Even with his maiden film, Pizza, a sleeper, Karthik Subbaraj has made people sit up and take notice of him. Malathi Rangarajan catches up with the director.
The camera zooms in on the child in the room. Silently, sadly, she points a finger towards a vacant spot. A second later the spectres of the dead man and woman of the house charge down with screams that scare you out of your wits! The audience hoots in fright and sheepish laughter follows as they try drowning their shock in the cacophony. These and a couple of more such alarm-evoking scenes make watching Pizza a paranormal experience. “I wrote it down as a single shot. Once I choreographed it, I decided that graphics ought not to play a role there. It had to look natural (!). The idea and the execution paid off,” smiles Karthik Subbaraj, its director.
The title drew enough attention all right, but you assumed it would just be another starter (or non-starter) that greets filmgoers on a Friday morning. So when Pizza turned out to be an unexpected treat, people sat up in surprise. It’s now close to a month since the film came out, and in the meanwhile we’ve had big budget offerings. Yet unfazed by competition, Pizza continues its success sprint! The terrific response has surprised its maker too. “I wasn’t expecting such overwhelming acceptance,” says Karthik, the young and astute technician, an engineer-turned-director. “My first thought when I completed the script was that it would keep viewers riveted. Of course, the pre-release jitters were high because I wasn’t sure whether all strata of audiences would accept the climax, where fact meets fiction. Only when filmgoers everywhere applauded, did I heave a sigh of relief.”
That FB and Twitter made the right kind of noises pre and post Pizza also helped garner notice. “Sure, I have to thank social networking sites, whose publicity helped us reach viewers early and easily,” he acknowledges.
Thriller genre, his favourite
For avid followers of short films, Karthik Subbaraj should be a familiar name. Accolades on the shorts circuit and at the ‘Nalaiya Iyakkunar’ podium on Kalaignar TV spurred him on to try his hand at a full-length feature. The thriller genre seems his favourite — short films such as Raavanam exemplify the preference. “I’ve tried out romantic shorts too,” he says. Yet finding a producer who believed in Karthik’s potential must have been an uphill task. “It’s part of the game, I suppose,” shrugs Subbaraj.
It was friend and executive producer, Sundar, who put Karthik on to producer C.V. Kumar. “I first narrated a different story to him.” Nothing came of it and Karthik’s wait continued. It was then that his co-director Prasad and he decided that they’d produce an independent film, and started weaving a low-investment yarn. Karthik’s group includes like-minded friends such as actor Vijay Sethupathi (Pizza’s hero). “As we had to work on a shoe-string budget, the first step was to pen a story that happens in just one or two locations, on the lines of 12 Angry Men.” The entire gripping American drama takes place in a courtroom. “We chose a pizza shop as the scene of action, and made our hero a delivery boy.”
Karthik and Prasad put their heads together and soon the story of Pizza was ready. Karthik was excited with the line and sat to work on the screenplay and dialogue.
One day, while casually chatting with Kumar on Facebook, Karthik mentioned about the story, and the producer wanted to meet him straightway. “He read it in one go and said, ‘If you make it exactly the way you’ve written, we have a winner. Let’s go ahead.’ And Pizza happened.”
Now that he has opened his innings in cinema with a bang, what next? “I’m working on an action thriller. The announcement should come out soon,” he says.
Expectation will be more now. “Come on, I’m not a Shankar.” Despite the placid reply, I know he senses the veracity of my observation.