RS Durai Senthikumar interview: ‘Garudan’ is like a relay race with Soori, Sasikumar and Unni Mukundan

The filmmaker opens up on why he likes to write multi-hero stories, Vetri Maaran’s influences in his films, and more

Updated - May 28, 2024 06:34 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2024 05:01 pm IST

RS Durai Senthikumar; Unni Mukundan, Soori and Sasikumar in a still from ‘Garudan’

RS Durai Senthikumar; Unni Mukundan, Soori and Sasikumar in a still from ‘Garudan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For director RS Durai Senthilkumar, a hero is an ordinary man with the grit, resilience, and capabilities “to tackle the most extraordinary of circumstances, for a larger cause or his own benefit.” His upcoming action film Garudan shows a God’s eye view of three such heroes, who make the film a relay race of sorts, “as each of them takes up the baton and spearheads this story one after the other.”

A multi-hero subject such as this is right up Durai’s alley as such an effort to give ample space to secondary leads and supporting characters is visible in almost all his films. Durai credits this quality to the experience of working with his mentors — ace filmmakers Balu Mahendra and Vetri Maaran. “These are things I must have picked from the interactions with them. But even aside from that, a story told for over two hours cannot be one-sided; that will only result in a templated product,” he says, adding that strong supporting characters help in adding drama and strengthening the conflict in the story.

These are discussions quite refreshing to indulge in as heroes in Tamil cinema, for long, have been reluctant towards projects that might have them share the limelight with others. “But now, even in bigger films, having multiple artists has become a necessity. Heroes are aware of that as well.” This is why, Durai says, actor Soori — who has famously started a second innings as a serious actor since Vetri Maaran’s Viduthalai — has chosen a multi-hero subject like Garudan for his sophomore attempt as a hero. “He knows that despite the presence of others, he could shine in a story like this.”

Garudan features Sasikumar and Malayalam actor Unni Mukundan as best friends, and Soori as the watchful protector of Unni’s character. Does this trilateral equation remind you of Kishore-Dhanush-Daniel Balaji in Polladhavan and Ameer-Samuthirakani-Dhanush in Vada Chennai? Even Durai’s 2016 hit film Kodihad two characters (Dhanush and Trisha) and a sibling figure (Dhanush; in a dual role) anchoring the story. “Maybe, that’s also something I might have picked from Vetri sir (laughs),” says Durai.

Soori, Sasikumar and Unni Mukundan in stills from ‘Garudan’

Soori, Sasikumar and Unni Mukundan in stills from ‘Garudan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Casting is the centrepiece of all the hype around Garudan. Sasikumar’s casting in this role is a no-brainer; the actor has for long become the go-to choice for such a rural action film. “We wanted an interesting choice for the character opposite Sasikumar, and that’s when the Malayalam film Malikappuram was released in Tamil and did well. That’s what led us to Unni Mukundan.”

Contrary to what most might assume, Durai did not choose Soori as a hero after his popular turn in Viduthalai; in fact, the project materialised before the release of Vetri Maaran’s film, and it was Soori who seems to have given the seed of this story to Durai. “For shooting the train sequence in Viduthalai, Vetri sir had asked all his prior assistant directors to help him on the sets, and so I was there assisting him in coordination; Soori sir was also on the set to look at how the sequence is being shot, and I got a bit of time to interact with him. Moreover, I watched all the footage of the two Viduthalai films during the editing.”

So when Soori wanted to make another film as a hero, the production banner pitched Durai as an option, thanks to his association with Vetri Maaran and Viduthalai. “I then met Soori and we were brainstorming on the kind of story we wanted to tell; that’s when he told me about a very inspiring character sketch, and then I started writing this screenplay.”

Durai is aware that Soori’s makeover, and the success of Soori’s yet-to-be-released Kottukkaali in the festival circuit, has added to the expectations from Garudan. “However, though this is being projected as Soori’s film — and it is ultimately his film — I am hoping that it reaches the audiences as a good story with all these characters bringing their own to the front,” says Durai.

Soori in a still from ‘Garudan’

Soori in a still from ‘Garudan’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Garudan is now releasing at quite a peculiar time for Tamil cinema. The box office hasn’t been doing well —  something Durai says will change soon —  and the phenomenal successes of twenty-year-old films in theatres make you wonder what makes for a good commercial actioner in 2024. “We cannot cite exceptional cases here, because Ghilli is the best and absolute peak of all commercial films from Tamil cinema. As far as what works for the audiences now, there’s no set rule as such to apply; if we did, we would all be applying them. It’s all a matter of probability.”

The way commercial films are packaged, however, might see a change thanks to how OTT has influenced the taste of Tamil audiences, says Durai. “Everyone’s watching world cinema now, and so, there’s a need for a film to be truer to its genre. Films don’t need to have everything in them anymore.”

With Garudan’s case, Durai is confident that the film would draw audiences to theatres. “Soori’s performance is something to watch out for. More importantly, like how a specific moment worked wonders for Kodi in theatres, there are a few such moments in Garudan.”

Garudan releases in theatres this Friday, on May 31

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