It's rare in India to find a person from the fourth generation enter the same field as his or her forefathers. What's even less common is to find the fourth generation in the family's film business, considering how cinema has just completed its centenary year.
Like the Kapoors in Bollywood, the AVM family of Chennai saw the rise of their fourth generation with twin sisters Aruna and Aparna Guhan entering the business fresh out of school.
A talk with the two yield several interesting points about Tamil cinema, TV shows and the way forward for production houses.
Recalling their baby steps in tinsel town, Aruna says, “When we were kids, our mother wanted us to stay away from watching a lot of films or go around the studio too often. In fact, the first AVM film we watched was 'Minsara Kanavu' in 1997. We always knew that we would have to take over the studio, but moving into a house inside the studio did give us a first-hand idea of how things worked."
Life in a studio
Their family moved into the studio when they were nine and they admit that life inside wasn't all fun and games as play time did come with a few restrictions. “As kids, we were used to playing outside and visiting the beach as we'd lived on ECR. We moved here and since there were so many shoots happening at once, we did have instructions on where we could go and where we couldn't. But as we grew older and decided to be a part of the industry, we realised that there were fewer places better than AVM at which to learn everything about cinema," Aparna says.
The two joined AVM at age 16 the day they completed their Class 12 exams and have been a part of it ever since, even while attending college abroad.
“We joined the studio while 'Sivaji' was being completed and that was a very exciting time for all of us. My dad had wanted us to join early on so we could learn the basics. It was such a learning experience as we've already managed to work for about nine years at the age of 25," Aruna says.
The social network
Starting off, the twins took charge of AVM's pages on all the popular social networking sites and even handled online publicity for AVM's productions.
“While we managed these sites, we would often ask our viewers what they'd like to see from AVM. Apart from the fact that most of them would address both of us as 'sirs', not expecting women to helm such a production house, the exercise proved very useful. We understood the reach we had and we knew that we had an international market," Aparna adds.
After visiting Singapore for an international film conference, the two came across several ideas and toyed with concepts and mediums for the future.
“More and more people now watch TV shows and films online. So we feel the potential for such an idea is truly immeasurable. We had been planning a film for some time and we zeroed in on making an Internet film -which would be made and exhibited exclusively for the online audience. We are still working on its revenue model and financial viability, but it is surely the medium of the future," Aruna points out.
They say that their film, 'Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum', was finalised after they listened to several scripts for a period of over six months. The 55-minute film deals with a male's expression of grief when struck by disaster and was directed by Anil Krishnan and Srihari Prabaharan.
Aspiring filmmakers from around Tamil Nadu approached Aparna and Aruna, but they felt it was time to go ahead only after listening to the narration by Sri Hari who co-directed the film.
“Aparna came across this short film called, 'Kasappu Inippu', on YouTube and we then listened to the narration. We were immediately hooked to the story and believed we could do a good job in executing it." Aruna adds.
Both Aruna and Aparna agree that there is a need for a consistent influx of off-beat cinema much in the way Bollywood has begun absorbing new-age filmmakers into the mainstream.
Stating that they wouldn't want any stereotypes associated with the kind of films being made by AVM, Aparna says, “The idea, of course, is to promote good cinema which transcends genres, demographics or budgets. AVM may perhaps be associated with only family films in the past, but we feel that the brand should be above any such limitations. There is a large talent pool out there and it is our duty to exploit that."
AVM produced their last Hindi film over four decades ago back in 1973. Is there a scope for Hindi productions?
“Our great granddad produced films in many languages, but it is true that in the last few decades we have stuck to only Tamil and Telugu. It was just perhaps logistics or not having the managerial resources for the period, but we both are looking seriously towards Hindi. Both Aruna and I follow Hindi cinema and we will surely work in a few subjects in the near future. We also want to improve the standard of Tamil television shows. When we interacted with people over the net, they often asked us to take a look at Tamil soap operas. I myself watch a lot of Hindi TV serials and even my friends do, but I hardly know people my age who watch Tamil shows," Aparna says.
“We can learn a lot from the way Hindi television serials have permeated all age groups. Even the image of the woman in those shows is so much better. I feel AVM can make a difference in improving the standard of the shows here and we will soon be seeing great shows," Aparna adds.
About two girls
While their vision for their brand remains the same, their individual duties in the organisation remain poles apart.
While Aparna deals with administration, management and the day-to-day functioning of AVM, Aruna is the creative one, staying involved with editing, publicity, idea generation and even costume designing.
When it comes to script finalisation for shows and other films, the two are very much a part of the discussions, giving their father and grandfather their valuable opinions. “We started off listening to scripts for TV serials and we were a part of the discussions for all our films since Ayan. It is always a process of giving the audience what's new; and our family respects our opinions about ideas broached," Aruna says.
With the wealth of history in the form of pictures, books, film sets, costumes, vehicles and other articles available to them on their own premises, Aparna and Aruna are also discussing ways to set up a museum which can serve as a resource for people who want to learn about cinema and television.
“We have learnt so much just by being here in the studio," they say. “Some of our staff too have entered their third or fourth generation of working for AVM and they have such interesting stories to share. We know the value of the legacy and we'd like to share that with lovers of cinema," Aparna says.
The twins say the future of films and TV shows lies across media with the Internet proving to be the biggest force.
But they respect their great grandfather's enough to not obstruct his original vision. One of them even has a phone case with a picture of A.V Meiyappan on it; looks like the AVM legacy is in safe hands.
All about Aparna Guhan
AVM's legacy extends beyond cinema to its several charitable concerns. Taking charge of its social responsibilty is Aparna who started the Tiara Haemophilia and Cancer Foundation, which she started in association with Ramachandra Hospitals.
About this she says, “The main activities of the foundation is to sponsor patient treatments, conducting blood camps and spreading awareness about haemophilia. I work with a team of two doctors and we go to schools to talk to the kids and teachers about the disease and cancer among children. Another matter we try to address is the promotion of activities like donating blood among the city's youth. Our sessions with school kids are interactive in nature and we have been getting good feedback for it."
Talking to Aruna Guhan
Aruna takes care of the creative side of AVM's day-to-day functioning. She was also the costume designer for 'Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum'. In her spare time, she manages an online boutique with her friend Malvika called Aruna & Malvika where they market their unique designs through Facebook. She says she would like to work with the costumes for their future productions.
Apart from costumes, she is also interested in graphic designing and has worked as a freelancer creating designs for various companies. Aruna has also worked on the title design of 'Idhuvum Kadandhu Pogum'. Among all AVM productions, this older twin by 13 minutes calls 'Anbe Vaa' her favourite even as 'Sivaji' is closest to her heart.