I ask myself if I can come up with a story that will provide society with baby steps towards betterment. And yes, fans who take ownership of the project as they have, must also be entertained.”

The Journey Continues

“As you know, I am teaming up once again for a film with Ajith sir (AK61). The pre-production work has already commenced, and after the release of Valimai, an official announcement will be made.”

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