In recent times, the Malaysian Tamil film industry has undergone a significant evolution, marked by the emergence of numerous standout movies and series. This transformation underscores the industry’s dynamic growth and its ability to produce content that resonates with diverse audiences.
The evolution of Malaysian Tamil films is evident in the quality and diversity of cinematic offerings. Productions have embraced innovative storytelling, exploring a wide array of genres and themes that cater to the varied tastes of the audience. This shift has not only elevated the entertainment value but has also contributed to the industry’s credibility and recognition on a broader scale.
In this context, ‘Venpa‘ stands out as a romantic masterpiece within the Malaysian Tamil cinema industry. Notably, it continues to hold a position in the Top 10 highest-grossing films in the industry, attesting to its enduring popularity and commercial success. The film’s impact is further emphasized by the widespread celebration it garnered in Malaysia.
Starring Thevaguru, Agalyah, Yuvaraj, Santeinii, Kuben and many more popular artists, ‘Venpa’ has earned acclaim not only for its romantic narrative but also for its cinematic excellence, characterized by compelling storytelling, impressive performances, and high production values. Beyond the spotlight, how many of us are acquainted with the unsung pillars of strength who worked diligently behind the scenes of the film?
Varnam Malaysia had the privilege of connecting with two key individuals from the ‘Venpa’ team – Kavi Nanthan, the director, and Varmman Elangkovan, the film’s music composer.
A director of a successful film plays a pivotal role in shaping its narrative, translating vision into reality, and guiding the artistic process. Their ability to orchestrate scenes, extract compelling performances, and maintain a cohesive vision significantly influences a film’s impact. Meanwhile, the music composer adds an emotive layer, enhancing the storytelling experience. Through a skillful blend of melodies and harmonies, they elevate the film’s mood, evoke emotions, and contribute to its overall resonance. Together, the director and music composer form a dynamic duo, crafting an immersive cinematic journey that resonates with audiences, making their collaboration integral to the success of a film.
K. Kavi Nanthan hailing from Kedah, completed Bachelor of Accounting at Universiti Putra Malaysia(UPM) and he was working as an accountant. In 2015, he embarked on his filmmaking journey with the creation of his first short film titled “Soppanam Meithanai.” Subsequently, in 2016, he achieved significant milestones with his second and third short films, namely “Kayalvizhi” and “Kathiravan.” However, it was in 2017 that Kavi Nanthan’s life took a transformative turn with the creation of the short film “Venpa,” marking a pivotal moment in his career. This particular work became the turning point that not only showcased his evolving prowess as a filmmaker but also set the stage for further accomplishments in his cinematic endeavors.
In 2017, he made the decision to transition from his professional career and commit himself entirely to the realm of filmmaking. This significant choice marked a pivotal moment in his life, where he chose to pursue his passion for filmmaking on a full-time basis. Departing from his previous job, he embarked on a journey to immerse himself wholly in the art and craft of filmmaking, embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with dedicating one’s life to the cinematic world. This transformative step reflected his dedication to his creative pursuits and the pursuit of a fulfilling career in the film industry.
Is ‘Venpa’ a fictional film or based on a true story?
The segment featuring the school experience is rooted in a true story, while the remainder is entirely fictional. I extracted a small narrative from my personal school crush experience and skillfully expanded it into a more dramatic storyline, aiming to captivate and entertain the audience.
When we asked about how Kavi Nanthan conceived the concept for this film, here shared the story behind ‘Venpa’,
While I was in the midst of deciding my next short film, I wasn’t sure what story to take. One fine night I was chit chatting with a close friend of mine, somehow some school crush story came up. As I was telling this story, I said a line “Naan marupadiyum avala paapena’nu terile, Apdi paarthena, enkitta pessuvala ille teriyaatha mathiri poiduvala’nu terile”. My friend then replied by saying “Apdiye light’a oru Gautham Menon movie feel mathiri irukku Kavi unga kathai”. That kind of pinched me towards developing the story behind “Venpa”.
What if I meet her again under some circumstances, what if I was given 1 hour to justify my feelings and how will she react? So the magic that I wanted to create was, how an hour conversation can change Hatred into Love. So I had to make the conversation and flashback as sweet and interesting as possible for the audience to be engaged. It is not easy to keep your audience intact in a cafe conversation scene. I really took my time to develop that scene. And I was heavily influenced by “Maalai Pozhudhin Mayakathilaey” movie on how the movie was shot entirely in a cafe creatively. It kind of gave me an idea how to bring this movie forward.
