The idea was born in 2009. And he got a nod from actor Vijay a couple of years later. Now the film’s all set for theatrical release. Director R.T. Neason narrates how Jilla came about and peppers it with interesting nuggets

It has been seven years since his debut directorial venture Muruga. Starring Ashok and Shruti Sharma, the film may have gone unnoticed, but this year is slated to be a big one for director R.T. Neason. It must have been his stint assisting director M. Raja during the making of Velayudham that prompted Neason to script the story for Jilla with Vijay in mind as the protagonist. “Actually, right from 2009, I had this story line about two powerful characters and their emotional interaction. During the making of Velayudham, I got the opportunity to narrate the story to Vijay who listened very attentively. A few days later he said he was interested, but could not commit to anything because of several other projects on hand,” says Neason.

The take off

A couple of years later, Neason was on his way to Hyderabad to sign up for a Telugu film when he got a call from Vijay. Sensing that his pet project was about to come alive, Neason did a U-turn and met the star who confirmed the project with Neason helming it. “Vijay had committed to a film for R.B. Choudary’s Super Good Films, and he suggested my script to him,” says Neason.

“While I was very convinced of the script there were a few typical Super Good Films characteristics that I wanted incorporated. Such as a strong family sentiment angle, for instance,” says Choudary.

At the pre-release press interaction, both Choudary and Neason parried several questions about Jilla. The underplayed promotions for the film was a reflection of the confidence in the final product. That the film was not being dubbed in Telugu was also because of a plan to do a remake with successful Telugu actors. Choudary said that while it was difficult to shoot extensively in Madurai due to Vijay’s popularity, they went about re-creating Madurai in Chennai. This, combined with effective digital imaging, did the trick. For 42-year-old Neason, armed with qualifications in direction and screenwriting from the Film and Television Institute, who cut his teeth working as an assistant to Vincent Selva and Udhayashankar and assisting Bhagyaraj in writing screenplay, the scripting of Jilla was an experience in itself. “Everything that happens in the film — emotional scenes, romance, misunderstandings, humour… — is strung along this one aspect: the relationship between the two protagonists. The characters of Vijay as Shakti and Mohanlal as Shiva are very symbolic. It is for the same reason that I wanted to base the story in Madurai with the Meenakshi Temple as the backdrop,” explains Neason.

How did he go about the casting? “Once Vijay agreed to do the film, my problems started — who do I cast as the other character? I wanted someone who had not done a role with Vijay as well as an actor who would be an equal in performance. Based on a wild thought, I headed to meet Mohanlal who, after initial hesitation, was convinced about his role and agreed. It is a casting coup of sorts, and I am happy with the outcome,” says an excited Neason.

In a Vijay film, as with most star-featured films, the heroine is just a glam doll. Is Kajal Aggarwal in Jilla any different? “There is definitely a strong character written into the script for the heroine. But, as I said earlier, it is not just the heroine, even comedy and other aspects of the story are all secondary when it comes to the high-voltage interactions between Vijay and Mohanlal. Each actor has tried to match up with the other, and this has resulted in dramatic scenes,” says Neason.

Special moments

Any memorable moments during the making of the movie? “Actually, yes! On the first day of the shoot, I had both the stars on the sets and I was nervous as hell. I was apprehensive of the egos; I was quite unsettled about whose shot I should take first. Thankfully, Vijay solved this by saying that he would wait while I completed Mohanlal’s shot. Another incident was the six retakes I did for Mohanlal’s first shot, which he did calmly. Later, he joked about how I, a fairly new-comer, got him to do so many retakes when he normally got what was required in the first shot itself,” says Neason, waiting with bated breath for the release of Jilla.

(Jilla, starring Mohanlal, Vijay and Kajal Aggarwal with music by D. Imman and cinematography by Ganesh Rajavelu is releasing on January 10)