Velayudham, director Raja's first film with Vijay, is much-awaited this Deepavali. It will live up to the hype, Raja tells Malathi Rangarajan

The canvas is vast. The production is on a mind-boggling scale. And the hero's image has grown by leaps and bounds since Kaavalan, his last release in January this year. Touted as the costliest Vijay film ever, Velayudham is gearing up to offer a festive treat for filmgoers. And if you think its director Raja is pressured by the onus on his young shoulders, you are way off the mark. Just as cheerful as he was during the days of Santosh Subramaniam when I met him last, this prince of remakes is eager to share his experiences about Velayudham. “It will be a Lucullan feast for the young and the old alike,” he smiles.

This is the first time the director has come out of the comfort zone of his family production house and his brother, Jayam Ravi, who has been the hero of all of Raja's Tamil ventures. From a cocoon he has been catapulted to real big league, straightway! But it all began with a casual conversation with Vijay at a social do. “You'll give hits only with your brother, will you?” Vijay teased Raja. The words marked the beginning of a friendship that led to the two teaming up for Velayudham. “I was floored by the simplicity of the man,” laughs Raja.

The director analysed Vijay's popularity thoroughly before he embarked on the script work. “He is a hero with an extensive fan base that includes youth, women and children, because he is at home in all the saleable genres,” says Raja. He is right, because be it family sentiment such as Love Today, gentle romance of the Kadhalukku Mariyaadhai kind or thrilling action like Ghilli, Vijay has shown that he can score. So when a hero of his stature reposed confidence in Raja, the director realised the responsibility. “I took a very long time working on the narration over and over again, till I was satisfied. It took me eight months. I have given my best for Velayudham,” he says.

But isn't it a remake again? “Azaad is only an inspiration. Though we bought the rights of the Telugu film, I've taken only the knot and woven a screenplay that is completely new,” explains Raja. Making a film for a hero like Vijay is a challenge, because his image looms large. And his mass appeal is on a very high plane at the moment. “Exactly, but surprisingly when I sat down to work on the screenplay a couple of years ago the scenario was different, though Vijay was still a formidable hero. Yet for Velayudham I envisaged him as a veritable crowd-puller giving a clarion call to the public at large to awake. And today he is such a personality in real life,” he smiles.

Mass entertainers have a large audience, contends Raja. “Vijay's spontaneity is amazing. And Velayudham will be a sensible commercial film about a superhero who is real. No paradox here!” Raja cannot stop talking about the rapport they share. “We are in the same age group and hence the camaraderie continues,” he laughs.

The female leads

Genelia and Hansika are the female leads. Despite two big releases – Engaeyum Kaadhal and Maapillai — Hansika hasn't quite made a mark in Tamil. “Velayudham will change all that. She plays a village girl and should remind viewers of Khushboo in her heyday.”

Genelia will be seen as a spirited journo. So far all Raja's heroines have appealed as strong characters. “It's the same in Velayudham. A powerful story, I believe, should provide enough scope for the female characters too,” he says.

It's surprising to hear that 30 comedians are in the fray in Velayudham! And heading the battalion is Santhanam. “But the story demanded so many of them,” avers Raja. Friends is a remarkable comedy in Vijay's career. “Velayudham will be a memorable humour trip that should work even better than Friends,” is Raja's stand.

The tricky train sequence

Tom Delmar, the stunt co-ordinator of projects such as Braveheart, has been behind the shooting of an extremely tricky train sequence for Velayudham. It has been shot on a train moving on a bridge. A slight miss and the actor could fall 100 feet below! “A very risky sequence, but Vijay did it coolly. My heart was in my mouth when it was being filmed,” even thinking about it makes Raja sigh! The location was Rayagada in Orissa.

“Such a large production was possible only because we had a banner like Aascar Films backing us,” he adds.

Priyan is the camera person. “And it was wonderful working with Vijay Antony for the music. The team as a whole has been great. Velayudham will please everyone. It isn't over-confidence. It's the reasoning that our hard work is bound to pay dividends,” smiles Raja.

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