The controversy over Varmaa has brought to light the need for discipline in Kollywood

Kollywood is stunned by producer Mukesh R Mehta’s decision to scrap Dhruv Vikram’s debut film Varmaa, directed by Bala, and re-shoot the entire film with a new set of technicians. The film, which was the Tamil remake of Telugu superhit Arjun Reddy, was scheduled for a Valentine’s Day weekend release.

Producer Mukesh Mehta has issued a press statement regarding Varmaa, which stated, “We at E4 Entertainment are not at all happy with the final version handed over to us (Director Bala had made the film on a first copy basis) and due to various creative and other differences, we have decided not to release this version. Instead, we will start afresh, and shoot a new Tamil version of Arjun Reddy with Dhruv as the main lead by staying true to the soul and intention of the original.” Bala, in a muted reply, stated in a press release: “I’m forced to safeguard creative freedom. It was my own decision to relieve myself from this project. Considering Dhruv Vikram’s future, I would like to end this here.”

The press release both from the producer and director does not pinpoint what went wrong but it has certainly created a major controversy in Tamil cinema. Leading producer G Dhananjayan says, “A film is a collaborative process in which both the producer and director are involved. However, this situation has arisen since the director was given the first copy assignment for a specific sum with all creative freedom. Hence, the director went ahead and made the film as per his vision. To protect his interest, the producer must have very clearly outlined in the agreement that the film should be an exact remake of the original with minor variations.”

The controversy has yet again raised the often-asked question in Kollywood: ‘Who has the creative right and final call on a film — the director, producer or the lead actor?’ History is replete with instances of directors having misunderstandings with the producer or actor over creative issues. Such issues are sometimes about the length of a film or its ending or over censor cuts (most producers refuse A certificates and want the director to cut or mute scenes as requested by censors to get UA or U certificates, which makes it easier to sell satellite television rights). But never before has an entire film, which was ready for release, been dropped at the last moment and a re-shoot scheduled.

According to people associated with the project, the decision to make Bala the director of Varmaa was taken by Vikram as he thought it would be the perfect launchpad for his son. After all, it was Bala who gave Vikram the big breakthrough with Sethu. The buzz is that Bala, who made the film on a first-copy basis, did not allow anybody to see the rushes during post-production. The producer and his team were able to watch the final copy only a few days before censor, which is when they decided to scrap the film.

All Mukesh Mehta is willing to say is:“We cannot take chances with Dhruv Vikram’s first film as hero… that’s the reason we are going for a re-shoot. We will soon announce a new title and technical team including a fresh heroine, a noted cameraman and supporting cast for the re-shoot. I’m hunting for new locations now as we plan to start the shoot from the first week of March and release the film at the earliest.”

A veteran producer, who has fought many battles with his directors, says, on the condition of anonymity, “It is high time that producers realise that they have to put their feet down and take a call on the final product. Today, many so-called big directors refuse to show the final copy before censor to the producer. My last film’s director showed me the final copy only two days before its release! I realised that the film needed changes but he refused to heed to my advice. The film flopped.”

Many producers in Kollywood have similar tales to narrate. Today, the situation is such that even big production houses have no control over a film, as the director and hero have the final say on everything, including the budget, casting, promotion strategies and date of release. It’s only in Kollywood that big heroes “give dates” to a director of their choice, and then the two decide the producer together!

Meanwhile, top Tamil film financiers, who are the backbone of the industry, have come together to form a new association called South Indian Film Financiers Association (SIFFA). A spokesman of the Association says, “The entire industry is shocked by the Varmaa confusion. In a way, it is a blessing in disguise as we plan to tighten film financing as producers hardly bother about cost overruns, thereby leading to issues during the release. Regulating the functioning of the industry and financial discipline is the need of the hour.”

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