Lokesh Kanagaraj on Vijay’s ‘Leo’ and why the LCU features heroes battling for a drug-free society

Ahead of the release of ‘Leo’, filmmaker Lokesh Kanagaraj talks about reuniting with actor Vijay, what the LCU means to him, and why women are an integral reason for the success of his previous films

October 18, 2023 07:39 pm | Updated 08:37 pm IST

Vijay and Lokesh Kanagaraj

Vijay and Lokesh Kanagaraj | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vijay’s films, at least in recent years, have always been engulfed in their fair share of controversies, especially right before release; Leo is no different. Right from the star mouthing cuss words in the trailer to permission denied for early morning shows, the setbacks have been multiple for the makers.

But Lokesh says he can’t afford to worry about aspects that are beyond his control. “If it’s about filmmaking, which is under my control, I can be troubled by any unforeseen developments. All of that ends when I hand over the first copy, and as far as distribution and theatre shows are concerned, they’re all production-related entities which I’m not well-versed with. Any big film will have issues while releasing and the team will sort it out as expected,” said Lokesh at a press meet ahead of the release of the film.

A still from ‘Leo’

A still from ‘Leo’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Speaking about Vijay’s character using expletives in the trailer, the filmmaker says, “We needed that scene in the film; when you watch it, you’ll see Vijay anna’s reaction, which will be new. When I got to know about the criticism it received — and how it’s on YouTube which can also be accessed by children — we muted it; it’s censored in the film as well.”

Lokesh jokes about how Leo’s. storyline offers no surprises: “The story is set to the same template that action films have followed for ages, but I’ve rewritten it for the theatrical experience to be interesting. But be it the different looks he sports, or the homework he put in for the film, it’s all about Vijay anna’s work. His involvement is tremendous and he owns the film right from the first frame to the end. Just like how Kamal Haasan sir did everything for Vikram, Vijay carries Leo on his shoulders.”

Delving deep into his style of filmmaking, he adds, “It comes down to what is liked and expected from a director. For example, John Woo is known for his action films. I, similarly, do only action films and I want to explore the possibilities of doing something new and innovative within that. Thanks to the promotional material and interviews, the audience knows what they’re stepping into, and my films have always had an emotional core which continues with Leo as well.”

While it’s widely speculated that the film is an adaptation of A History of Violence, a graphic novel written by John Wagner that was also made into a film of the same name by David Cronenberg in 2005, Lokesh neither confirms nor denies it. “I don’t want to address that; even if there’s a minority of people who haven’t heard about this, they will probably try to find out more about the previous film, and it will hamper their Leo experience. After the first show, the answer to this question will be out.”

ALSO READ: Lokesh Kanagaraj on why he admires Kamal Haasan — the writer

Right from his first film Maanagaram, Lokesh’s films are known to have an ensemble cast list and Leo, apart from sporting a slew of actors, also marks a Tamil debut for Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt. “After seeing his films, I met him for the first time expecting something else. But right from making me call him ‘appa’ to calling me his son, I never expected the level of freedom I got. I don’t have a co-director, so I deal with all my actors myself and the rapport I had with them made it very easy.”

The filmmaker adds, “During Master, my identity as a filmmaker revolved only around Maanagaram, as Kaithi hadn’t been released yet. I wanted to grab the opportunity, but I wasn’t as close to Vijay anna as I am now. The film had the usual introduction song and fight, but I still believe I brought something new to it; that’s why I called it a 50-50 film of mine and anna. Now, after spending time with him for four years, he wanted me to do Leo the way I wanted it to be. If not for Master, Leo wouldn’t have happened.”

A still from ‘Leo’

A still from ‘Leo’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Lokesh believes that the days of families giving violent action films the cold shoulder are long gone. “I find the women in the audience to be an integral reason for the success of my previous films. They are also watching a lot of action films; I remember watching how two women cheered the most for the ‘jimiki’ scene in Kaithi. If the emotional aspects are taken care of, the family audience will like a film; so there isn’t much I had to do to convince them.”

While we will eventually get to know for certain if Leo is a part of the Lokesh Cinematic Universe, which fans dearly call the LCU, Lokesh terms the phrase an umbrella under which he wants to make several crossover films. “I should thank SR Prabhu sir and Kamal sir. If not for the tie-up between their production houses, this wouldn’t have been possible. Unlike the MCU where there’s a mix of genres, all the LCU films will only be action-entertainers. I see the LCU as an action-packed universe, whose heroes are loud about their message towards a drug-free society. I recently went to a few colleges where I made about 12,000 students take a pledge against drug usage. When stars talk about it, the reach would be multi-fold.”

The director has his hands full for at least another couple of years. “As of now, there are two more films in the lineup. Up next is Rajinikanth sir’s film which will go on floors from April 2024. After wrapping that up, Kaithi 2 will happen. However, Rajini sir’s film will not be a part of the LCU; it’s a standalone experimental film.”

Leo is releasing tomorrow in theatres worldwide

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