PS Mithran: Every disguise of Karthi in ‘Sardar’ has a purpose

Filmmaker PS Mithran discusses working with Karthi in ‘Sardar’, releasing this Friday, and why he thinks films with a ‘twist’ have become obsolete today

Published - October 20, 2022 03:23 pm IST

PS Mithran with Karthi

PS Mithran with Karthi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the age of Twitter, where audiences’ reactions on the platform on the day of a movie release is now being construed as the yardstick for word-of-mouth, it is becoming increasingly tough for filmmakers to engage the audience with their work. It has become tougher in the case of thrillers having a delicious twist at the end. 

PS Mithran believes that the concept of ‘twist’ has become obsolete. He drops truth bombs by saying that today’s audiences are only concerned about two things: whether the film is engaging or whether it is giving them a new experience. “In the post-Baahubali and K.G.F era, people do not necessarily come to theatres for storytelling…they come for the experience,” says Mithran, when we catch him for a discussion on Sardar, his third feature about a spy on the run.

You seem to be getting ambitious with every film: ‘Irumbu Thirai’ was about cyber theft, ‘Hero’ was about a superhero origin story. Now ‘Sardar’ seems to have a large canvas. 

It’s very easy to take up a success formula and stick to it. I want to keep pushing my limits as a filmmaker and try to do something that audiences haven’t seen before. But at the same time, I want to make grounded films. Our audiences are accustomed to a palette. Whatever be your ambition, it has to be presented in a palatable form. For instance, cyber-thriller was very new back then when we made Irumbu Thirai. When we began, I told my assistants we are essentially making a Visu [director] film dealing with a very ‘80s formula in Tamil cinema. The cyber-thriller was just a layer. Hero was also like that.

What was the starting point of ‘Sardar’?

I wanted to make a suave, spy film like James Bond and Mission Impossible movies. But Bond or Ethan Hunt don’t have a family. They are emotionally detached. Why are spies in movies that cold? Should they be cold? This film is such an exploration. I’ve balanced out my ambitions with the palatability factor.

What do you think is your defining quality as a filmmaker?

I don’t subscribe to the notion that a film is mine alone. Creative inputs come from everywhere. It’s as much my technicians’ films as it is mine. The job of the director is to give direction. I don’t know if I have a particular style, but I think realising something is my forte.

Can you explain?

I think I focus more on the drama that you get from realisation. It could be anything. Watching a film itself will make you realise something new. I want audiences to experience the high I felt during that process.

Karthi in ‘Sardar’

Karthi in ‘Sardar’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What lessons have the previous two films taught you that came handy for ‘Sardar’?

Cinema teaches you a lot every day — from the people you meet and the way you shoot films with whatever constraints that you have. Everything is a learning lesson. I was a different filmmaker before Sardar, a different filmmaker while making and releasing it. Filmmaking is a constant process of evolution.

Did you change anything in the script post-pandemic?

No. I don’t think the way people watch movies has changed much. Probably there is improvement in taste and now there’s OTT as an option.

‘Sardar’ looks like a proper genre film…

I won’t make an out-and-out genre film. I think Tamil cinema itself is a separate genre. Imagine yourself in Hollywood where the market is so huge. You have a huge number of people watching a single genre. In Tamil Nadu, over 1.5 crore people went and saw Vikram. Likewise, people who haven’t gone to theatres in 20 years have come for Ponniyin Selvan. Why haven’t they been coming? That’s because we have not been making films for them. If you make a genre film for this population, you will only cater to a small section.

If you want to satisfy the larger crowd, then you have to present in a format they are familiar with. Otherwise, if you go tell them you are making a suave, spy-thriller, they will ask: “Oh, is it a Vijayakanth movie?”

Wasn’t that the failure of ‘Hero’? Sivakarthikeyan said that the hero’s elevation happened much later in the film.

People don’t come to watch a film for cinema’s sake. For most of them, cinema is a form of entertainment. So, when they watch a film, they either follow events or stars. They don’t follow ideas. Hero was a film filled with so many ideas. It had three layers: ideas, a series of interesting events, and the hero-villain conflict. This bridge was possible in Irumbu Thirai. But Hero operated in the first two layers., which is why people couldn’t follow.

Aren’t your protagonists circumstantial heroes?

It could be that. But what I consider the most fascinating drama is someone wanting to rectify his mistakes: you are fighting against yourself and the deeds you have done…fighting against your values. It comes from my ethos and I focus too much on that. That’s why I want other writers to write for me (laughs).

‘Sardar’ has Karthi in many disguises. Films about disguises lately have been troll material. Were you ever worried about that?

Never. It becomes a troll material when used as a gimmick. In Sardar, every single makeover has a purpose. The film is about a theatre actor who can play several characters in a single play. I wrote Karthi’s character with this description: someone from the audience goes and tells Karthi’s character that they really enjoyed the play and thought he did a terrific job in five disguises. Then the Karthi character would say: “No, I actually had 11 disguises in the play.” 

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