|Gautham Vasudev Menon|
25 February 1973 |
Ottapalam, Kerala, India
|Years active||1997- Present|
Gautham Vasudev Menon (born 25 February 1973), more commonly known as Gautham Menon, is an Indian film director, screenwriter, and producer who works predominantly in Tamil cinema. He has also directed Hindi and Telugu films, which are remakes of his own Tamil films. Many of his films have been critically acclaimed, most notably his semi-autobiographical films Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010) and his thrillers Kaakha Kaakha (2003), Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006) and Yennai Arindhaal (2015). Vaaranam Aayiram won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil. Menon produces films through his London Stock Exchange-listed Photon Kathaas film production company and his production Thanga Meengal (2013) won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil.
Early life and education
Menon was born to a Malayali father and a Tamil mother on 25 February 1973 in Ottapalam, a town in the Palakkad district of Kerala. Although born in Kerala he grew up in Trichy, Tamil Nadu. He graduated with a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering from Mookambigai College of Engineering, Pudukkottai.
Early work, 2001
Menon was a student of Mechanical Engineering at Mookambigai College of Engineering, Trichy in the batch of 1993, and his time there inspired to make his lead characters of Minnale, Vaaranam Aayiram and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, students of the same course. He claims to have been inspired by films such as Dead Poets Society and Nayagan and expressed his desire to his parents to change career path and become a filmmaker and consequently wrote his first film at his college hostel. His mother insisted he became an ad film maker by shooting various commercials and took an apprenticeship under filmmaker Rajiv Menon. He went on to work as an assistant director for Minsara Kanavu in 1997, in which he also appeared in a cameo role.
Menon launched a Tamil romantic film O Lala in 2000 with the project eventually changing producers and title into Minnale (2001) with Madhavan, who was at the beginning of his career, being signed on to portray the lead role. About the making of the film, Menon revealed that he found it difficult as the team was new to the industry with only the editor of the film, Suresh Urs, being a prominent technician in the industry. Menon had come under further pressure when Madhavan had insisted that Menon narrated the story to his mentor, Mani Ratnam, to identify if the film was a positive career move after the success of his Alaipayuthey. Despite initial reservations, Menon did so and Ratnam was unimpressed; however Menon has cited that he thought that Madhavan "felt sorry" and later agreed to continue with the project. The film also featured Abbas and newcomer Reemma Sen in significant roles, whilst Menon introduced Harris Jayaraj as music composer with the film. The film was advertised as a Valentine's Day release in 2001 and told the tale of a young man who falls in love with the girl engaged to his ex-college rival and how he manages to get married to her. Upon release it went on to become a large success commercially and won positive reviews from critics with claims that the film had a lot of " lot of verve and vigour" and that it was "technically excellent".
The success of the film led to producer Vashu Bhagnani signing him on to direct the Hindi language remake of the film, Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein (2001), which also featured Menon in a short role; having Madhavan with Dia Mirza and Saif Ali Khan added to the film. Menon was initially apprehensive but said it took "half an hour" to agree and against his intentions, the producer opted against retaining the technical crew of the original. He changed a few elements, deleted certain scenes and added some more for the version. However, in comparison, the film gained poor reviews with a critic citing that "the presentation is not absorbing" though stating that he " handled certain sequences with aplomb"; the film subsequently went on to become a below average grosser at the box office. The failure of the film left him disappointed, with Menon claiming in hindsight that the film lacked the simplicity of the original with the producer's intervention affecting proceedings. Later on in the year, it was reported that he was working on a film tentatively titled Iru Vizhi Unadhu, though the project did not develop into production. In 2011, the producer of the film approached him to remake Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein with the producer's son Jackky Bhagnani in the lead role, but Menon was uninterested with the offer.
Police duology, 2003–06
Menon returned in 2003 by directing the realistic police thriller Kaakha Kaakha (2003) featuring Suriya, Jyothika and Jeevan in the lead roles. The film portrayed the personal life of a police officer and how his life is affected by gangsters, showing a different perspective of police in comparison to other Tamil films of the time. Menon revealed that he was inspired to make the film after reading of articles on how encounter specialists shoot gangsters and how their families get threatening calls in return, and initially approached Madhavan, Ajith Kumar and then Vikram for the role without success, with all three actors citing that they did not want to play a police officer. The lead actress Jyothika asked Menon to consider Suriya for the role, and he was subsequently selected after Menon saw his portrayal in Nandha. He held a rehearsal of the script with the actors, a costume trial with Jyothika and then enrolled Suriya in a commando training school before beginning production, which he described as a "very planned shoot". The film consequently opened to very positive reviews from critics on the way to becoming another success for Menon, with critics labeling it as a "career high film". Furthermore, the film was described as for "action lovers who believe in logical storylines and deft treatment" with Menon being praised for his linear narrative screenplay.
