Filmmaker Muthaiya is aware of the shadow that looms large over him — a stamp that he makes ‘caste films’. The Viruman-maker says that though it worries him deep down in his heart, he has never let it affect him much. “We can’t please everyone. My consciousness is clean and I want to do good but taste is subjective and it’s not mature to mull over it,” he says, adding that he doesn’t believe the tag will alienate the audience. “Just because someone who goes to a Udipi vegetarian hotel doesn’t go to a Karaikudi restaurant, it doesn’t mean the latter will shut down, right?”
It’s been ten years since Muthaiya made his debut in cinema, and each of the eight films, including the Kathar Basha Endra Muthuramalingam that is set to hit the screens this week, are based on real stories that he has come across and the filmmaker says that documenting such stories on screen is why he became a filmmaker in the first place. “My father used to take me to a tea shop where I observed the many people who come there with their own ideas, philosophies and body language. Documenting the lifestyles of people around us, the stories they carry, the casual things they speak that have deep philosophical meanings, and the incidents that happen around us are what I want to speak about and I have managed to do that in all eight films of mine.”
Ahead of the release of Kathar Basha..., starring Arya and Siddhi Idnani, he speaks to us about the film, his creative choices, his career till now, and more
Which real-life incident inspired you to make ‘Kathar Basha...’?
It came from an incident in which seven men of the same family were hacked to death and seven women were widowed. I dug deep to find out what brought this doom to the family and analysing that news, a story came up to me. Moreover, I read about the life of the famed Tamil lyricist Ka. Mu. Sheriff and on how he raised his friend’s daughter. Digging into who that daughter is and what the friendship between these two friends practising different religions was like were all inspirations to this story.
The way you write interpersonal conflicts has stood out, like the conflict between a father-in-law and son-in-law in ‘Komban’ or a father and his son in ‘Viruman’. How do you come up with those?
Once I take a concept and I have a lead character who has a certain bond with someone in his family, writing such conflicts comes naturally into the story. I am very particular about my hero being in a ‘paasa kattupaadu’, a sort of cage of affection, with someone near and dear, be it his mother or father, or if married, his wife. Man does all rights and wrongs because of such relationships and that somehow unconsciously come into my stories.
Do you think you’ll run out of stories to tell from a rural setting or is it a never-ending ocean that will keep giving you ideas?
It’s an ocean, but I do want to break my pattern. I also want to make films like Karuthamma, Uthiri Pookkal, or Mann Vasanai, but the commerciality of cinema doesn’t let me do it. If I can make a film banking purely on the story and many character artists, I am confident I can make some 40 films out of the rural backdrop. There’s so much that needs to be documented and spoken about — take for instance, you can document the lives of a load man or a tea shop worker or a construction worker or a cycle repair shop worker and so on. But, we need to be conscious of the business structure, the social climate we are in, and what needs to be told. That said, I can make 20 more films, starring heroes, in the rural backdrop.
..but do you have any stories or ideas about making a film set in the urban?
Yes, I do. Even the costumes I choose have been similar to my earlier films, and so I want to bring a change to my style of filmmaking. It will take time because every time I go with such a script to a hero or a producer, they want me to do a rural subject. So, my position as a deciding factor is not up there yet. Time will tell.
You spoke about costumes; almost all your heroes sport a thick moustache and wear a black shirt and a veshti. Why are you so particular about that look?
That’s a brand. That has become an identity, right? If you see a hero with a black shirt, veshti, and a long, swirling moustache, you might immediately wonder if it’s a Muthaiya film. Even the heroes desire that look. Moreover, veshti is a cultural identity of Tamils and thanks to my upbringing, it’s an attire I naturally have a liking for.
Have you ever thought of telling real-life stories that inspire you through a different genre?
I do watch movies in all genres but I’m quite a sensitive and serious individual. More than entertaining my audiences, I want to touch their hearts. I want to tell good things to them and ensure they don’t veer in the wrong direction. I do wish to make a film like Kadaisi Vivasayi, but genres like Horror never really inspired me. And if you are asking me about an all-out romance film, I wonder if we have that kind of pure love now. I wish to make a comedy film but I don’t have it in my heart. Filmmakers like Mahendran and Bharathiraja inspired me to become a filmmaker and while I wish to make films like the ones they made, we should remember that we are no longer in that period; ‘trending’ is what people like, not ‘traditional’.
In the film industry, you can’t take emotional decisions; you need to also think about your livelihood and family, and so you might have to compromise a bit on your philosophies and desires. Nelam perusa netthi perusa nu sanda poda mudiyadhu, guninji dhan poganum.
We’re seeing an Arya with a rustic look in this film. Why did you choose him for this project and design such a look for the actor?
I had bought the rights to Shivarajkumar’s Tagaru and I wanted to remake it in Tamil. Gnanavel Raja sir asked me to do a film with Arya and he liked my idea of remaking Tagaru. But just as we were about to begin the project, the COVID lockdown spoiled our plans. Post the lockdown, I committed to Viruman and Arya went on to do Sarpatta Parambarai. When we met again, he asked if we could do a rural subject instead of the Tagaru remake.
With respect to the character’s look, I will go through all the looks that an actor has donned, and think of how distinctly we can portray them and what will suit their physical features. With costumes, I just wanted to give an all-black costume to Arya because not only does it suit his light skin tone, but it’s also something I haven’t done before.
You’ve always been particular about how you choose your female leads. What was the rationale behind choosing Siddhi Idnani, who is also the first North Indian heroine you’ve cast till now?
Like Khushboo ma’am, Siddhi Idnani’s language might be Hindi but she looks like a South Indian. She has the face of a Tamil girl and that’s why I chose her.
It’s been ten years since your debut. How do you feel when you look back?
The ten years have gone by quickly. I am thankful to the almighty for giving me these ten years in cinema and I pray I get some 15 more years in this wonderful field.
Kathar Basha Endra Muthuramalingam releases in theatres this Friday