Meanwhile, the Sathya Bang twist was an impromptu act. While Yuvaraj and Agalyah were rehearsing the script, Yuvaraj jokingly said “ Suddenly Sathya Bang calls Kalyani at the end”. I loved that idea and that kind of interested me to develop more inciting incidents at earlier portions of the script, which later helped me in developing my full length feature film.
When I took the short film I had no intention of making it into a feature film. But once it created the hype, I decided to make use of the mileage to debut as a director with “Venpa” as a feature film.
It’s remarkable how a simple conversation could evolve into a romantic drama. Kavi Nanthan’s skill in crafting and developing a story is truly commendable. The creativity he has infused into this narrative adds depth and layers to the film. He meticulously incorporated various elements to ensure the film is not only engaging but also captivating and interesting.
What concept or message did you intend to convey through ‘Venpa’?
I wasn’t so focused on delivering a social message with the movie, but I did have clear subtexts to convey. The main idea was how one should open up about their feelings without worrying too much about the consequences. This theme was applied to both Thenavan and Sathya. Sathya expressed his feelings towards Kalyani, while Thenavan initially didn’t. However, when he did, he had a chance. If Sathya had been honest, he would have had more time with Kalyani, but instead, he wanted her to move on, which didn’t happen.
Additionally, a few themes emerged organically, such as the stigma and discrimination surrounding AIDS and its misconceptions. Many people believe that HIV only transmits through sexual intercourse or drugs, but there are other means of contracting it. Furthermore, the film addresses dark skin discrimination in society, as seen in the case of Sheila.
The film seamlessly weaves together messages encompassing themes of relationships, love, and social awareness. This blending of elements contributes to the uniqueness of the movie. Beyond the romantic narrative, it incorporates a nuanced exploration of interpersonal dynamics, urging characters to express their emotions openly. Simultaneously, the film serves as a platform for social awareness by tackling issues like AIDS-related stigma and misconceptions, broadening its impact beyond the realm of love stories. This multifaceted approach not only adds depth to the storyline but also distinguishes the film, making it stand out as a compelling and socially relevant cinematic piece.
What was the reason behind titling the movie ‘Venpa’?
I had a few titles in mind, like ‘Solla Marantha Kathai’ and such, but none resonated with my heart. I had already decided to incorporate poetry into the film, but the word ‘Kavithai’ felt too mainstream. I had come across the word ‘Venpa’ multiple times and loved it from the moment I first heard it. Just in a fluke, the word ‘Venpa’ popped into my mind. Since the movie was poetic, I believe it fit well.
We had eagerly asked Kavi Nanthan about his experience in ‘Venpa’
It was the most expensive lesson I’ve learned to date, costing me over 600k. From understanding the intricacies of filmmaking to marketing and selling it, it turned me into a full-fledged filmmaker, teaching me the Do’s and Don’ts of the industry.
Despite being meticulous in pre-production, I still encountered surprises during the shoot. The team was 100% committed to completing the film, and I had one of the best crews and casts for this project. As much as we worked hard, we also had our fair share of fun on set, looking out for each other. Some even went beyond their job specifications, willing to assist me with promotions. ‘Venpa’ was not just K. Kavi Nanthan’s baby; it was the entire cast and crew’s sweat and blood. I owe them a lot.
I left my job in September 2017 to focus on pre-production for this film before rolling the camera in January 2018. With zero bank balance, I managed to raise RM200k for the first schedule, having only the script as collateral. This was followed by another RM200k for the second schedule. The film often spoke for itself. I struggled the most after the shoot as the movie got delayed due to certain circumstances. With no income source and no projects coming my way as I was fairly new, I had to be patient until my movie came out. It cost me another RM200k plus to complete, market, and release the movie. I had some good souls who supported me emotionally and financially.
Once it was released, my life turned upside down. I became a household name in the Malaysian Film Industry and started getting projects. Despite facing some irresponsible people who exploited my movie for their gain, leading to legal action and awaiting the verdict, it never stopped me from moving forward. I am always grateful for what ‘Venpa‘ did for me.
The success of a film is often attributed to the collaborative and supportive nature of its cast, and such was the case with ‘Venpa.‘ The strong understanding and bond among the artists and the director played a pivotal role in the film’s success. This camaraderie proved instrumental in helping the director achieve his vision for each scene.
In particular, the performances of Yuvaraj Krishnasamy as Thenavan, Agalyah Maniam as Kalyani, Thevaguru as Sathya Bang, and Santeinii as Sheila were noteworthy. These actors not only embraced their characters but also portrayed them with wholehearted dedication. Their commitment to their roles resonated with the audience, keeping them engaged until the very end of the film.
