From treasuring posters of ‘Nayagan’ Kamal to introducing a whopping 27 technicians to Tamil industry, Artist-turned- producer AP Shreethar shares with us his intriguing journey that’s as fascinating as a Kollywood movie.

Shraddha Sunil

An artist is born

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

Some would say, with due time, one would discover one’s true vocation. But, the same cannot hold relevance to the veteran artist for he began his career at the nascent age of 8 years. What lay ahead was a path laden with appreciation and accolades for his play with art. His first tryst with success came in the form of a second position, state wide and the Mother Teresa award for the USSR festival in India. When asked of his parents’ reaction to his choice of career, he says, “ My mother is a housewife and my father, a lawyer. So, they didn’t know anything about art. When I professed my interest to pursue art to them, they had no misgivings and consented to it”. Since then, there has been no turning back.

From posters to big screen

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

While treading on the familiar path of art, AP Shreethar decided to take a detour into the field of cinema. He started off as a designer with Mr. Vijayasekar for the films ‘Nayagan’, ‘ThirudaThirudi’ and ‘Uyire’ as well. At a time, when posters were made with the naked touch of unadulterated human talent sans any technology, the artist enjoyed manually making them by using cut out photographs or stencils of the star as a reference. Soon, with the advent of technology, he was not willing to be replaced by a mere machine and amicably opted out of the field. He says,” In those days, we used to cut out photographs and use them for designing posters. There was no software to rely on. Everything was handmade, cut with the scissors, the background was sprayed, painted and fixed”. When I delved further into the intricacies of manual designing, he says, “The photographer used to provide us with an album with all the important shots. We would mark the appropriate pictures and size. They would bring us those cutouts and we’d work with that for our posters”.

This didn’t wane his interaction with films. By a chance meet, Director Jai of the film, “Andhra Mess” approached AP Shreethar with the script, wanting him to play the lead.The director’s father was a sculptor and Jai was an ad filmmaker and a painter. He had worked in over 1000 ad films.

They approached him with the script and wanted him to be the lead. When asked how he responded to this, he says, “As a painter, I knew he would visually depict the words in the script, astutely and artistically. They were impressed with my performance and felt I suited the role”. When I asked him if he’d like to take his relationships with acting, any further, he says, “If a meaningful script comes my way, I shall definitely take it”.

On his fascination with UlagaNayagan

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

In order to celebrate the soviet union day, The Russian embassy had organized a painting exhibition. He was a given a slot in the exhibition. When the embassy had asked him who he’d be bringing as a chief guest, Sreethar had confidently replied, saying, Kamal Hassan. Then a cartoonist present at the embassy asked him if he knew Kamal at all, to which Shreethar said, “I don’t know him but I’ll somehow bring Kamal sir as a chief guest”. With that, he approached Kamal’s house with a painting that played the impetus to a series of the UlagaNayagan inspired paintings in the years to come, but unfortunately Kamal was not present. So he met his assistant and made his queries. The assistant had said that Kamal won’t be in town on the specified dates and asked him if it was possible to shift the dates. A dismayed Shreethar said that wouldn’t be possible as the sole purpose was to celebrate the soviet day which fell on those inconvenient dates. He wasn’t able to see Kamal or gift him his first ever painting.

After narrating this incident, he exuberantly added, “And, finally, my 54th show was launched by none other than Kamal Hassan”. Dreams do come true, evidently in Mr. Shreethar’s case. I asked him if he was always such a devoted fan of Kamal Hassan, he says, “When I used to make the posters for Nayagan, if I found any nice pictures of Kamal sir, I’d take them all home. I have so many pictures of him at home”.

On kamal’s reaction to his work

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

The first painting I presented him with was “The Mother and Child” that explored the emotions between a mother and her child. Kamal sir has always appreciated and liked my work. When he was first introduced to my paintings, he patiently observed each and every one of them keenly and looked into aspects such as colour handling as well. I went with two projects to Kamal sir. The first was “If Picasso was born in India” and “Mona Lisa in my dreams”. He was extremely pleased with both my concepts.

On him, setting a new trend with his film ‘Maiem’

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

“Back in those days, when I initially got into this stream of work as an assistant designer, my work and involvement in any production was not mentioned anywhere. Only the cast’s name would be mentioned. It was my dream to see my name on the screen. I wanted to acquire the title of the best designer. But, these were my whims in 90’s.”

This was when he decided that he would initiate a project that would serve as a launch pad for 27 technicians, out of which 12 are college going students including the director and the music director as well.

By happenstance, he bumped into the director, AdityaBhaskar of his yet to be released production by taking a liking to his short film. Through him, he met a few of the other prospective people who would make his dream, not only a reality but also pave the way for a unique trend we have never witnessed before.

On the risks involved

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

When I asked him of the risky waters he was venturing into by taking on an all student personnel production, he says,” Of course I was aware of the risks. Everybody warned me about possible mishaps. Also, we haven’t compromised on the film in anyway because it’s being helmed by students. The entire film takes place in the sets. So, we have spent as much as any normal production would have”. It was a risk he was willing to take, to augment the industry with fresh talent.

Challenges of working with a novice team…

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

When I asked him on the regular problems faced on the sets, he says, “ My team haven’t witnessed even a shooting before. Until now, they have only been indulging in guerilla filmmaking in groups of four of five. So, at times they would get scared but I’d always reassure them that there was nothing to worry about. After all, I’m always there to guide or help them in times of help”

His big dream – Maiem

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

As we were nearing the end of our interview, I was curious to know a little more about the film Maiem that instigated the interview in the first place. Shreethar tells me it’s a healthy concoction of thrills and humor as the story unfolds in the setting of a bank. He’s careful not to divulge more than required which is typical of any director eagerly anticipating the release of his film. He says, “Every person in the audience watching a movie has an innate director trait in them that would push them to make interpretations of any film. That is exactly what my film will do”.

Did the decision pay off?

How a Kamal fan took on a never-done-before challenge in his first film

When I asked him if all the trials and tribulations encountered by venturing into such a project had paid off, he says, “Now, you have watched a film wherein the personnel have had years of experience. I can vouch and tell you that my students have done just as good a job “.

On a parting note, he says to all the aspiring filmmakers out there, “Anybody can make a film. There’s a story and a character within all of us. You don’t need a formal course for that. Filmmaking is all about creativity”.