Gautham Menon subsequently remade the film in the Telugu language as Gharshana (2004) for producer Venkata Raju and went on to claim that the new version was better than the previous version and that his new lead actor Venkatesh was more convincing that Surya in the role. The film also featured actress Asin and Saleem Baig in prominent roles and went on to earn commercial and critical acclaim with reviewers citing that "film redeems itself due to the technical excellence and masterful craft of Gautham", drawing comparisons of Menon with noted film makers Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Varma. In July 2004, Menon also agreed terms to direct and produce another version of Kaakha Kaakha in Hindi with Sunny Deol in the lead role and revealed that the script was written five years ago with Deol in mind, but the film eventually failed to take off. Producer Vipul Shah approached him to direct the Hindi version of the film in 2010 as Force with John Abraham and Genelia D'Souza, and Menon initially agreed before pulling out again. Menon and the original producer, Dhanu, also floated an idea of an English-language version with a Chechnyan backdrop, though talks with a potential collaboration with Ashok Amritraj collapsed.
Gautham Menon was then signed on to direct a venture starring Kamal Haasan and produced by Kaja Mohideen, and initially suggested a one-line story which went on to become Pachaikili Muthucharam for the collaboration. Kamal Haasan wanted a different story and thus the investigative thriller film Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu (2006), was written with Jyothika, Kamalinee Mukherjee, Prakash Raj, Daniel Balaji and Saleem Baig added to the cast. The film told another episode from a police officer's life, with an Indian cop moved to America to investigate the case of psychotic serial killers before returning to pursue the chase in India. During the shooting, the unit ran into problems after the producer had attempted suicide and as a result, Kamal Haasan wanted to quit the project. Menon subsequently convinced him to stay on as they had taken advance payments. He has since revealed that unlike Kamal Haasan's other films, he did not take particular control of the script or production of the film. The film however had gone through change from the original script with less emphasis on the antagonists than Menon had hoped and he also revealed that scenes for songs were forced in and shot without him. The film released in August 2006 and went on to become his third successive hit film in Tamil and once again, he won rave reviews for his direction. Menon later expressed interest in remaking the film in Hindi with Amitabh Bachchan in the lead role without the love angle, though the project fell through after discussions. In 2012, he re-began negotiations with producers to make a Hindi version of the film with Shahrukh Khan in the lead role. He had stated his intent on making a trilogy of police episode films, with a possible third featuring Vikram in the lead role, before completing it in 2015 with Yennai Arindhaal.
His next project, Pachaikili Muthucharam (2007), based on the novel Derailed by James Siegel, featured Sarath Kumar and Jyothika in the lead roles and was released in February 2007. Initially the lead role was offered to Kamal Haasan who passed the opportunity, while actors Cheran and Madhavan declined citing date and image problems respectively. Menon met Sarath Kumar at an event where he cited he was looking to change his 'action' image and Menon subsequently cast him in the lead role. During production, the film ran into further casting trouble with Simran dropping out her assigned role and was replaced by Shobana after another actress, Tabu, also rejected the role. Shobana was also duly replaced by a newcomer, Andrea Jeremiah to portray the character of Kalyani in the film. The film was under production for over a year and coincided with the making of his previous film which was largely delayed. The film initially opened to positive reviews with a critic citing that Menon is "growing with each passing film. His style is distinctive, his vision clear, his team rallies around him and he manages to pull it off each time he attempts". However the film became a financial failure for the producer, Venu Ravichandran and in regard to the failure of the film, Menon went on to claim that Sarath Kumar was "wrong for the film" and that he tweaked the story to fit his image; he also claimed that his father's ailing health and consequent death a week before the release had left him mentally affected. In mid-2007, Menon announced and began work on a youth-centric film titled Chennaiyil Oru Mazhaikaalam featuring Trisha and an ensemble of newcomers. Set in the backdrop of Chennai's booming IT industry, the team began its shoot in September 2007 and continued for thirty days but was later delayed and eventually shelved. In 2011, he revealed that the film was dropped because he felt the actors "needed to be trained", and would consider restarting the project at a later stage.
