After his public spat with Gautham Vasudev Menon, Karthick Naren, in an exclusive chat with Silverscreen, shares that he was forced to open up as Naragasooran was under threat.
As allegations from young filmmakers come tumbling out, has Naren opened a can of worms?
The discontent between Karthick Naren and Gautham Vasudev Menon has been brewing for over six months. Things came to a head last week when the young team of Naragasooran found itself with no money to even buy bread to supply breakfast for the team. All profits from Dhuruvangal 16, the surprise hit of 2016, had been funneled into the second project, and there was nothing left. A third film was announced, just to boost the confidence of the team that had been working without remuneration. The last straw that broke Karthick was when the veteran filmmaker and partly-successful producer tweeted the words “grow a pair”.
“That hit below the belt, and I did not see the point of staying quiet any longer,” Naren tells Silverscreen.
The working relationship between the two was an accident of fate. Dhuruvangal 16 had released to rave reviews and there was a special screening going on in Chennai. Naren got a call from Menon asking if they could meet. “I was a fanboy, and went to meet him at Chennai’s The English Tearoom, midway through the screening. We spoke about a possible project, and when I was about to leave, he handed over a cheque of Rs. 5 lakh as a ‘token of love’.”
Soon, that gift turned into a commitment and Naren entered into a project with Menon. “Once I got in, I knew that things were not fine, but I kept quiet. I believed that being a director, he knew the importance of a second project, and would help me cross the line safely. It is said that I am speaking this way because I produced my first film and don’t know how to deal with another production. That’s not true. As a filmmaker, I know that release will take time. That’s the final destination, and we have to wait for it. But, the journey has to be good. How we reach the destination is important. I could tolerate issues as a director, but when it hurt me as a human, I had to react.”
Naren says that at one stage, he mailed Menon saying that his salary need not be paid, and to just ensure that the film got made. “Everything is in the mail, and documented. I did not receive a single reply. Finally, when we shot in Ooty, I had to shift to Plan B, and started investing my funds, hoping they would get returned. From November 14, 2017 to March 29, 2018, I’ve not received a single rupee. It was only when our survival became difficult did I tweet.”
Some people wonder why Naren must protest when he is financially strong. “That’s an assumption people make because I produced my first movie. My father took a loan! Also, it is important to know that I’m not accusing Gautam Sir. I’m merely stating the truth, and I don’t think I should be afraid to speak to truth. I saw his statement and it was kind of him to apologise, but in a few days I will come back with proof.”
What hurts Naren more than the disappointment of taking on a producer is that he has to take on a mentor in the process. “I actually saw my passion getting butchered. If I had been told the film would release in December 2018, I would have waited. All I needed was a route map to let me know how and where the journey is heading.”
But, what gives Naren hope is the kind of support that is coming his way. Arvind Swami backed his young director, and that felt like a “stamp of approval,” says Naren.
What still irks him is that Arvind Swami was mentioned in the two-page statement by Menon. “This project would have stopped, but for Arvind Swami. He came for shooting despite not being paid an advance. I told him we would not dub till we settle, because there is only so much he can do as an actor and human. He went beyond his role.”
Naren says that while Menon has refuted some issues he has raised, he can back his claims. “People called and told me that if payment is not made, they might have to take action against my movie. How could I keep quiet?”
The Issue Is Still Far From Being Sorted
After Naren’s outburst on Twitter, Menon put out a statement “to Karthick and to everyone else”, where he explained his stand, and said that the “misunderstanding” has been sorted out.
But the issue is still far from being sorted, say sources in Naren’s team and a statement from them is expected soon.
While the storm on Twitter has weathered, what shows no sign of stopping is the number of people who are now speaking up, either anonymously or riding on the current issue. Their contention? This is not the first time Menon has behaved this way. They respect Naren for having given voice to issues they could never raise, either because of a personal relationship with the creator or because they had no backing in the industry.
Long-time collaborators allege not being paid for years on end, and being forced to work together only because their personal rapport does not allow them to adopt a harsh tone. “The minute you insist on getting paid, you realise your calls go unanswered,” says one of the affected people. That’s something Naren has said too.
Young filmmakers, who have grown up admiring the director’s work, have later been disappointed. “More than the disappointment of not getting paid, it is disheartening to see the image of your idol getting shattered,” says a filmmaker, requesting anonymity.
In the midst of all this, Siddharth Rao of Glo Studios, which has co-produced the much-delayed Nenjam Marappathillai, tweeted this:
— Siddarth (@sidd_rao) March 28, 2018
It was retweeted by Gitanjali Selvaraghavan, whose husband Selvaraghavan has directed the film. Until some time ago, everyone wondered if Selva was the reason for the delay of the film. People are now questioning the real reason behind the delay in Acham Enbadhu Madamaiyada. The film’s actor STR was held responsible for it and was accused of not turning up for shooting on time. Was it because he was not paid, and was unfairly accused, speculate many in the industry.
Actor Arvind Swami, who Menon said was brought on board Naragasooran after paying “top dollar”, took the side of his director. And, there seems to be no end to the fracas over the word ‘pair’.
Cinematographer Santhana Krishnan, son of noted cinematographer Ravi K Chandran, added his two bits, saying he went through the same problem with the production house. “It’s amazing how young filmmaker are always take for a ride,” (sic) he tweeted.
I would like to add that I also went through the same problem with the production house. It’s amazing how young filmmaker are always take for a ride.
— santhana krishnan (@dop_santha) March 28, 2018
Members from his Dhuruva Natchathiram team have also taken to social media. Parvaez, who identifies as a cinematographer on his Twitter profile, says, “we worked all sweat for no returns”.
While rest of the tamil cinema is in silent. We have pair of things to talk atleast now. Yes we are one among the many of his projects #Dhuruvanatchathiram We worked all sweat for no returns. Finally! This is the only way. @dop_santha https://t.co/mvJtA5pzOn
— PARVAEZ.K (@dop_Parvaezk007) March 28, 2018
In an interview to Moviecrow, Santhana Krishnan, whose movie Baaghi 2 is releasing on Friday, said: “I only sent out that tweet because I was facing a situation similar to Karthick in terms of phone calls from the production house. All I expected was someone to attend the call and update me on whatever I was looking for.”