'I regret that I could not even buy a cup of tea for my father', Murugadoss feels [Interview]
AR Murugadoss, 40, gets his initials from the man he loved the most in the world -his father, whom he lost just a few years before his debut as a director. While his reel life favourite heroes are Robert De Niro, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, without a distant doubt, his real life hero is his father.
He is emotional and stubborn and nothing can substitute the joy of reading a book for him. While he cannot fight society, the heroes in his films do. Ahead of his upcoming entertaining thriller Holiday, which is a remake of his super hit Tamil film Thuppaki, he talks to us about the extremely serious Aamir Khan, the very funny Akshay Kumar and what he regrets the most in his life.
How did you become a film director?
I come from a small place Kallakurichi, 200 km away from Chennai. I studied in a government school that did not even have a compound and a classroom. Even though there was no railway station there, there were two cinema halls, which was our only form of entertainment.
And, thus, from a very young age, at nine, I had decided that I wanted to be a filmmaker. I started writing short stories and wrote 23 short stories, which were published in small Tamil newspapers. So, I became famous as a writer in my small world and that became an addiction for me.
I finished my graduation in Trichy and moved to Chennai to make films.
My father gave me `400 per month, out of which `100 went for rent towards a room I shared with two other boys and the balance `300 towards my expenses in a month. I had to thus manage on `10 per day. At that time, an idli would cost about `0.5. So, I would manage with eating a few idlis a day or sometimes, flavoured rice that we got for `3. My father owned a small vessel shop. I had four elder sisters and two younger brothers and while he would spend `500 on all my other siblings combined, he would give me `400 for just me to live in Chennai, as he wanted me to achieve my dreams.
After a year's struggle, I started assisting a director for a film after which I got a chance to work with the famous writer P Kalaimani sir. He has written 85 films and I joined him as his assistant. Many other big writers would come there and discuss scripts with him. It was my job to make notes of all their discussions, apart from serving them coffee, food and liquor. I was the only small boy there. They were all 65 and above. I would sit on the ground taking notes while they would sit on the chairs discussing scripts and when they rested or took breaks, I would quickly go and transcribe my notes for their next discussion. He made me slog, but actually I was lucky as I learnt a lot and got to understand how a script is written and how commercial cinema is made. They were discussing 60 years of cinema in front of me and I was getting to learn from it. In three years, I completed 13 films with him.
My roommate Uday Shankar also became a director and I worked with him for half the film and then worked with SJ Suryah for the other half. I had written one script, narrated it to Ajith Kumar who liked it and got to direct my first film Dheena in 2001. The film was a big hit and ever since, all my films have been hits.
Who are you most attached to?
My father. He died in 1997 before my first film in 2001. In my school days, all my friends wanted to become lawyers, doctors and engineers. When I told my father that I wanted to become a filmmaker, he didn't discourage me and, in fact, encouraged me and said, `You write.' Another parent would have made me stop watching films. But he said, `Do whatever you want to.' Even though he was not educated himself, he was a modern-minded father. Normally , a father would expect me to take care of my many siblings, but he said to me, `Forget about us. Go and struggle for whatever you want to do,' and he gave me money to live in Chennai. He would take my small stories, read it again and again to his friends. As he became older, he was not able to work so much, so towards his end time, we would sometimes even struggle for food. But he want ed me to become a big director and he would travel any distance to just see my name credit even as an assistant director.
He was 60 when he died all of a sudden due to kidney failure. I had gone home one Diwali when I came to know that he had only a month more to live. I had been struggling and that is the first time, I saw the poverty in our house. I was very close to my father, but we would hardly talk.
But through our body language and the letters we wrote to each other, I knew how much he loved me. He also knew that I was his brightest kid, who could become , something and, thus, he always backed me. He just wanted to see my first film. I was not a strong person and had my father not supported me, I would not have gone to Chennai to become a director. I knew from his letters he wrote how rela tives were always taunting him about me not doing work to support and make money for the family , but he did not care and, in fact, would defend me in all the family functions. Once when I was in my native place, he quietly went to Chennai with my short stories to show them to directors on my behalf. He would always encourage me through his letters. When he was on his death bed, we admitted him to a general hospital and a week before he died, the doctors said to us, `You can take him home as he will not live.' But I had no car for me to take him and could only afford the petrol in it. I tried to borrow a car from my friends, but could not man age.
I finally hired a car for ` 3000 that was a lot of money for me at that time and took him home, where he died. I now miss him all the time. But at that time, he . always wanted to spend more time with me. He would ask me a lot of questions, but I would try and avoid all his ques tions. Even when my father's dead body was lying there, my relatives taunted me and said, `How long can you work for the film industry? Now your father also is dead. Your father worked a lot and had you helped him, he could have been w saved.' I cried for my father, but I realised that not only my dad's encouragement but even their discouragement became my motivation. Today I sometimes travel, on the same roads that I had once brought my father back on, with my family in one e car and my driver in an empty big car fol lowing us, and remember my father. I regret that I could not even buy a cup of tea with my money for a man who has made me what I am. For me, he was my hero. While I cannot bring him back, after my first film, I returned all the loans he had taken, settled my four sisters, have bought a house and shop for each of my brothers and am happy that I could look after my family . Today I have two kids who sleep in an AC room and travel in a big car. It hurts me when I show my son a e crowded bus and tell him that that is the way I used to travel. And he having not o seen any hardship will casually say , `So what dad? We also don't travel in chop pers.' They cannot understand hardships and bonds that remain forever because of s sharing those.
You have worked with Aamir Khan in Ghajini and now with Akshay Kumar in Holiday. Who did you enjoy working with more?
I liked both of them. Aamir is too serious. He is totally focused and is 100% workaholic. He is doing his work like a bad habit. Akshay is very sincere too, but he is also very funny and never stresses himself. He loves his work, is relaxed and I like the way he is modest and treats his staff and brings a positive vibe on set. In South, I like working with Vijay . I like his comic timing and action. Akshay spoke about your violent streak.
Where does that come from?
I used to see a lot of action films and, basically , I feel a little angry with society . The anger comes from many small things I have seen in my life. For instance, I remember when my father was on his death bed in hospital, the doctor knew that he would not survive and yet he walked in with the nurse and sarcastically commented to her, `If he wants something, you have to give it. Okay?' He said it with a smirk and she started giggling.
Standing there I felt angry that they were making fun of a man who was about to die. I took this scene in my second film Gabbar. After my father died, I went to collect his death certificate and the man there asked me for a bribe. I told him, `I am not going to get a job with this certificate.' But he said, `If you don't want to pay , come through the proper route. And it took me a month to get it. I can't fight in life but my hero can, so, my stories fight through him.