His next release, Vaaranam Aayiram (2008), saw him re-collaborate with Suriya, who played dual roles in the film. The film illustrates the theme of how a father often came across in his son's life as a hero and inspiration, and Menon dedicated the film to his late father who had died in 2007. The pre-production of the film, then titled Chennaiyil Oru Mazhaikaalam began in 2003, with Menon planning it as a romantic film with Suriya as a follow-up to their successful previous collaboration, Kaakha Kaakha. Abhirami was signed and then dropped due to her height before a relatively new actress at the time Asin was selected to make her debut in Tamil films with the project. The first schedule of the film began in January 2004 in Visakhapatanam and consequently romantic scenes with Suriya and Asin were shot for ten days and then a photo shoot with the pair. The film was subsequently stalled and was eventually relaunched with a new cast including Divya Spandana, Simran and Sameera Reddy in 2006 with Oscar Ravichandran stepping in as producer, who opted for a change of title. Menon has described the film as "autobiographical and a very personal story and if people didn’t know, that 70% of this [the film] is from my life". Throughout the film-making process, Menon improvised the script to pay homage to his late father by adding a family angle to the initial romantic script, with Suriya eventually playing dual roles, even though Menon had considered casting Mohanlal in a second role. The film's production process became noted for the strain and the hard work that Suriya had gone through to portray the different roles with production taking close to two years. The film released to a positive response, with critics heaping praise on Suriya's performance while claiming that the film was "just a feather in Gautam's hat" and that it was "a classic". The film was made at a budget of 150 million rupees and became a commercial success, bringing in almost 220 million rupees worldwide. It went on to become Menon's most appreciated work till date winning five Filmfare Awards, nine Vijay Awards and the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil for 2008 amongst other accolades. Post-release of the film, Menon had a public fallout with his regular music composer Harris Jayaraj and announced that they would no longer work together, though they later returned in 2015 for Yennai Arindhaal. In late 2008, during the making of Vaaranam Aayiram, he had signed on with Sivaji Productions to direct Ajith Kumar and Sameera Reddy in an action film titled Surangani. Menon later pulled out of the commitment citing that the producers were not willing to let him take his own time with scripting.
Romance and experimentation, 2010–2014
In 2010, Menon made a return to romantic genre after nine years with the Tamil romantic film Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010), starring Silambarasan and Trisha. Originally planned as a Telugu film titled Jessie with Mahesh Babu in the lead role, the actor's refusal prompted Menon to make the Tamil version first. The film explored the complicated relationship between a Hindu Tamil assistant director, Karthik, and a Syrian Christian Malayali girl, Jessie and their resultant emotional conflicts. The film featured music by A. R. Rahman in his first collaboration with Menon whilst cinematographer Manoj Paramahamsa was also selected to be a part of the technical crew. Menon cited that he was "a week away from starting the film with a newcomer" before his producer insisted they looked at Silambarasan, with Menon revealing that he was unimpressed with the actor's previous work. The film was in production for close to a year and throughout the opening week of filming, promotional posters from classic Indian romantic films were released featuring the lead pair. Prior to release, the film became the first Tamil project to have a music soundtrack premiere outside of India, with a successful launch at the BAFTA in London. Upon release, the film achieved positive reviews, with several critics giving the film "classic" status, whilst also become a commercially successful venture. Reviewers praised Menon citing that "credit for their perfect portrayal, of course, goes to Gautam Menon. This is one director who's got the pulse of today's urban youth perfectly" and that "crafted a movie that will stay in our hearts for a long, long time." Soon after the Tamil version began shoot, Menon decided to begin a Telugu version titled Ye Maaya Chesave (2010) and release it simultaneously, with featuring a fresh cast of Naga Chaitanya and debutante Samantha in the lead roles. Like the Tamil version, the film won critical acclaim and was given "classic" status from critics, as it went on to become among the most profitable Telugu films of 2010. In 2016, he revealed that he had scripted a spin-off film from Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa titled Ondraga, where the character of Karthik's life would be followed eight years after the happenings of the previous film.