The effective collaboration between the director and the cast allowed for a seamless portrayal of the characters, contributing significantly to the overall impact of ‘Venpa.‘ This shared commitment and understanding among the team undoubtedly played a crucial role in the film’s success.
Every director will face challenges in making a film. In that case, we asked what are the struggles did Kavi Nanthan faced during this film. He shared that,
The main challenge was gaining the public’s trust to watch my movie. Malaysian movies weren’t in good standing with the local audience, so I had to devise various creative marketing strategies to convince people that ‘Venpa’ was a worthwhile film. Hashtag 19919 was one of them.
Secondly, bringing a scene to the screen exactly as envisioned or even better is not an easy task; it requires more resources and expertise to achieve the desired outcome. I was fortunate to be well-prepared for most of it, yet I missed some scenes that couldn’t meet my vision due to a lack of resources.
The third challenge involved unprecedented incidents such as adverse weather conditions (rain, wind) and sudden location cancellations, even after payment, as well as last-minute unavailability of cast members.
The fourth challenge was completing the movie on time. The film would get stuck at some level of work, and any non-compliance with the schedule would lead to delays in completion. Even a single person’s delay would have a significant domino effect on the overall timeline.
Despite numerous challenges, Kavi Nanthan’s resilience and creative problem-solving transformed ‘Venpa’ into a cinematic masterpiece. Overcoming obstacles, he navigated issues like audience skepticism, resource constraints, and unforeseen setbacks. Through innovative marketing and steadfast leadership, Kavi Nanthan not only completed the film but also garnered success, solidifying his status in the industry.
What was the response from the audience after watching ‘Venpa’?
The response was overwhelming, marked by unconditional love from a diverse audience, many of whom I didn’t even know. The emergence of a cult following for a local film was unprecedented in my experience. Contrary to my initial expectation that only the younger generation would appreciate the film, I received a heartwarming call from a random elderly grandmother expressing her enjoyment of the movie. The depth of this support is truly humbling, and I feel a profound gratitude. My only way to repay them is to deliver an even better film soon.
This signals the anticipation of upcoming projects from Kavi Nanthan. ‘Venpa‘ notably establishes a high standard for his future endeavors, suggesting that audiences can expect remarkable and impactful work from him in the near future.
In your opinion, what are the challenges a director could face in the Malaysian Tamil cinema industry?
- Securing a strong producer
When I mention a producer, I’m not referring to a mere funder. In Malaysia, most producers primarily act as funders, investing money and waiting for profits without actively engaging in the production process. This dynamic often leads to unnecessary conflicts between the creative and production departments. Additionally, the prevailing belief in low-cost investments, aiming for high-margin profits, is killing the overall quality of a film. Finding a strong producer with extensive production knowledge, capable of assessing the feasibility of a film project and investing a reasonable fund for both production and marketing, is akin to finding a needle in a haystack for a director. Our industry stands on the cusp of growth, but many perceive it as a risky investment, choosing the safer path instead.
2. Creative limitation
A director will inevitably encounter limitations on creative freedom due to a lack of funds, resources, and legal constraints, such as censorship. The scarcity of funds is a universal challenge, but a director must navigate these limitations to ensure they do not compromise storytelling. While every director dreams of realizing their vision on screen without compromise, the reality is that achieving 100% alignment with one’s vision is often unattainable.
3. Strong support system
For a director to create a successful film, a robust support system is essential. This support manifests in various forms—knowledge providers, experts, crews, equipment rentals, FINAS, TV stations, and many others. Navigating the entire ecosystem may be time-consuming and energy-draining. A director must invest the necessary time and effort in meticulous groundwork to establish a sustainable presence in the industry.
In the Malaysian Tamil cinema industry, directors grapple with multifaceted challenges. Limited budgets, scarce resources, and legal constraints, such as censorship, restrict creative freedom. Securing a supportive and knowledgeable team amidst financial constraints proves challenging. The industry’s expanding phase also renders it risky for potential investors, hindering projects. Yet, directors resiliently overcome these hurdles. They navigate the complex ecosystem, leveraging available resources judiciously. Meticulous groundwork and strategic planning become paramount. Their spirit lies in adapting creatively to budget constraints, fostering collaboration, and passionately pursuing their vision despite obstacles. It’s a testament to their determination, resourcefulness, and unwavering commitment that propels Malaysian Tamil cinema forward.
