96 was supposed to be from Jaanu’s point of view : Prem Kumar

The recently released film 96 captured the public’s attention in such a way that social media and word-of-mouth had appreciation pouring in not just for its two leads but also for its direction and simple storyline. Director Prem Kumar of Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kanom fame engages in a candid conversation with us where he tells us why he chose to debut with a romantic film and his much more.


What was your childhood like?

“I was the typical kid, average in sports, average in academics. My family has always been inclined towards the art and that influenced me greatly as a child. In fact, I was last in line to embrace my calling as my father and brother were both already experts in photography. My parents and grandparents alike dealt with crafts such as carpentry and jewellery making, as well as having a keen interest in music, dance and sculptures. It was around 8th grade when I watched Thalapathy for the first time, I was so mesmerised by the film that I stayed till the credits played. I made a mental note of the same and vowed to watch any movie the same team would work on. Believe it or not, when Roja released next, my parents were hesitant to allow me to watch it because actress Madhoo looked titillating in the posters of the film! (laughs)”


How did Naduvula Konjam Pakatha Kanom happen?

“Having done my Bachelors in Visual Communication, I went on to study filmmaking with Diploma in Film Technology (DFT) and later worked as Assistant Cinematographer in several films including Pasanga, Perazhagan, Mayavi, February 14th and so on. Balaji Tharaneetharan, my friend, was actually present when I lost my memory about ten days before my wedding. He then spun it into this hilarious cult film though I still remember my mother and wife coming up to me on its release and telling me they feel so sorry for what I went through. However, I don’t remember!”


So, are you more of a visual person or a storyteller?

“Believe me, I’ve always wanted to be a scriptwriter and hardly had the desire to be a director. However, 96 was a story I had been trying to get off my chest for a long time. So who better to direct it than me? I did initially want to go into documentary making or be a photographer for National Geographic (reflected in Ram’s character from 96). I really like wildlife and travel, but storytelling is my forte and I steered towards movies.”


It’s not easy to translate real-life stories into cinema. How did you achieve the same?

“I believe that my entire team and I are grounded people. I have a theory and it’s called ‘Cinematic Reality’. It is the perfect halfway between what’s real and reel. I truly believe that if you manage to get any viewer/listener hooked within 30 seconds in your story, it’s bound to be a success. That’s the type of movies I love working on.”


At a time when actresses continue to be used as props or time fillers, how do you manage to give depth to your heroine?

“The storyline of 96 in itself was supposed to be Jaanu’s point of view. I had written the first draft keeping in mind what Jaanu would feel like when she meets Ram again and how his persona would impact her years later. I was able to give depth to the women characters in my movie because of comprehending and understanding the real women in my life! If movies are anything to go by, if you need to build up a villain to show the victory of the hero over him, then imagine how much you have to build up the heroine to make sense of the romance? It has to be balanced for both genders or it does not make sense for one to foreshadow the other.”


Would you say that people from the 90s appreciate love more than the current generation?

“We are by choice these days, so we tend to value everything much lesser. I also think communication is so easily accessible that relationships don’t grow with a natural speed, it is sort of an ‘artificial speed’ if you know what I mean; it is like love is on steroids! Who wants that?”


What kind of movies and books do you enjoy the most?

“Surprisingly, I am not a voracious reader but I am an ardent writer. I can get going on any topic, I just love being expressive. When it comes to movies, my biggest influence has definitely been Mani Ratnam, next to Steven Spielberg – how that man evades getting stereotyped is beyond me! He can work on any genre, no two of his movies are alike, and yet all of his movies carry his signature mark. Closer home, I like K. Bhagyaraj films. He managed to make hits out of family subjects and that is pretty wonderful. Hope to do that consistently – it would be quite the career then!”


Watch our video interview with him here:

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