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AR Murugadoss - Man with the midas touch

He's the maverick director who announced his arrival on the cinematic scene with a bang with his very first film. Everything he touches seems to turn into gold, and success seems to be his middle name. From Dheena and Ramana to Ghajini and now to 7 Aum Arivu releasing this month, AR MURUGADOSS has a strike rate that’s almost unmatched in the industry. But very little is known about the elusive young director himself, who pretty much says it all with a smile. In a long chat, RINKU GUPTA manages to get a glimpse into the mind of the man himself, as he traces his journey into cinema…

The A to R of cinema

AR Murugadoss has pretty much got the A to Z of cinema in his grip. He seems to have his finger right on the pulse of the audience, and the success of his blockbuster Ghajini in Hindi proved that he has an audience that crosses language barriers as well. The man is almost a household name across the country, so we want to know what the AR in his name stands for. “My father’s name was Arunasalam,” grins Murugadoss with his characteristic laugh, at the question. “After I signed my first film Dheena, I had to decide on a name for myself as a director. In a hurry, I decided to use the first two letters of my dad’s name as my initials and I guess the name stuck!”

Bunking school for films

Talking about his name and his father, takes us into flashback mode and we enquire about his childhood. “I studied at the Government Higher Secondary School at Kallakurichi,” reminisces Murugadoss. “There used to be about sixty of us in each class, sitting on the floor.” Not that he spent a lot of time in there, though! “In the 7th and 8th classes, I was more interested in extra-curricular activities like mono-acting and drawing. I remember taking part in a school drama Veerapandiya Kattabomman then,” he recalls.

The seeds of drama and acting seemed to have been sown. But even more interesting to him were the bi-weekly visits to the local cinema hall, bunking classes. “There were the Raja Theatre and the Govindrajan Theatre and I would run off there. Of course, I didn’t inform my parents!” he grins. Soon, he was soon seeing 7 movies a week. “Cinema was the biggest draw in my town which didn’t even have a railway station. There was just one big tar road and a criss-cross of roads at one junction that led to other villages,” he explains. By the 7th standard, he had started writing too. “I sent my jokes to Ananda Vikatan and they were published. It was very exciting. I wanted to be a story writer,” he recalls. Though he decided to graduate in History just to please his father who was a trader in vessels, his heart lay in the arts. “In college, I was part of the cultural activities team at Bharatidasan University in Trichy. I used to write skits and act in them,” he says.

Thala says it all

After college, he tried for a seat at the Film Institute, but with no luck. So he joined as an assistant director and moved in with his uncle in Chennai. Thus began a seven year struggle to make it big. During this time, he also wrote 25 short stories and a novel, which were published in Devi Kanmani even as he pursued a journalism course in Madras University.

“I was the scriptwriting assistant to writer Kalaimani. Then I did dialogue writing in Madurai Meenakshi for director Amirtham. My first stint as assistant director came with Pravin Kanth’s Rakshagan, but I did only half the movie,” recalls Murugadoss, who went on to work in Udayashankar’s Telugu project Kalusukundam Ra as assistant script director. He worked with SJ Suryah in Khushi for twenty days through whom he met producer SS Chakravarthy. “He introduced me to Ajith for the very first time. Even before I started narrating the story of Dheena, Ajith just looked at me repeating twice, ‘He can make it’. I was in a daze!” Murugadoss reveals.

Ajith’s words proved prophetic. So today, what’s the secret of the man with the Midas touch? “I am focused; I analyze film trends and work extensively on scripts. For Ghajini, I took three months and for 7 Aum Arivu it was 11 months, because the expectations were higher,” he reveals.

The Hollywood dream

Talking about 7 Aum Arivu he says, “It’s a period science fiction film. I referred to several books on the topic. It’s a story every Indian should see.’ Starring Suriya and Shruti Haasan, the film will release in Telugu and Tamil and later in Hindi after 20 days. Talking about his hero, he admits “I wrote it with Suriya in mind. He learnt martial arts and circus tricks for the role. For Shruti, expectations are high since she is Kamal’s daughter. She plays a scientist from IIT. Her real life image an as intelligent young woman reflects on screen, making her a believable character.”

His next Hindi film is with Akshay Kumar next year. So is there a dream left? “My father died before I became a director. What I dreamt is coming true now but I regret his absence. I want to make films with a worldwide release, right from Bollywood to Hollywood.”  After recently turning producer with his AR Murugadoss banner in collaboration with Fox Star Studios, the Hollywood dream may turn into reality soon indeed!

On spirituality
I believe in God but I am more spiritual than ritualistic. I pray that I work hard each day, and health and wealth will naturally follow! You need just one application with God, not a hundred! I am inspired by The Mother of Pondicherry, Jaggi Vasudev and Osho. If you enjoy your profession, then every day of work is a holiday.

On reading
Books are an addiction. I carry them everywhere. I read Osho, Jayamohan, Vairamuthu, Bharatiyar and others. I am a Book Fair regular!