Moving forward we asked Kavi Nanthan on what would he like to share to the young generation who wish to become a director in future and his advise was,
- Keep gaining knowledge
You will never stop gaining knowledge when it comes to films. Film making and storytelling keep evolving, and we must be ready to invest in the process. The current point is not your smartest; you will always grow smarter, wiser, and more mature in time when it comes to treating your film. Personally, I reflect on my previous work and consider what I could have done differently. Heighten your sense of filmmaking. Watch a lot of world cinema; don’t be stuck with just Kollywood movies. A good sense is your most valuable asset in filmmaking.
2. Perseverance is the Key
We must wait for our breakthrough; it might not happen immediately. You can’t become a full-fledged filmmaker by just doing two short films. Short films serve as practice platforms. If your short film didn’t work, keep doing it until you get it right. Learn from your mistakes, take your time, and if things don’t favor you, don’t give up. Avoid the blame game for every failure. Compose yourself, assess why you failed, and try again with an improved approach. Keep trying until you make it.
3. Be ready to spend
Money is essential in filmmaking. While there are free resources for learning on YouTube and making films with zero budgets, to grow as a top-notch filmmaker, you must be ready to invest. Attend workshops, watch paid masterclasses; the right guidance often comes at a cost. The right workman, equipment, and rig also require financial commitment. Be prepared to spend. If you don’t have the money, find it by hook or crook and start investing. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.
These critical lessons are invaluable to aspiring filmmakers, shaping technical skills and deepening understanding. Whether gained through experiences, mentorship, or education, these insights form the foundation for future creators, guiding them towards mastery and resilience in navigating the complexities of filmmaking.
The final but most important question to Kavi Nanthan was,
What is your take on the crew who are working behind the screens of every project?
They are the backbone of a film. Hence, I am always selective when it comes to crews. I’m particular about their ethics, whether our chemistry works, and whether they have the right knowledge to bring my vision to the screen. They are the unspoken heroes, often not receiving the attention they deserve compared to on-screen artists. Many are unaware that our behind-the-scenes crews are equally as skilled as overseas crews; they just haven’t landed the right project to showcase their talent. I understand the hardships of being a crew member as I am one of them. I have a vision that one day, I will bring them along when my movie plays on the international stage.
This highlights Kavi Nanthan’s meticulous approach in selecting an exceptional crew to collaborate with on his projects. He places great emphasis on factors such as ethical values, interpersonal dynamics, and the team’s proficiency in translating his vision onto the screen. Recognizing the often overlooked contributions of behind-the-scenes crew members, he values their skills, acknowledging their potential on par with international counterparts.
This discerning commitment to assembling a dedicated and talented team reflects Kavi Nanthan’s understanding of the integral role each crew member plays in the success of a film. It signifies not only his professionalism but also his vision for elevating the recognition and opportunities for behind-the-scenes talents in the international film arena. Kavi Nanthan emerges as a highly skilled director in the Malaysian Tamil cinema industry. His exceptional talent is evident in projects like ‘Venpa,‘ which stands as one of his finest works.
Beyond a director’s vision, the film’s music composer is a narrative sculptor, infusing cinematic tales with poignant beauty. More than a mere creator of background melodies, the composer collaborates intricately, crafting an auditory landscape that mirrors the emotional depths of each scene. Their role extends to understanding character nuances, thematic resonance, and pacing. Through a delicate interplay of instruments, they underscore the storyline’s emotional beats, creating a harmonious fusion with the director’s visual narrative. The resulting synergy lingers in the minds of the audience, contributing significantly to the cinematic masterpiece’s impact. The music composer, a storyteller in their own right, enriches and glorifies the narrative, leaving an indelible mark on the cinematic landscape.
Varmman Elangkovan‘s musical prowess played an equal role alongside Kavi Nanthan in shaping the film’s success. Together, they orchestrated a seamless collaboration, with Varmman Elangkovan’s evocative compositions enhancing the emotional resonance of the narrative, complementing Kavi Nanthan’s creative vision.
Hailing from Penang, Varmman developed a passion for music influenced by his father, a classical Indian music teacher with over three decades of experience in the northern region. Varmman said,
“When I was only 13 or 14, I had the opportunity to record my violin for one of Dhilip Varman’s songs. This experience sparked my interest in the recording world and eventually led me to collaborate with other well-known names such as Psychounit, Mansher Singh, and others at that time. In subsequent years, these experiences bolstered my confidence to produce my own music for short films and my single titled ‘Vilagathey.’ This work garnered the attention of Director Karthik Shaamalan, who subsequently involved me in his projects. This marked the inception of my journey in the industry as a composer, highlighted by projects like ‘Manggalyam Tanthunanena’ (Telemovie) and ‘Atcham Thavir’ (Movie).”
