Since the 90’s Sangeeth Sivan has been directing films in both the Malayalam and Hindi film industries. His first Bollywood film was 1997’s Zor and since then he has brought to the screen different stories in varied genres including drama, action, thriller and comedy. He is not only a fabulous director; he also is a writer and has worked on many of his scripts. In an interview with BollySpice.com Mr. Sivan talked old films, new films and all things directing.
You started out in the Malayalam film industry, what was your favorite film you made in that industry?
It has to be Yodha, my second film. Besides being a hit in Malayalam, it was dubbed into Tamil and Telugu and was a big hit there too. In fact, even today I am known most in the South for this film which starred Mohanlal, Jagathi Sreekumar, Madhoo and Puneet Issar. It was a film on martial arts set in Nepal and dealt with Buddhism – so it was a unique concept then and even now it [is being] appreciated. The film was photographed by my brother Santosh and music was by A.R. Rahman- his only film in Malayalam till now.
What did you think of your first film?
My first film was titled Vyooham. For its time it was a novel attempt. It had no stars. In fact, it had a lot many villains, and its hero was Raghuvaran – who after this film did quite a few Malayalam films as a hero! The film had no songs and was a highly stylized action film. It actually set a new visual standard in Malayalam cinema. Even today the film doesn’t look dated and that I think is a great achievement.
Which do you find easier writing a script or directing it once it is done?
It has to be writing. When you write, you just have blank paper. To fill those papers well is the toughest job. Directing would be next but here at least you have the solid support of the written word with you, which you can use as a guideline. The [part of film making] which is most relaxing for me is post production. To me pre-production is quite grilling too.
As a director how much input do you have in the script?
Up till now, I have always been an integral part of the writing process. Though I would not claim to be a writer, I am always involved in the process. I guess my writers value my inputs especially on the screenplay.
You gave Zayed Khan, Sanjay Khan’s son, his debut film. Do you think a director has an increased responsibility when they’re entrusted with an actor’s debut and did you feel your responsibility was heightened because Zayed hailed from a filmi family?
Well, a director is always responsible for his films! Even if it stars a nobody. It’s [the director’s] creation. Regarding Zayed, I had no additional responsibility at all as my film wasn’t supposed to be his launch vehicle. The launch was a different film, and when that did not materialize my film became his debut…
Your films have been not quite comic until Kya Kool Hai Hum and the recent hit Apna Sapna Money Money, what prompted the change?
To be very frank, I had never done a full length comedy even in Malayalam, though Yodha had a lot many humorous scenes. In reality, I was to do a horror for Ekta as she had signed me on after seeing promos of Sandhya! Luckily, her Krishna Cottage got delayed and I opined that we try a different genre and gave her the idea of Kya Kool Hai Hum. She loved it, and it was during this time that Apna Sapna was conceived and written. It was to have been produced by Ashtavinayak, but they backed out at the last minute. We later re-modeled the script for Mukta, and it was not a conscious change. It was just that my action film Zor had not done too well commercially. I had already done a horror film Sandhya which didn’t release and the romantic comedy Chura Liya Hai Tumne also did not fare well, so the only genre left was comedy!
What was your favorite scene in Apna Sapna Money Money? What scene was the hardest to direct? Who gave the best performance?
Well, Apna Sapna worked because of its ensemble cast and their great performances. Personally, I think all of them did great justice to their roles. Be it Ritesh, Shreyas, Chunkey, Jackie, Anupam ji, Sunil Shetty, etc. If I have to choose one, it has to be Ritesh because he had to portray different characters and did that so well! In fact, I would rate his performance as Sania, the woman, as one of the best cross gender performances, maybe second to Kamal Hassan in Aunty 420.
Comedy or Drama, which is harder to direct?
To be frank both are quite tough and easy at the same time. It really depends on your script and your actors. If both are great and you have a great team with you, you should have no problem with drama or comedy. The only problem with comedy is that it’s totally dependent on the written word and the chemistry of the actors. The directors’ technique is not at all important in this genre. The technique of the director gets highlighted when he does horrors, thrillers and action.
You’ve worked in films through the 90s starting with Zor and continue to do so today in a new era. How has cinema changed in your eyes over the years?
