From a comfy IT job to directing Nayan in the disturbing Maya, Ashwin Saravanan tracks his journey in Kollywood’s competitive battlefield…

by Mani Prabhu

Exclusive interview: Maya’s Ashwin Saravanan
Ashwin Saravanan was only 23, when he quit his job as a software trainee in Infosys, to pursue a career in filmmaking. A year later, his debut film ‘Maya’ featuring Nayanthara in the lead gets a theatrical release on May 17th 2015 (Thursday). In an exclusive interview with iFlickz, the engineering graduate opens up about his incredible journey from a Manirathnam fanatic in ‘Guru’ to directing his own film.

“It’s not like I consciously decided not to assist anyone before turning a director. I didn’t get the opportunity,” the young filmmaker smiles. “Ever since my school days, I was an avid reader of fiction and the art of story-telling always impressed me. Although I had always watched films, seeing Mani Rathnam’s ‘Guru’ in a deserted theatre was the event that changed my perception of cinema, and sowed the seeds for a never-ending passion for film-making. Ashwin spent his four years in college making short films, some of which got him acclaim in the reality show ‘Naalaiya Iyakunar’. “Those were the years I got to learn a lot about script-writing from books and shooting films. After college, circumstances made me take up a job in ‘Infosys’, but within a few months of training, I knew I was not made for it. I quit my job and gave myself a grace period of two years to try my luck in the industry. But things weren’t easy!”

Ashwin then spent a year writing and rewriting the script of Maya. “Yes, I had no other option. I had to do something to prove myself. I tried approaching a few directors for internship, in vain. That was the time I decided to first write a complete script for a feature film. Believe me, quitting a well-paying job and sitting at home, writing for many months, is no easy task. But something in me told me to keep going”. Ashwin’s worst fears came true when he approached a few producers with the bound script. “Yes, though some of them were impressed with the content, they had doubts about my capabilities as a director as I hadn’t worked with anyone yet. Then, I understood that their fears were valid. All my short films were far from being professional and technically sound because of budget and casting constraints. I had to find a way to make them understand my mettle. That’s when one of my friends suggested the concept of a pilot shoot”

The pilot shoot that clicked
Exclusive interview: Maya’s Ashwin Saravanan

Ashwin and his friends pooled in sixty five thousand rupees and shot a crucial scene from the script, giving their very best. “Yes, the concept of a pilot shoot is very common in the West. I should thank my friends for helping me out both technically and financially. When I again approached the producers with the five minute pilot shoot, they got my vision and were more than happy to fund the project”. Ashwin says he never wrote the film keeping Nayanthara or a star in mind. “Yes, I wasn’t that delusional to expect a big star to play a single mother”, he smiles again. “I however had plans to cast Parvathy and Vijay Sethupathi, but it didn’t materialize. My script being centered on a female protagonist, it was the producer’s idea to have an established star to carry the film and Nayanthara’s name was suggested. She heard the script and confirmed her participation over a couple of days”

No compromises
Exclusive interview: Maya’s Ashwin Saravanan

Ashwin says neither the producers nor the star asked him to compromise on the script for commercial reasons. “They both understood what exactly the film needs. Nayanthara, in particular, could see through my vision clearly and was an absolute professional to work with. We shot for a total of 35 days and the schedules were very hectic. I believe I have done complete justice to my script”. Ashwin had wanted to retain his pilot shoot team for the film, but it was the producer’s decision to have an experienced technician crew. “Yes, it was very much a great learning experience. I bonded well with the cinematographer Sathya, who had earlier worked in films like Yuddham Sei and Mugamoodi. Regarding the music, we have used only a couple of Ron Yohan’s songs as montages, but the background score would be very atmospheric. We have experimented with a blend of eerie silence and a haunting score”

Ashwin says that his transition from short films to features without formal training worked both as an advantage and disadvantage. “Being new to the industry lets you break the unwritten rules easily as ignorance is bliss. I didn’t feel much of the logistic pressures that is usually thrust on first-time filmmakers. Or I wasn’t aware of it. Either way, I was lucky. I had the freedom and confidence to make my film, my way. The cons are the obvious one like the issues in dealing with a variety of people on the sets, understanding their moods and getting the job done. By the second week, I had learnt a lot of nuances in people management”.

Maya will disturb you

Exclusive interview: Maya’s Ashwin Saravanan
Ashwin always wanted to work on a supernatural theme on his debut film. “As a teenager, I was totally impressed with the Vidaadhu Karuppu television series, which got me interested in occult and paranormal themes. When I sat down to script Maya, I didn’t want it to write as a horror film or a thriller. I just let the conflict decide the genre. When I started writing the film, Pizza had just released. I understand that there have been an overdose of horror films from then on, but mine wouldn’t completely ride on the horror element. I intend to tell an emotional story, which has a supernatural element in it.” Ashwin says although he loves Pisaasu, his film would be a different take on the atmospheric horror drama. “I have tried to break a few grammar rules in the horror genre. I don’t have anything against jump-scares, but the scares in Maya would be more subtle, psychological and disturbing.”

Ashwin hasn’t thought about his next project till now. “I got my only feature film script produced. I have given my best and learnt a lot from the experience. I intend to take a break and work on a completely different genre for my next. But I always want to do films that I want to see on screen.  Making a film your way and getting the audience to accept it is the real challenge. The road ahead is long and challenging”, he concludes.

We, at iFlickz, wish the young director the very best for Maya and his future ventures.