As the music director of Venpa, do share with us the experience of you working in the movie?
“Venpa was a very special project to me. I fell in love with it the very first time Kavi Nanthan narrated it to me because I could feel the authentic Malaysian-flavored love story and could already foresee how much I could express myself via music for this film. It became even more special because we started it as a short film, and everything about it became sensational, from the song (‘Thirumbi Paaradi’) to the teaser, the performances of the cast, and the message about brown-skinned girls. All of these elements gave us more motivation and fuel to take it to the next step. Working on it as a full-length film later on was very smooth and enjoyable because we knew what we were going for and the ultimate trust we had in our audience. Those moments are something that I will cherish throughout my entire life. To be honest , I just feel very blessed and gifted to have had Venpa. It gave me something that any artist would yearn for, recognition. Thank you for Venpa, makkale!”, said Varmman.
Varmman has already summarize the significant messages from ‘Venpa‘ in his answer as well. His musical compositions for the movie stand out as extraordinary, with each track maintaining its prominence and continuing to dominate playlists. Notably, the song “Oru Murai” has captured the hearts of audiences, solidifying its place as a cherished favorite. ‘Venpa‘s’ album has earned the distinction of being one of Malaysians’ most beloved, a testament to its enduring appeal. The amazing tuning of instruments and the musical arrangement in “Oru Murai” showcase Varmman’s exceptional skill, contributing to the song’s aesthetic and emotional impact, and ultimately, enhancing the entire soundtrack’s timeless resonance.
Followed by that when we asked which is Varmman’s favourite song from the movie, the composer himself responded,
“I often get asked such questions, and my answer will always be the same: all of them! As a creator, the amount of love, work, brainstorming, and passion I put into creating a song has consistently been the same. I don’t approve of my work if it doesn’t impress me first. Essentially, all the songs I have ever composed are like my babies. It’s hard to choose a favorite child. I leave it to the listeners.”
What are the challenges you have faced during the composition process of ‘Venpa’?
Varmman’s conscientious approach and unwavering dedication underscore his commitment to upholding a high standard, emphasizing a profound devotion to the artistry embedded within each of his compositions.
As a music composer, what is your take on the crew working behind the screen of a project?
Films create a world of make-believe, and it’s the people behind the screen—DOP, Music Director, Editor, Sound Designer, Art Director is the one who make the entire experience convincing. Consider Sathya Bang proposing to Kalyani with the ‘Katti Pudi Katti Pudida’ track as BGM; the film could easily turn into a meme. These departments carry immense weight in setting the right tone for each scene. Working behind the scenes requires passion and love for the craft, as sometimes, despite significant effort, your work may go unnoticed or unappreciated. Nevertheless, today, many media houses and local YouTubers meticulously review local movies, appreciating every craft involved.
Varmman explicitly underscores the pivotal role played by artists working behind the scenes in the filmmaking process. This acknowledgment speaks to the significant contributions of individuals such as the Director of Photography, Music Director, Editor, Sound Designer, and Art Director, who often operate without the limelight. Despite their crucial impact on the film’s tone and narrative, these behind-the-scenes artists may go unnoticed, emphasizing the importance of recognizing and appreciating their passion and dedication to their craft, even when their contributions may not be immediately apparent to the audience.
Lastly we asked him,
In your opinion, how do you see the development of the music industry in Malaysian Tamil cinema?
Our music has grown a lot over the past decade , we are already producing music that is on par with international standards.I have come across many extraordinary talents that deserve way more than what they are enjoying currently. Making them great, I consider it our collective responsibility as a self-sustaining community in Malaysia. As a Malaysian-born composer , I wish to see my music industry and its talents grow beyond borders.
This highlights Varmman’s deep passion for his art, potentially the secret behind his remarkable tracks. His sincere dedication to the craft is evident, underscoring the authenticity he brings to his musical creations. This genuine love for his art infuses a unique quality into his work, contributing to the brilliance that characterizes his compositions.
Director Kavi Nanthan and music composer Varmman Elangkovan emerge as the pillars of the film’s success. Their relentless hard work, coupled with the dedication of the entire cast, has elevated the movie to masterpiece status in the Malaysian Tamil cinema industry. However, it’s crucial to extend recognition to the often-overlooked behind-the-scenes artists whose meticulous efforts contribute significantly to crafting the film’s success. In celebrating their collective commitment, the film truly stands as a testament to the collaborative brilliance within the Malaysian Tamil cinema landscape.