Director Kamalakannan talks about making ‘Kurangu Pedal,’ produced by Sivakarthikeyan

‘Kurangu Pedal’, produced by Sivakarthikeyan, premiered in the Indian Panorama section of the 53rd International Film Festival of India

April 30, 2024 05:57 pm | Updated 06:08 pm IST

A still from ‘Kurangu Pedal’

A still from ‘Kurangu Pedal’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kamalakannan’s cinematic vision isn’t forged by the spectacle of superhero movies or the vast expanse of space operas. His inspiration seems closer home, in the whirring efficiency of a ceiling fan or the comforting hiss of a kerosene stove. These mundane machines held a profound magic for him. He felt they silently shaped our lives. Bicycles, in particular, captured his imagination. They embodied freedom, the promise of escape, and the ability to propel oneself beyond the confines of the familiar. This fascination probably led him to Cycle, a short story by filmmaker Rasi Azhagappan, 15 years ago.

“Even as I was reading it, I felt it had the right elements to be made into a film: a bicycle, childhood, a summer setting, a father-son bond, and was set in the 1970s. I had no idea who Rasi Azhagappan was back then, but I later discovered he was part of my social circle. So, I approached him, and luckily, he let me adapt it into a film,” recalls Kamalakannan.

It almost became his debut film. He even did a three-day test shoot. “But during those days, it hit me – this story with children at the centre wasn’t the right fit for a first-time filmmaker. Honestly, I lacked the experience and patience it demanded. So, I shelved it,” he says. He went on to make Madhu Banakadai in 2012 and Vattam in 2022.

But Cycle stayed with him. He narrated it to everyone he met, and everyone’s response was positive. Finally, a decade later, having gathered the experience and found the confidence, Kamalakannan made it into a film, Kurangu Pedal, which premiered in the Indian Panorama section at the 53rd International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2022. The film, produced and presented by actor Sivakarthikeyan, is slated for a theatrical release on May 3.

Recreating the past

Cycle underwent some changes to become Kurangu Pedal. “Translating a short story directly into a film, word-for-word, just doesn’t work. It’s just the core emotion we capture,” says the filmmaker. This meant shifting the time frame from the 1970s to the 1980s, changing the location from northern Tamil Nadu to the Kongu region, and fleshing out the world around the narrative. While Azhagappan’s short story focuses on two characters, the film introduces supporting roles for added depth.

Recreating a bygone era devoid of ubiquitous technology like phones and YouTube proved the biggest challenge. The makers had to meticulously craft a world rich in that time’s language, people, and essence, ensuring it resonated with viewers. The building blocks were Prabhakar Shanmugam’s dialogues, SuMee Baskaran’s camera work, Ghibran’s music, and Antony Ruban’s sound design.

“One of our biggest challenges was helping the young actors, who are the film’s fulcrum, understand the period. Growing up in this digital age, they constantly ask questions like ‘How did people navigate without Google Maps?’. It’s a world entirely alien to them. So, for viewers of this generation, the film will offer a glimpse into a very different era,” says Kamalakannan.

Kamalakannan on Sivakarthikeyan
Sivakarthikeyan, who’s loved by children, presenting the film makes a huge difference. A good film needs eyes on it, otherwise it’s lost. My first film received positive feedback after it went out of the theatres. So, getting that initial push is crucial. But this isn’t just some business deal for Sivakarthikeyan. He genuinely loved the movie, especially the father-son bond. He told me, “It was a true children’s film; not just one that has them.” It made me feel like I did my job well.

Directing children

For Kamalakannan, directing Kurangu Pedal wasn’t just about recreating a bygone era; it was about capturing the magic of childhood. The story thrived on the innocence and energy of its young protagonists, and finding the perfect cast became a mission in itself.

“The story revolves around children,” Kamalakannan explains, “... and the film wouldn’t work without the right ones. They had to be energetic, comfortable outdoors, and have the stamina to survive hours of shooting under the sun.”

The search stretched far and wide, encompassing dance academies, folk art schools, and even martial art studios. Talent was abundant, but the key was finding the right chemistry. “It wasn’t just about individual skills,” Kamalakannan says, “We needed a group that bounced off each other, that felt like real friends.” 

The makers shortlisted 25 boys. Exhaustive training followed, not just in acting technique, but also in understanding the era the film inhabited. They finally chose the leads: Santosh Velmurugan, VR Raghavan, M Gnanasekar, Ratish and Sai Ganesh.

Kaali Venkat in ‘Kurangu Pedal’

Kaali Venkat in ‘Kurangu Pedal’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Alongside the boys, Kaali Venkat anchors the film. The filmmaker praises his performance. “He has done a phenomenal job playing a strict father. His character walks a fine line; strict but not overbearing, which was crucial to maintaining the film’s heartwarming tone. He absolutely nailed that balance.”

15 years ago, Kamalakannan shelved Kurangu Pedal because he found filmmaking overwhelming, juggling on-screen action with the backstage chaos. Experience, however, shifted his focus. Technical ease freed him to delve into the actors, especially the children. Having spent time with his nieces and nephews, he found it easier to understand children’s worlds.

“Kids are naturally curious and their perspectives are unique – you can’t take them for granted. A minor spat between them can’t be dismissed with a laugh – it matters to them. The key is to treat their world with respect, even if it seems trivial to us adults,” he explains.

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