Director Shaheed Kader on the experience of making Chennaiyil Oru Naal

Shaheed Kader, the director of Chennaiyil Oru Naal, calls the film his lottery ticket. “Imagine getting to direct a film with such a solid script!” he says. “Rajesh Pillai (who directed the original Malayalam Traffic) and the writers spent close to three years working on the script. That made my work really simple.”

Shaheed, 34, was associate director for Traffic. He recalls telling Rajesh during the filming that if the film were ever to be remade in Tamil, he would like to direct it. Eventually, Rajesh was signed for the Tamil version, but date issues saw him recommending Shaheed as director. And so, 14 years after he entered the film industry, Aquaculture graduate Shaheed got to direct a movie primarily set on the road.

“It’s a long journey from the day I wanted to join FTII; I never managed to clear the exams!” he smiles. Over the years, he honed his craft, working as assistant and associate director with people such as Shaji Kailas, K. Madhu and Rajesh Pillai. “I had two good scripts in hand for my debut movie, but I loved the script of Traffic most of all,” says Shaheed.

The director says he wanted the film to look different from the original. “The script and the dialogues are almost the same, but I was very particular that someone who had watched Traffic should not feel that the scene construction here was similar,” says Shaheed, happy about the positive feedback to the ensemble film.

Did directing a host of director-actors (Cheran, Prakash Raj, Santhanabharathi, Manobala, Sarathkumar…) worry him? “Not really. They were most cooperative. In fact, most of them had watched and liked Traffic. That removed 70 per cent of my worry. The rest was about handling the artistes. My experience as assistant director helped. I was confident I could pull it off. I must make special mention of Cheran sir. He was very supportive. For so many scenes that required a duplicate, he would just say: ‘Naan panren’ (I’ll do it).”

Language, Shaheed concedes, was a problem. “I know a smattering of Tamil, and my English is not great. But, I know how to enact a scene for the actors. That helped.”

Confidence, says Shaheed, has been his driving force. “Many might even mistake it for arrogance, but I have never had pangs of doubt,” he says. “I knew I was making a film that would never be called ‘mokkai’ (bore),” he laughs.

For now, he’s basking in the adulation. Then, he starts work on his next film, produced by Listin Stephen (Listin produced Traffic and co-produced Chennaiyil…). “He’s a huge support system. He gave me the advance before I started shooting for Chennaiyil…” Shaheed is not sure if his second film will be in Malayalam or Tamil. “I am not ambitious at all, and can wait for even two years for the right subject,” he says.

For now, he’s waiting for Rajesh to watch Chennaiyil… Almost like a student waits for approval from the teacher!

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