Watch | Mari Selvaraj on ‘Maamannan’ and the art of immersing the audience in his world

Watch | Mari Selvaraj on ‘Maamannan’ and the art of immersing the audience in his world

Mari Selvaraj speaks about casting Vadivelu, Fahadh Faasil, and Udhayanidhi Stalin in ‘Maamannan’, the significance of Pa Ranjith’s entry to Tamil cinema, and what he strives to achieve next in filmmaking

June 23, 2023 05:29 pm | Updated 06:42 pm IST

Mari Selvaraj, and with Vadivelu and Udhayanidhi Stalin on the sets of ‘Maamannan’

Mari Selvaraj, and with Vadivelu and Udhayanidhi Stalin on the sets of ‘Maamannan’ | Photo Credit: Thamodharan Bharath (left) and Special Arrangement

A lot may be on Mari Selvaraj’s mind, as the clock inches towards the release of his much-anticipated film, Maamannan. The controversy surrounding his speech about Thevar Magan at the audio launch could be clouding his thoughts too. But it’s how the film will meet humongous expectations that makes him nervous, he says. “Because we’ve turned something important into a topic of discussion, and important people like AR Rahman, Vadivelu, Fahadh Faasil, and Udhayanidhi have contributed to it”. Yet, in this freewheeling chat, he brims with confidence and calm as he talks about all things Maamannan, which releases on June 29.


Mari, you spoke about Esakki, Vadivelu’s character from Thevar Magan, at the audio launch. Is the character Vadivelu playing in this film an inspiration of sorts?

I was talking about how Esakki, and Vadivelu sir’s acting, made a lasting impression on me. Maamannan doesn’t take anything from Esakki. I was talking about how my film has been made keeping Vadivelu sir in mind. After Thevar Magan, he didn’t make an intense film like that, so you can’t write a film without referring to it and we need to see how he acted in that film.

Casting Vadivelu, Fahadh Faasil, and Udhayanidhi Stalin in these roles seems off-beat. How did you choose your actors for this film?

Vadivelu in ‘Maamannan’

Vadivelu in ‘Maamannan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When we decided to make this film, we realised that choosing the right actors is important. We need actors who will strengthen the character beyond my capability. When I spoke about the two lead roles, Udhay sir was taken aback when I suggested Vadivelu sir. I had immense confidence that he’d do justice to this character. We didn’t know if he’d agree to do it, but we were hopeful because it would add value to this film. For the other character, we wanted one of the best actors in Indian cinema, and we thought it would look good to see Fahadh star opposite Vadivelu. That’s how Keerthy Suresh came into the picture as well.

How was it working with Fahadh, an actor we hear can transform into his character in a matter of minutes...

What astonished me about Fahadh sir is that he’s someone who wishes to know all the in and outs of his character. If we give him a scene he’d ask us about what happens before and after that scene — something that only I would know. Only after that will he start memorising the dialogues. Until then, he familiarises himself with the world he’s entering, the people who inhabit it, their lifestyles, emotions, and so on.

I assume you had very less time than you would have liked to write this script...

Yes, but it’s a story that’s been running through my mind since before I came into the movies. I never fleshed it out as a script but I knew the core. That’s why when Udhay sir called me all of a sudden and said he wants to do his last film as an actor with me, I told this story immediately. Though I had less time to write it, the story had a lot that pushed me to write faster. Moreover, knowing that people like Vadivelu, Fahadh, and AR Rahman agreed to be a part of it made it even more interesting.

Udhayanidhi Stalin in a still from ‘Maamannan’

Udhayanidhi Stalin in a still from ‘Maamannan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

You had spoken about how exploring Karuppi as a metaphor in Pariyerum Perumal showed you the kind of filmmaker you want to be. In Maamannan’s trailer, we can see many elements like Chippiparai dogs and a man on horseback that we’ve seen in your previous films. Do these metaphors and elements come naturally to you while writing the script?

A sensitive story needs to be converted into an art form or it’ll come across as a piece of propaganda. I need to create a world, place the story in it, and also create an experience for the audience.

Even if you watch it 10 years from now, you’d understand the value of the life around us, the co-existence we share and how we discover ourselves through them. Even those who don’t find themselves in conversations with another human would find something in conversations with an animal. I grew up with animals as I lived the life of a shepherd so animals take vital positions in the world I create.

After Pariyerum Perumal, many spoke about how they noticed that most donkeys’ legs are tied and how they’d never seen a donkey run like a horse until the film. Kazhuthai oru somberiyaakapatta mirugam. Breaking that notion and showing what we did to that animal is important, and it gives satisfaction to the artist.

Can we categorically say that before Pa Ranjith, there was no space in Tamil cinema to make the kind of films you do?

We can’t say there was no space, because how else did Ranjith anna enter with Attakathi? We can say that there weren’t many who dared to do what he did. He was clear that these are my people, this is my world, and this is my script. He entered, extended that space, pushed it to the place where everyone accepted that space, and empowered others to do the same — he deserves a lot of credit for that.

You had spoken about how AR Rahman came to your home town and watched the film. At which point did you realise that he caught its pulse?

During one particular scene, he turned and looked at me. Once the scene was over, he said, ‘good’. That scene is pivotal, in fact, I am waiting to see how the audience will connect with that scene. The fact that he looked at me during that scene assured me that we were in sync.

Mari Selvaraj

Mari Selvaraj | Photo Credit: Thamodharan Bharath

How did you feel watching the film with him in your home town?

We could have arranged a screening for him in Chennai, but I was busy shooting in Tirunelveli and he insisted he’d watch the film with me. I told him it’d take two more months for that, and that’s when he said he’d come to my home town. I still remember those early days when I used to sing Rahman songs as I walked down those streets brimming with dreams. So to watch my film with him in Tirunelveli was unforgettable. That night was a dream come true.

What is the next stage you want to reach in your filmmaking career?

To tell stories that I felt the audience may not accept, to make films on stories that I thought cannot be made into films, to bring forth stories that arrested my mind and left me sleepless. That’s the next stage.

What’s next after Maamannan?

I have finished Vaazhaiand it’s currently in post-production. We’re readying it for festivals and we’re hoping to release it later this year, and then I’ll start shooting for my project with Dhruv Vikram. My film with Dhanush will come subsequently.

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