Director Vetrimaaran and poet-turned-actor Jayapalan on what it was like working on Aadukalam

With the Dhanush-starrer “Aadukalam” drawing crowds to cinemas, what do director Vetrimaaran and Eelam poet V.I.S. Jayapalan (who made his acting debut in it) have to say about their experience? A few minutes into the conversation with the duo, and you realise that Vetrimaaran has traits similar to his protagonists — sharp talking, casual and, at times, brutally frank; and Jayapalan's disposition is close to the role he portrayed — of a man whose pride may have taken a beating while coming to terms with the changed socio-political situation in his home country. Art does imitate life, and how.

There is no doubt that the central character of “Aadukalam,” Vetrimaaran's second movie after “Pollathavan,” is Pettaikaran (played by Jayapalan), a powerful patriarch and a cock breeder, and not Karuppu (Dhanush) or Dorai (Kishore) who play Pettaikaran's trusted deputies. “It is something Dhanush and Kishore were aware of even before shooting started,” says Vetrimaaran, a disciple of director Balu Mahendra.

So what made him choose a newcomer for the role? Vetrimaaran is the type who is ready to take risks, a bit like Karuppu who bets on his rooster despite the odds.

“It has something to do with casting Kishore as the second lead in ‘Pollathavan',” he points out. “The producers had wanted a popular actor but I insisted on Kishore. And since it worked the last time, they had no option this time around but to trust me.”

Screen test, a success

It was one of Vetrimaaran's associates, a Sri Lankan Tamil, who suggested Jayapalan's name to the young director when he was struggling to find someone suitable. “The first thing that struck me was his looks. His features were perfect but he was wary of the camera. For the screen test, I asked one of my assistants to shoot some sequences while I stayed away. I liked what I saw and was convinced he could be moulded into a good actor,” says Vetrimaaran.

Jayapalan says with a laugh, “I told Vetrimaaran that the only acting I had done thus far had been in front of my wife.” On a serious note, he adds, “I have seen extreme situations in life and have witnessed violence. So it was easy for me to identify with the character.”

Vetrimaaran had the dual task of not just deconstructing the poet's personality but also transforming him into an actor. One of the cast members Nareyn also helped in the task. “We managed to explain the nuances of the character to Jayapalan,” says Vetrimaaran.

But there were testing times. The making of “Aadukalam”, a project that dragged from six months to two years, coincided with the tumultuous culmination of the ethnic conflict which was emotionally draining for Jayapalan. Vetrimaaran recalls, “There were days when Jayapalan would stay up all night checking the turn of events on the Internet and turn up tired and sleepy to the shooting spot. It was a frustrating phase. But all of us, including Dhanush and Kishore, were very supportive of him.”

Vetrimaaran falls back on his mentor Balu Mahendra's maxim — “A movie uses its maker as an instrument to pick either the right or the wrong ingredients.” He concludes with a smile, “Maybe this time, we were lucky that we got all the right ingredients.”