He next began research and pre-production work on a 1920s period spy thriller titled Thuppariyum Anand in early 2010, with both Ajith Kumar and then Suriya considered for the lead roles, but the film failed to progress. Menon had also made progress over the previous two years directing the psychological thriller Nadunisi Naaygal (2011) featuring his assistant and debutant Veera Bahu and Sameera Reddy in the lead roles. Menon claimed that the film was inspired by a true event from the USA, while also claiming that a novel also helped form the story of the film. During the making, he explicitly revealed that the film was for "the multiplex audience" and would face a limited release, citing that "it will not cater to all sections of the audience". He promoted the film by presenting a chat show dubbed as Koffee with Gautham where he intereviewed Bharathiraja and Silambarasan, both of whom had previously worked in such psychological thriller films with Sigappu Rojakkal and Manmadhan. The film, which was his first home production under Photon Kathaas and did not have a background score, told the story of a victim of child abuse and the havoc he causes to women, narrating the events of a particular day. The film opened to mixed reviews with one critic citing it as "above average" but warning that "don’t go expecting a typical Gautham romantic film" and that it "is definitely not for the family audiences", while criticizing that "there are too many loopholes in the story, raising doubts about logic". In contrast another critic dubbed it as an "unimpressive show by l director Menon, as it is neither convincing nor appealing, despite having some engrossing moments". A group of protesters held a protest outside Gautham's house on reason for misusing a goddess name in his film and also showing explicit sex and violent scenes, claiming that it was against the Indian, in particular Tamil culture. Soon after the release of the film, Menon began pre-production work on a television series featuring Parthiban in the lead role of a detective, but did not carry through with the idea after he failed to find financiers.
Menon returned to Bollywood with the Hindi remake of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa, titled Ekk Deewana Tha (2012), with Prateik Babbar and Amy Jackson in the lead roles. Unlike the South Indian versions, the film opened to unanimously below average reviews, with critics noting the story "got lost in translation", and became a box office failure. Post-release, Menon admitted that he "got the casting wrong", and subsequently other Hindi films he had pre-planned were dropped. During the period, Menon also began pre-production work on the first film of an action-adventure series of films titled Yohan starring Vijay in the title role. However, after a year of pre-production, the director shelved the film citing differences of opinion about the project. Menon's next releases were the romantic films Neethaane En Ponvasantham (2012) in Tamil and Yeto Vellipoyindhi Manasu (2012) in Telugu, both co-produced by Photon Kathaas. Jiiva and Nani played the lead roles in each version respectively, while Samantha was common in both films. Ilaiyaraaja was chosen as music composer for the film, which told the story of three stages in the life of a couple. A third Hindi version Assi Nabbe Poorey Sau, was also shot simultaneously with Aditya Roy Kapoor playing the lead role, though the failure of Ek Deewana Tha saw production ultimately halted. The films both opened to average reviews and collections, with critics noting Menon "falls into the trap every seasoned filmmaker dreads -- of repeating his own mandatory formula" though noting that the film has its "sparkling moments". The lukewarm response of the film prompted a legal tussle to ensue between Menon and the film's producer Elred Kumar, prompting the director to release an emotionally charged letter attempting to clear his name of any financial wrongdoing. Menon was then briefly associated with the anthology film, X, helping partially direct a script written by Thiagarajan Kumararaja before opting out and being replaced by Nalan Kumarasamy. He also began production work on a big-budgeted venture titled Dhruva Natchathiram, signing up an ensemble cast including Suriya, Trisha and Arun Vijay, with a series of posters issued and an official launch event being held. However, in October 2013, the lead actor walked out of the film citing Menon's lack of progress in developing the script and the film was subsequently dropped. Later in early 2015, Gautham Menon restarted pre-production for the project with Vikram and Nayantara in the lead roles, but again was forced to postpone the film citing financial restraints.
