House Owner, which hit screens last week, was Lakshmy Ramakrishnan’s fourth film after Aarohanam (2012), Nerungi Vaa Muthamidathe (2014) and Ammani (2016). The job of a good filmmaker lies in taking a simple story to an unknown audience and making them feel as if it is their own, says Lakshmy, in this freewheeling chat. Cinema, for her, is a deeply emotional process. “I love how I infuse life into characters I create,” she smiles.
Excerpts from a conversation:
What’s the reason to make a film with Chennai floods as the backdrop?
House Owner, inspired by real-life incidents, is a tribute to a couple I knew. I am glad it got released at a time the city is reeling under a severe water crisis. The film is not only about Chennai floods, but also my take on love, marriage and relationships. At least, let the audience experience rain on the screen for now. (Smiles)
What’s the drive behind making character-based films when largely Tamil cinema is inclined towards larger-than-life stories?
I like to tell simple stories and all my films have been content-driven. Real characters inspire me and that’s how I build my scripts as they require a closer-to-life approach. For Aarohanam, it was Nirmala and for Ammani, it was Vaalambal Paati. With House Owner, I became more confident as a filmmaker and I realised I had a better understanding of everything—right from how I envision a scene to the tone of a frame. I am still learning. I didn’t know what I was really doing in my previous films—though critics were kind enough to support my work. There’s a difference between doing things blindly and with more awareness, no? I am much more in control of my craft right now.
House Owner depicts the unconditional love between the lead characters. Was it intentional that you opted for lesser-known actors, Kishore and Sriranjani?
Initially, the film was to happen on a big scale. I was planning to rope in a renowned Malayalam actor, but slowly convinced myself I didn’t want that. I felt the script demanded a performer and not a star. To pull off Captain Vasudevan, we needed someone like Aadukalam Kishore. Guess what? My daughter recommended that I cast him. She said, “Amma, he looks hot. Go for him!” (Laughs)
See, this lead male character in House Owner has Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t even know he lives with his wife. I didn’t want to talk about his mental condition in detail, therapy, hospital visits and so on. Instead, I wanted to discuss the bonding he shared with his wife. I was more keen to explore the unconditional love he received from his wife.
Sriranjani is equally a brilliant actor. After watching House Owner, I remember Bharathiraaja sir telling her, “Vasudevan kannathula aranjuttu, nee yen kooda vaa, ma.” (Grins) Such was the impact. She is adorable off-screen as well.
Casting is crucial to a film’s success. Besides playing their parts well, all four lead characters, believed it to be their film.
Ammani happened in 2016, and House Owner got released recently. Why the gap?
When Arun Prabhu Purushothaman can make Aruvi targetting me, I thought why not I make a commercial film that centred around my reality show, Sollvadhellam Unmai, highlighting the actual stories that people don’t know of? To be honest, the satellite rights were also sold for a better price. I had to shelve it because I realised—cinema shouldn’t have any hidden agenda.
I am sure. Moving on, you had tweeted you were unhappy that Sindhubaadh was releasing the same day.
I am not getting enough screens despite making a good film and it’s unfortunate. Sindhubaadh got postponed a couple of times and our release dates clashed. But what can Vijay Sethupathi do? The producers should understand our struggles and respect the effort small-time independent filmmakers put in. Of course, I tweeted. That’s the maximum I could do.
Why did you name your protagonist ‘Radha’?
Goddess Radha is an embodiment of unconditional love. So is this woman. I felt Lovelyn was apt for the role as little Radha. She is an unconventional choice—yes. I didn’t want a fair-skinned heroine. Lovelyn is innocent, emotes well and has an expressive pair of eyes.
A section of critics felt the Brahminical lingo was a tad forced in the film.
Not at all. I can’t have one person speak Palakkad Iyer-slang and the rest of the actors, Madras baashai. (Grins) The script called for it, though I belong to Palakkad myself. One of the senior critics had mentioned that a couple of scenes look like a Ravi Varma painting in the film. That doesn’t translate on to the screen easily. We needed a rich place like Kerala so that our frames look effortlessly beautiful. When ‘that’ place was my choice, I can only speak ‘that’ language. When I can enjoy a Madurai slang, why can’t the audience enjoy the Tam-Brahm’s? (Laughs)
Fair enough. Being an actor yourself, you didn’t act in House Owner.
Sriranjani proved she was a better choice. (Smiles) Besides, I was involved in every department of filmmaking and production from scratch—to set designing, costumes, promotions, marketing and auditing. It’s not that I was doing everything myself because I wanted to. We were producing House Owner and had limitations. We had to plan a lot before we went ahead with the shoot. We built a house inside a water tank for just the climax portion.
I am sure you have evolved as a better filmmaker, like you mentioned, with House Owner. But whose films inspire you?
I don’t watch many films. I am not being arrogant when I say this. I have three daughters and that’s not easy. But I like Mysskin and his making style. He had nice things to say about House Owner. Though he has directed me, he has never seen my previous films. I was thrilled beyond words.
I notice that Ghibran was away from promoting House Owner. Why?
I think he is busy with Saaho and other commitments, but it’s sad. He did an amazing job on the music and was dedicated throughout. He was always a call away while composing the background music and tracks. But after handing over the end product, he moved away. It’s not fair to complain, actually.
You were actively involved in #MeToo along with Chinmayi and a few others. But now, there is less noise.
We arranged a press meet, but what happened? Male journalists questioned us with lack of sensitivity and we were simply reduced to caricatures. Women need to collectively address this issue. The industry needs to come together. Recently, there was so much fuss about the Nadigar Sangam elections. When everyone could come for that, why not the #MeToo?
You also represent this industry.
Yes. I belong to this family and I am proud of it. At the same time, it doesn’t mean I have to be silent about certain things. I don’t understand why the media was largely behind covering an election that hardly impacts the public.
All right. What’s next?
I am looking forward to taking a break. I wanted to attend my daughter’s baby shower, but couldn’t, because of House Owner’s release. I have a supporting family and nothing is more important as of yet.