Like everything else, cinema is also evolving every day. It’s important for a filmmaker to be in touch. Luckily for me, right from the beginning I have always been a film buff. In fact my hobby is film watching, and that too films from all over the world. I have been in touch with the works of the present filmmakers as well. So subconsciously those techniques which you find fascinating in films do find their way into your films as well. By trying to do films of different genres, I keep changing my style of filming to suit the subject and the times!
Word is around town is that Ek-The Power of One is the remake of Telugu superhit Athadu originally starring Mahesh Babu, is this true? And if so how do you plan to recreate such an acclaimed film once again in Hindi cinema?
Yes, Ek is the remake of Athadu. I was very impressed with the film when it was shown to me by Sunny Deol. I sincerely felt I could update it well to Hindi. It took me another six months to re-write the same to suit Hindi. I always was against re-making films as they are from other languages as it is. For living in Mumbai, I have realized that there are differences and I do try to adapt to suit the North Indian audiences. So the whole character of Nana Patekar has been completely re-modeled, and a lot more changes have been made in the Hindi version.
How has Bobby Deol done in Mahesh’s shoes which his south fans will tell you is quite tough to fill?
I sincerely feel that it is one of Bobby Deol’s best films to date. I think he has done very well in the role. The fact is that he has not seen Athadu so he doesn’t know what Mahesh Babu has done. He has done it the way he thinks the character should be, and believe me people are going to see him in a different light after this film. The action he has done is one of the best so far.
Is Shriya recreating Trisha’s character Poori and Nana Patekar Prakash Raj’s character?
Yes, to both.
What do you think has been your best work so far?
I would like to believe that the best is yet to come. On a personal level, the film I really enjoyed directing was the one where I was a producer as well – Click. It was well planned and executed. No tensions.
How does it feel (if and) when your films don’t work at the box office?
Naturally depressed, but I don’t dwell greatly into it. Thankfully for me, an idea would then germinate, and I would involve myself fully into the next. Yes, I do ask people what they did not like, talk with my team and try to ascertain where we went wrong so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes, but we do not stop — we push forward always. At the end of the day, success is not in your hands. It depends on so many factors over which we have absolutely no control so we don’t worry too much. It’s an honest appraisal of our work and then forward we move!
In your career in Hindi cinema, you’ve yet to repeat the lead actors of your film. Is this something you’ve consciously done or do you feel you’ll recast someone when the time is right?
That’s not true. Kya Kool and Apna Sapna have Ritesh! Apna Sapna, Ek and Click have Chunkey and Apna Sapna and Ek have Sanjay Mishra so it is not like that at all. I would rather put that down to the different genres that I try. So invariably I end up working with newer people which I think is nice too. I am positive of one thing – all the actors who have acted with me – Ritesh, Shreyas, Nana, Bobby, Zayed – would all love to work with me again and the same thing goes for me [about working with them]. I would not go to anyone if I don’t have a script that would excite them a great deal, period.
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened on one of your sets?
In Apna Sapna people would come to my set and ask me where Ritesh was when he would be sitting next to me in his women’s make up!!
What are some of your favorite films?
My favourite Hindi films are Mumbai Meri Jaan, A Wednesday, the Munnabhai series, Jaane Tu, Satya, Company, Dilwale, Chak De, Guru, Taare Zameen Par… the list is endless.
Who do you feel is the best actor and/or actress working today?
I like to believe that all actors and actresses are as good or as bad as the characters they are given to play – period. If you were to ask me which actors I would love to work with – Akshay Kumar, Hrithik, Ranbir, Aamir… but then again I need to find the right scripts! The work is on though.
What else is coming up for you?
I am presently scripting a film for Vijayata films. It will star Dharmendra and Bobby Deol. It’s a cute story of bonding between father and son. It’s a story which I believe will find a resonance in everyone’s life. Again, it is different from the films I have done. That is the challenging and thrilling part for me!
We thank Mr. Sivan for his insightful answers; as you can see he certainly knows his craft and will continue giving audiences wonderful films. We are looking forward to seeing his upcoming projects including Click, Ek-The Power of One and all the movies to come from this great director. We will be waiting and watching to see what comes next and wish him the best of luck!