They are young and one film old. Their youthful, modern films have broken fresh ground, defied box office conventions and have put script ahead of star. And they all have a loyal cult following. Sudhish Kamath talks to Thiagarajan Kumararaja (Aaranya Kaandam), Bejoy Nambiar (Shaitaan), Balaji Tharaneetharan (Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom), Karthik Subbaraj (Pizza) and Balaji Mohan (Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi) on what drives them and the challenges of writing for the new Tamil cinema
What is it that you want to do in the changing landscape of Tamil cinema? Also, how much would you rate your films on a scale of one to ten?
Bejoy: Over the last decade, there has been a surge in a different kind of Tamil cinema. You have a lot of mainstream potboilers but at the same time, there’s been an alternative movement. In fact, now they have found a certain rhythm to it... now there are terms for it... Madurai film or Chennai film. A lot of new talent, new scripts and ideas are coming out. Many of them are finding an audience. I only see it getting stronger. One of them such as Pizza becomes a blockbuster and that’s how change happens. We will see more films that are not necessarily endorsed by a star.
My film David has stars (Vikram and Jiiva) yet it is not the kind of film that stars are associated with. It has the kind of urban sensibility that I was talking about... which is why I’m curious to see how the audience will respond to it.
My rating for David is 7/10. Shaitaan would be 5/10.
Balaji M.: The divide between the mainstream and the alternative should meet at the point where the line blurs. When stars do different kinds of cinema, it takes the film to a larger audience. That is what is happening with Hindi films. My rating for Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi is 7.5/10
Balaji T.: Even before I can start my next film, the first thing everyone wants to know is... Who is the hero? The next thing they ask is: Comedy right? They are quick to typecast. I struggled to get Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom out. Who will watch newcomers for over two-and-a-half hours was the question. Knock off half an hour they said. Finally, we were able to release it only because Pizza was a huge success and Vijay Sethupathy got noticed.
Karthik S.: When we were making Pizza, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom was already shot. So I was telling my producer, let it release. It’s a good film, it will work and Vijay Sethupathy will get a market. I hadn’t seen the film but Vijay had told me that it would become a cult comedy. I was banking on his film (laughs).
Balaji T.: Initially, faces of all the friends in the film were of the same size. After Pizza, Vijay’s face on the poster became bigger (chuckles). It’s not easy to make the film you want to make. Even if you do, it’s a struggle get it out the way you want to.
My rating for Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom is 8/10 but I’m feeling guilty looking at Kumararaja’s rating for his film.
Karthik S.: I don’t want to change Tamil cinema. I just want to be a part of it and tell stories that interest me. Once we were ready with Pizza, we showed the first copy to many production houses. A lot of them liked it till the twist, some of them wanted to change the ending. But luckily for me, the producer was on my side. I wish filmmakers got more freedom to tell daringly different stories without worrying about the business aspects.
My rating for Pizza is 7/10.
Thiagarajan K.: I came to the movies because I couldn't get another job (laughs). Not to change anything. But now that I’m here, yes... Some people make films a certain way. I am not interested in the way they do it. There’s a place for everything and everything is good in its own way. You have to watch a film in the context of the genre. Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom was the best film I have seen in recent times.
My rating for Aaranya Kaandam is 7/10.
How important are stars and do you keep them in mind when you write?
TK: I am not averse to working with stars. But whether we have a star or not is not something we should be worrying about. If a star’s previous release flops, he is not in the same league anymore. Box office success is random. It may happen or not.
BN: Let the content drive you and not the star. BM: Same with me. If a star being in the film affects the content of the film, then you should go the other way.
BN: Sometimes, the star becomes the baggage.
BM: The thing that people expect from a certain hero would work against you. Changing things for the sake of a star is obviously not done. If you need a star to carry your film, find a star who is okay with your script.
BT: Once I finish the script, I will think about who to cast. Not necessarily a star. I would hold an audition.
KS: When it comes to a star, I am actually afraid. When it comes to a situation where I have to wait for a star’s dates for two months, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Do you find the structure of a forced interval and songs restrictive?
BM: It is a little restrictive because you are pretty much making two films. You have to build up and reach a climax by interval and then again you have to create momentum and reach another climax in the end.
BN: You have to use it to your benefit. It is restrictive but when you know you have to do it, then use it to your advantage.
TK: I don’t have a problem with songs in other people’s films. When I am watching a Mani Ratnam film, I expect a song to be there.
KS: I didn’t have a heroine in Pizza but for the song, I brought in the heroine. It was forced into the script. It’s tough for me to think of a montage for songs. We were supposed to shoot a promo song for Pizza but I couldn’t think of an idea. BT: I don’t have a problem with the interval block but I do have a problem with songs in some films. When I am asked to put songs in my films, I remember how I used to dread homework in school.
How much time is enough to crack the script?
TK: I hardly rewrite. I write only when the idea takes form and shape. That sometimes takes time. I wrote Aaranya Kaandam in two months. I haven’t got ideas in over a year-and-a-half since.
BN: It’s an individual thing. Each person has their own way of writing. David, I had cracked the story even before Shaitaan. But I knew that nobody’s going to give me money to make a film like that. Not that people gave me money for Shaitaan but at least that was a smaller canvas. Shaitaan took a year to write, David took six months.
BM: Each script takes its own time. Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi took a year to write. I did six drafts. After a point, if you keep picking at it, you start spoiling it.
BT: Once you get an idea, if you are not lazy, you can write in a month and a half. But it takes time to get an idea of what you want to do.
KS: Pizza took very less time. Once I got the idea, I felt like I had to finish it fast since it didn’t require any research. But the script I’m working on is taking time because it requires research on understanding how certain characters behave. As Balaji said, it depends on what kind of film you want to make.
Keywords: Young film makers, debutant film makers, Thiagarajan Kumararaja -Aaranya Kaandam, Bejoy Nambiar -Shaitaan, Balaji Tharaneetharan-Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom, Karthik Subbaraj-Pizza, Balaji Mohan-Kaadhalil Sothappuvathu Yeppadi