When one thinks of a producer, the image that comes to mind is that of a person in his mid forties, dressed in perfect white, adorned with a gold chain or two with multiple cell phones. With the influx of corporate money into Indian cinema, we saw this image of the producer being replaced by the suits and blazers of MBA executives. Still a traditional industry when compared to other states in the country, Tamil films too have started to slowly, but surely, move towards the corporate style of film production. Varun Manian, the young and dynamic managing director of Radiance Realty, enters the industry with fresh ideas and with the invaluable vision to support new talent. By backing quality scripts without compromising on technique, this young Turk aims to bring forth a renaissance in Tamil cinema. We trace the path he took.
Growing up in Singara Chennai?
I was born in Mumbai and moved to Chennai immediately. My maternal grandparents were in Mumbai, the paternal grandparents moved to Chennai. In Chennai, I was living in Alwarpet and had a normal, fun-filled childhood. It was a nice, quiet locality with bungalows mostly. I had a gang of friends, about 15 of them, and we used to hang out in each other’s houses, playing as much as we could. I loved going to Marina Beach as a kid, flying kites, eating mangoes from the vendors there and doing everything a kid my age would. I did my pre-school in Bambino and then, from Kindergarten to Class XII, I was in Sishya School, Adyar. With all the time I spent with friends, there was very little time left for studies. It was a lovely childhood.
Stepping into big shoes
My childhood aspiration was to be like my dad. I was very clear that I always wanted to study abroad and come back to join the family business. I had no intentions of reinventing the wheel. We had a very solid business back home and I was keen to work there and take it to greater heights. Since I had this clarity, a lot of my life decisions were very easy.
When did the film bug bite?
I came back in 2004 and ran the family business till 2012. We sold it in 2012 and I started the residential real estate business, Radiance Realty, which is my flagship company and I’m extremely passionate about it. Similarly, I was always passionate about films. I always enjoyed watching all genres of movies in various languages and have many friends from the film industry. I’ve always believed that the fundamentals of any business are the same and as long one understands them and tweaks them to the specific industry, one can be successful. Since I had this passion for the movie business, I thought this was as good a business as any to enter.
A role other than that of producer?
If you’re asking me about acting, then it’s definitely a no. (Laughs) I am a businessman and it’s in my blood to run businesses and run them profitably. So I don’t see myself in any role other than that of a hands-on producer.
Apart from this, I want to be able to provide a platform for young talented people who do not necessarily find a producer to fund their movies. I aim to bridge this gap and give good talent the place it deserves.
From boardrooms to studio floors
From what I’ve seen of the Tamil film industry, it’s very well organised and surprisingly professional. With the kind of talent we have here, we’re probably the best in India, and we set high benchmarks in movie making.
Coming from the corporate sector, I was a little wary. But now having ventured into it, I genuinely find it to be extremely professional and well organised.
This may or may not hold good for the entire industry, but fortunately, the people we’re working with are thorough professionals and I have great regard and respect for their work.
First impression of Tamil cinema
We have no movie-making experience in either Hollywood or Bollywood, so I’m not equipped to answer the question. However, Tamil cinema is very advanced in terms of production techniques, special effects, etc. It’s a well-known fact that we scout for the best technology from even Hollywood studios and use it to make the slickest of Tamil movies.
Similarly, talent from down South is used in other movie industries. So make the most of the best we have and source the rest from wherever talent is available. This would be the right way forward.
His vision for Tamil film production.
I’m very new to the industry and right now I’m learning the ropes. I find it fascinating and I’m a quick learner. But it will take me a while to bring in something dramatically new.
I’m young and new and this inevitably brings in the freshness in terms of a different point of view. I question and bring in a new perspective, wherever appropriate. I’d also like to bring in some of the corporate best practices to the movie industry. But then again, you can’t force-fit processes and I respect that. So I’ll work to adapt the best from other industries to this one.
What kind of films can we expect?
We are here only to back strong content. We will back anybody with a good script. We’re not hung up about big stars nor will we dabble only in small movies. Anything that has a strong script and looks likely to work, will be produced by Radiance Media. Hence, the genre, budget, stars, technical team, etc will be purely as per what the script demands. I believe that’s the best way to work.
What would you say to youngsters who come clutching their short film CDs, looking to you to produce their film?
I genuinely hear them out and if it’s a good script, I’m ready to take on the project. I do seek to back young talent.
How do you balance the greys and blacks of the corporate world with the multi- coloured film world?
I continue to wear greys and blacks and will always do so, as I do not lack clarity on my role in life. I am a corporate businessman and movie production is one of my many business ventures, like real estate. But I do enjoy the multi-faceted film industry and I will continue to be passionate about films.
People behind the person
I grew up with two working parents. My mother initially worked for a travel agency and then went on to create her own highly successful entrepreneurial venture, Global Adjustments. My father built his infrastructure business and I admire the discipline and values with which he runs it. I grew up in a joint family with my parents and grandparents; I grew up in a work-charged atmosphere. So it would have been illogical of me to think I would be doing anything else except this. My family is tightly knit and the four of us — my parents, me and my sister — share bonds that are very strong. My father is very, very particular about family values. We’ve grown up that way and till today, the four of us largely dine together. I am very close to my school friends and they are undoubtedly friends for life. We’ve seen each other grow up and it’s comfortable since we can just be ourselves, no pretences. Varun Mammen, Anerudh and Aditya Chitranjan are my closest friends whom I know from school days. In spite of all our work commitments, we make it a point to make time to meet up. My other very dear friends are my generation of the Reddy family (Apollo Hospitals) and Ram Muthu.
What drives his need for speed?
I haven’t really acquired anything very fancy lately and my Bentley couple of years ago was probably my last acquisition. But yes, if I’m going to get wistful, then what I’d really like to have is a 1970s E-type Jaguar convertible. That’s one addition to my garage that would make me happy.
To take a break
My favourite place to relax and unwind is the room that has a pool table in front of my house (Smiles). In terms of hanging out, I like to go to the Flying Elephant on weekends. I am quite a foodie and I love Japanese and Indian cuisine. The dimsums at Golden Dragon, ghee roast at R. A. Puram Sangeetha — these would qualify as my comfort foods. I’m still looking for a good Japanese restaurant in Chennai though! Apart from this, I like sports and play tennis and golf regularly...I’m also active on Twitter as @varunmanian.