Jeeva Sankar’s office is a study in elegance: all muted gold and soft cream. And completely at odds with the man who walks in a little later. In a T-shirt that has seen better days, and comfortable flip flops. “I’m really sorry about the delay,” he greets us a little apologetically.
He ignores the hard-backed chair up front, and settles for the plush couch next to it.
“Bad lighting, there,” our photographer protests.
“You want me to move? I have been sitting there all day long, giving interviews!” he points at another chair – a large wing-back, this time – with something akin to loathing in his eyes. “It’s given me a headache. I think this is more comfortable, don’t you?”
A question about his name is what strikes us first.
“Oh, this is going to take a while,” he exclaims. “Do you have time?”
He was just Sankar then, he narrates, Sankar from Thanjavur; who was one among the many in a little theatre. Queueing-up to watch Thiruda Thiruda. Yes, he shrugs, he was “a big movie buff and all that” then, but once Sankar watched the film, he knew what he wanted to do. “I wanted to be in the movies. And not in front of the camera, either. I wanted to be responsible for the visuals that you see on screen.”
So, Sankar arrived in Chennai one morning, with stars in his eyes. “Not only stars,” he laughs, “I could see all shapes in front of my eyes. Perhaps, if I had some foresight, I could have averted some disasters.”[quote align=’left’]“If you ask people about me, they will say I am a good cinematographer, creative, with good work ethic. The only thing that I had when I came here, was creativity. I learnt the other two from Jeeva sir.”[/quote]
The Visual Communications seat he had much hoped for, was handed to someone else, and Sankar had to settle for a course in History instead. “I was bored after a while,” he admits, “so I discontinued, and signed up for Vis. Com the next year.”
Six months later though, Sankar found himself asking cinematographer Jeeva for a job. Jeeva did agree, but all that Sankar did for a year, were a string of odd jobs, and “property maintenance”. “It was only much later that I was allowed to handle the camera.”
And that method of teaching, Sankar says, has made him what he is now. “If you ask people about me, they will say I am a good cinematographer, very creative, and with good work ethic. Out of these three, the only thing that I had when I came here, was creativity. I learnt the other two from Jeeva sir.”
When Jeeva passed away, Sankar remembers, he was shattered. “I was here, shooting Anandathandavam, and sir was in Russia.”
So, that’s when, in 2007 – he concludes his long narrative – Sankar from Thanjavur became ‘Jeeva’ Sankar.
A tribute of sorts to the man “who made him”.
It’s also a reason why he refuses to move out of Anna Nagar. Jeeva’s office was situated in the adjacent street. “Konjam sentiment reasons,” Sankar smiles.
In his 17-year stint in the Tamil film industry, Jeeva Sankar has amassed many ‘good friends’. And in a way, both movies of his were born out of “these relationships”. Vijay Antony, the hero of his debut venture, Naan, is a friend from college while Arya, who produced Amara Kaaviyam is his ‘buddy’. “Vijay Antony was my senior in college, along with Vishal and Pushkar – Gayathri. I have a personal equation with all of them. But I’m closest to Vijay and Thiagarajan Kumararaja.”
Arya, though, Sankar reveals, falls under another category entirely. He’s more of a brother. “I met Arya when he auditioned for Ullam Ketkume. I was instrumental in bringing about his debut in Tamil; and when Jeeva sir assigned me to help him prepare for his role, we grew closer.” The duo has known each other for over ten years now, are neighbours, and even share the same set of friends. Heck, they even workout together. “I go to the gym with him, but sometimes, I can’t lift as much weight as he does. I try not to judge him for it,” Sankar winks.
Business doesn’t affect their “equation”, he declares. “Making movies is a common passion that we share. And thankfully, I have always done my part well, and he’s never had any reason to question me.” Of course, that’s perhaps reason enough for Arya to offer more projects to Sankar. And, the director tells us he is ready with a couple of stories: one set in the seas of Rameswaram, and the other one, about politics. He would narrate the stories to Arya soon, and when they arrive at a decision, he would begin scripting. “I am not sure whether I will cast Arya or Sathya in the lead. We have several major decisions ahead of us, and we will announce the project when we have decided.”
For now, Jeeva Sankar plans to go on a month-long holiday, deep into the mountains. “I want some silence and peace. I’m going to disconnect from the chaos of the city, and unwind for a while.” [quote align=’right’]“I’m in this for six more years, if all goes well. After that, I’m planning to settle down and have a nice peaceful life. Cinema va love pannalam…velaiya seiyya koodathu!”[/quote]
Post which, Sankar laughs, he would be “back to the grind”.
Does he envision a life dedicated to filmmaking? We throw a final question at him. Sankar issues a horrified denial. “I’m in this for six more years, if all goes well. After that, I’m planning to settle down and have a nice peaceful life. Cinema va love pannalam…velaiya seiyya koodathu!”
The Jeeva Sankar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.