INTERVIEW Debut director M. Saravanan talks to subha j rao about his runaway hit Engeyum Eppodhum

Some years ago, while browsing the morning paper, the news about a family of eight dying in a road accident shook M. Saravanan. He wondered who they were, what lives they led. Soon, he started following reports about mishaps only to realise that they were a blur of constantly-changing headlines, with little mention of the people whose lives were impacted.

So, he set about writing a story about an accident — its prelude, its aftermath, and, most importantly, about its victims. Today, Engeyum Eppodhum, which he also directed, is raking in both critical appreciation and box office moolah.

“I wanted to go beyond the headlines and statistics. I'm happy it found favour,” says Saravanan, flush with the victory of his maiden venture. He finished the script in six months and shot the film in a year.

“When a family dies, generations perish. Who will tell their stories? I'm sure their lives would have been interesting. That was the trigger,” shares the director, who has now signed up to do a film for producer-director Lingusamy, starring Arya.

Large canvas

Saravanan's very first film was mounted on a large canvas, courtesy the producers — mentor and hotshot director A. R. Murugadoss and Fox Star Studios. Was he ever worried his novel concept would not click? “No. I was confident about my creation. Also, there's the influence of Murugadoss sir. I've been with him from his first film to Ghajini. He always strives to tread new paths. He just wanted my script to be novel and interesting. And yes, like him, I kept improvising through the shooting.”

That's how the two cute love stories came to be woven in — of the rustic girl Amutha (Ananya) and the city slicker Gautham (Sharvanand), and of the Tiruchi smartie Manimegalai (Anjali) and the shy and reticent Kadhiresan (Jai). “I felt that the magnitude of the accident would sink in better against this backdrop,” says Saravanan. And, with Kadhiresan, Saravanan also busted the myth that heroes must be larger-than-life. “I wanted him to be a boy-next-door, someone who would have the sympathy of the audience.” Mention must also be made of his other finds, for instance, Vinodhini from Koothu-p-Pattarai, who plays Ananya's cousin.

The director also took a huge risk, setting the climax in the very first shot and going in for a non-linear narrative. That way, though there is nothing adrenaline-pumping taking place on screen for the good part of an hour, the audience is on the edge, wondering ‘what next'. “Some friends felt people would get confused. But, I had a gut feeling they would understand.”

Saravanan, who hails from Namakkal, believes details matter. Hence, the lively sequences set in Tiruchi and the hustle and bustle of Chennai. Chennai's buses play an important role too — in the form of routes 15 B and 37 G. “I wanted everything to be real; I wanted geographical reference. Which is why I swapped fancy locations for street shots.”

Despite all the accolades, Saravanan admits he is a little nervous about his next project. The burden of expectation!