Post-Aravaan, filmmaker Vasanthabalan has got into the period drama mode again for his latest, Kaaviya Thalaivan

Plumping for the unusual is a norm and recognition is a matter of course for Vasanthabalan. Barring Album and Aravaan, his films have always been raking in the moolah. Naturally Kaaviya Thalaivan, the director’s next, is creating a buzz. KT is another period film after Aravaan, and this time Vasanthabalan turns the spotlight on Tamil theatre groups of the 1920s and 30s. Surprising, you could say, because after the tepid response to his Aravaan, you wouldn’t expect him to go back to the distant past at once. “Aravaan was an authentic showcase of the lives of Tamils in the 18th Century, something none had attempted earlier. Opinions on the film may be varied, but I am convinced that the hard work we put in was worthwhile,” argues Vasanthabalan.

When the result wasn’t commensurate with the toil involved, why has he got into the period drama mode again? “Because it is a way of life we know very little about and I found it extremely interesting.” Vasanthabalan strongly believes that society learns from cinema and hence it is the duty of every conscientious maker to provide palatable and healthy fare to the viewer. “Our responsibility is even more today because films touch satellite channel viewers too and I’m very much aware of it. Kaaviya Thalaivan will exemplify it yet again.”

Siddharth and period drama

A lot of talk about the film being a spin-off from the life and romance of the stage superstars of the previous era, S.G. Kittappa and K.B. Sundarambal, is doing the rounds. “That’s not true. But when I completed the story and sat back thinking of the protagonist, it was Kittappa’s face that came to my mind. And I see a striking resemblance between Kittappa and Siddharth.” Was it the reason for roping in Siddharth as the protagonist? “Yes,” he agrees. When he learnt that the actor also has a theatre background, he was happy. That’s another reason for the curiosity that KT has kindled. Siddharth in a period film! In fact, the cast of KT is intriguing. Prithviraj is the other hero in the film. “I wanted a good-looking actor, who could perform well because it is a role that offers ample scope. He’s a brother and a friend of the hero. I felt Prithvi would be perfect. It is a challenging part and he has delivered with gusto,” says Vasanthabalan. Vedika, whose potential came to the fore in Bala’s Paradesi, and Anaika, the heroine of Sathya 2, are the heroines. “Ramgopal is a friend of mine and when I told him that I wished to test-shoot Anaika, he told her to get in touch with me. Soon she was part of KT.”

But the big draw was yet to come. As an assistant of director Shankar, Vasanthabalan had interacted with A.R. Rahman, till he took off on his own. “And even then I would think I should work with him once I became a director. I find his score for films such as Rock Star mesmerising.” Vasanthabalan tried to get in touch with him, when Siddharth, who knows Rahman well, enabled the process. “Old verses, such as those of Madurakavi Bhaskaradas had to be tuned and we needed all genres of music in the film. Rahman was my only choice.”

Vasanthabalan was slightly crestfallen when Rahman told him that he was busy with a Hollywood project and would think it over and get back. But when a couple of days later Rahman sent a crisp message, ‘Kittappa is ready,’ he was delighted. “Working with Rahman has been a great experience.” Nirav Shah, the lens man with a magic touch, has cranked the camera and well-known writer Jayamohan heads the dialogue department of KT. It was Jayamohan who first sowed the thought of delving into the theatre life of the early part of the last century, in Vasanthabalan’s mind when he told him to read Enadhu Nadaga Vaazhkai, an autobiography of theatre doyen T.K. Shanmugham. “It was a revelation to me, and the fascination led me to Kaaviya Thalaivan,” he says.

The stage was the only form of entertainment in those days. “Special trains were run for audiences who thronged to watch K.B. Sundarambal on stage.” This world of theatre with all its angst, agony, ecstasy and satisfaction hasn’t been recorded at all. “As I’ve already done a period film, getting details was comparatively easy.”

Costume plays a crucial part in the making of KT. “Characters from epics, religious stories and mythical extravaganzas are an integral part of the film, and both Siddharth and Prithvi have scored in their portrayal of the various roles.”

Vasanthabalan’s Veyyil and Angaadi Theru reached international audiences. Veyyil was the first Tamil film to be screened at Cannes. And going by the magnitude of Kaaviya Thalaivan it could well be another such colourful feather in Vasanthabalan’s already lustrous cap.