Return to the action genre, 2015-present
Following Suriya's withdrawal from Dhruva Natchathiram, Menon moved on to begin a romantic thriller film with Silambarasan and Pallavi Subhash in the lead role from November 2013. The film developed under the title Sattendru Maarathu Vaanilai and was shot for thirty days, before the film was put on hold as a result of Menon getting an offer from producer A. M. Rathnam to begin a film starring Ajith Kumar. Consequently, in April 2014, he began filming for Yennai Arindhaal (2015), the third instalment in his franchise of police films. He described Ajith's character Sathyadev as an "extension" of the protagonists from Kaakha Kaakha and Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, while Trisha, Anushka Shetty, Arun Vijay and Parvathy Nair were also selected to portray supporting roles. The film saw him collaborate again with music composer Harris Jayaraj, for the first time since their spat in 2008, while writers Shridhar Raghavan and Thiagarajan Kumararaja were both also involved in the screen-writing process. Focussing on the story of a police officer's professional and personal life from the ages of thirteen to thirty-eight with the backdrop of tackling an organ-trafficking gang, Yennai Arindhaal opened to mixed to positive reviews in February 2015. Critics from The Hindu wrote it "leaves you feeling like having gone back to a well-known play you have enjoyed a few times over", and that it is "a much-needed intervention in the Tamil commercial cinema space" while also "the most engaging of the three [police films]". Reviewer Udhav Naig of The Hindu added that "Gautham wins as he has reconfigured, albeit not radically, the basic contours of a Tamil cop", and that he "has consistently improved on the character sketch in the last three films." The film also performed well at the box office and gave Menon his first commercially successful Tamil film in five years. Soon after the release, he began work on a sequel to the film and expressed his interest in approaching Ajith again to work together in the future. Menon also worked as a singer in Radha Mohan's film Uppu Karuvaadu (2015).
After Yennai Arindhaal, Menon resumed work on his film with Silambarasan under the new title of Achcham Enbadhu Madamaiyada, with Manjima Mohan joining the cast to replace Pallavi Sharda. A Telugu version with Naga Chaitanya and Manjima was simultaneously shot under the title Sahasame Swasaga Sagipo, with Menon revealing that he hoped to finance the Tamil version through the salary he received from the Telugu film's producers. The film developed slowly and was further delayed after Silambarasan refused to shoot for the film following a salary dispute during mid-2016. Menon also has Enai Noki Paayum Thota, a drama featuring Dhanush and Megha Akash in production, with the shoot beginning during February 2016. In the future, he has announced his intentions of reviving Dhruva Natchathiram with Jayam Ravi and making a multilingual film titled Ondraaga featuring Prithviraj, Puneet Rajkumar and Sai Dharam Tej.
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Menon has stated that he is largely inspired by the "depth and aesthetics" that are created by American films. He usually makes the characters in his films sport identical haircuts and urban casual wear. His films are also known for their strong depiction of female characters, in contrast to other contemporary Tamil films which, according to journalist Sudhish Kamath, are "hero-worshipping star vehicles where the heroine is just a mere prop". Kamath also notes that several defining traits of Menon's films including liberal dose of English and restraint, the villains being "a seriously dangerous threat", his male protagonists being a "picture of grace and dignity" who are yet fallible, who love their fathers and are trying hard to be good men, who respect women and accept them for who they are. Menon states that distributors and financiers often lay several limitations and constraints on his films, that such actions only drift his thoughts and make him feel like he is losing creative control. According to The Hindu's Udhav Naig, Menon's films are "regulated by a matrix of strong middle-class values", and also have biographical elements which, according to Menon, are inspired by his own life. Menon prefers to write the climax of his films only after filming has significantly progressed, stating that though he has an idea about the climax, it always changes when the film starts shooting. He also names his films after classic Tamil phrases and lines from Tamil film songs such as Achcham Yenbadhu Madamaiyada being named after the namesake song from Mannadhi Mannan (1960) and Yennai Arindhaal being named after the song "Unnai Arindhaal" from Vettaikaaran (1964).
|Year||Song Title||Film Name||Music Director||Ref|
|2015||"Pudhu Oru Kadavu"||Uppu Karuvaadu||Steve Vatz|||
- Vijay Award for Favourite Director for Vaaranam Aayiram (2008)
- National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Tamil for Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) and Thanga Meengal (2013)
- Nandi Award for Best Screenplay Writer for Ye Maaya Chesave (2010)
- Filmfare Award for Best Director - Tamil for Kaakha Kaakha (2003)
- Filmfare Award for Best Director - Tamil for Vaaranam Aayiram (2008)
- Vijay Award for Best Director for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010)
- Vijay Award for Favourite Director for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010)
- Filmfare Award for Best Director - Tamil for Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (2010)
- Filmfare Award for Best Director - Telugu for Ye Maaya Chesave (2010)
- Rotary Club of Chennai – Honoured for Creative Excellence (2010)
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