If you’re new to film interviews, especially with a star, it’s a given that there will be major excitement. Allow that to pass, and meet your subject as a professional.
This is most important for your story — it will spring from a place of equality. Your questions will be better, and not pander to egos, and your interviewee will respect that you respect yourself.
Before this even begins, prepare. Read up, check out earlier interviews, and ensure you’ve watched at least some of the work, especially if your subject is a senior artiste. If not, you’ll only be taking down answers, not having a conversation.
Sometime after Veyil released, I interviewed its director Vasanthabalan for The Hindu. By the time the conversation was over, my eyes misted over. I got an interview in lyrical Tamizh, sprinkled with the director’s raw angst. I hardly asked two questions from my prepared list. I picked up queries from his replies.
When drawing up questions, mix it up. You need some general questions to lead you into a conversation. Keep the most controversial question for the end. That way, you have your interview in hand, and you might get a bonus great answer.
Don’t prod about artistes’ personal lives. A star can fall in love and choose to keep it private, like any other regular person. A star’s heartbreak is painful too. You need not know anything unless they choose to speak.
They go through traumatic times too. Sample this from 2003: I still remember hesitating to ask Ajith this. He was sitting in a hotel in Coimbatore, by the windowsill. My pen stopped working, and as I fumbled, he lent me his pen, and then I asked him if the yearning for “sweet revenge” had changed him as a person. “Time was when I was a very `nice’ person, when I valued emotions. Small things mattered. Like sitting by the window enjoying the manvaasanai. Today, I am setting goals and waiting to avenge my detractors,” he said. Seventeen years later, we know he meant what he said.
Another time, after an hour of conversation, Vikram spoke of how, had Sethu not worked out, he would have plucked apples and oranges in a friend’s orchard in Australia. These are from the days when you could call actors directly and they were willing to speak without filters.
A film interview is a peek into an artiste’s soul. Which means, one steps in without pre-conditions. Expect the unexpected. And that makes for a truly great interview. Somewhere in the recesses of my phone recorder is an audio file of Vijay Sethupathi explaining how he nailed the rhythm in the drunken prawn sequence in Kaadhalum Kadanthu Pogum.
Trust is important. I spoke to Chinmayi for Silverscreenindia.com weeks before she named Vairamuthu in the MeToo movement. She told me what happened, but requested I not name him in the article. I waited for her to name her oppressor. That’s the right thing to do.
Film writing is hard work too, and you build a reputation for interviews based on your ability to listen. People like to be heard.
And a parting note. Avoid a photograph please. You’re not a fanboy or fangirl!
Subha J Rao is a consultant writer and editor, now based out of Mangaluru, Karnataka. She’s been covering Tamil cinema for about 17 years, and Kannada for four years. Before Covid-19 struck, you would have found her and her bag catching the first day first show of every Tamil film that released in solitary splendour.
Ranjani’s note: I also absolutely loved how Subha chose to highlight her points. In my world of corporate writing, we do listicles a lot — simpler to process, easier to skim, lends well to click-bait headlines. Just like this one by Subha.
Yet, she chooses to weave her points into the article, like one would in an essay. And uses basic formatting, like making them bold, in case there is a skimmer or two in the audience.
I don’t know if I’ll ever interview a film star, but truly, these points are good for having any warm conversation.