Sasikumar is familiar with the reputation he has earned along with Samuthirakani through their films. Of being part of films where they impart knowledge and a truck load of social messages.
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The reason he signed up for the Ponram-directed MGR Magan was because he is at the receiving end of advice.
“In this film, people have a thing or two to tell us [him and Samuthirakani] which was something new,” says Sasikumar, over a phone call, during a shoot break from his upcoming film with debutant director Hemanth Kumar. Excerpts:
What are your thoughts about Ponram’s films?
His films have a strong entertainment quotient with comedy and familial values. Ponram is a friend of Kani and that is how I got to know him. He wanted to make a comedy film with us both, since we are not that serious in real life. The equation our characters share in MGR Magan, is what Kani and I are off-screen.
You had earlier spoken of how you cannot pull off a comedy role. What changed with MGR Magan?
Yes, there have been failed attempts before. But MGR Magan is not a full-fledged comedy. There is family emotion with a strong message.
I liked the bond I share with Sathyaraj sir and Saranya amma in the film.
Aren’t you tired of village-based films?
Not at all. Amma va amma dhan solla mudiyam... You cannot call her aunt. When directors approach me for films, they think of me based on the characters I have played before.
I am what I am because of those films. Also, what is wrong with village films? It all boils down to the presentation.
Asuravadham and Enai Noki Paayum Thotta seem to have tried changing your image…
Yes, they did. In fact, Pagaivanuku Arulvai has also presented me in a new light. I am trying to do what I can within my capacity.
Now that digital platforms have changed the way films are made, would you say you can experiment more now?
OTT platforms have broken the language barrier. Today, we have films coming from all genres. In my upcoming film with Kazhugu Krishna, I play a sound engineer and it is set in a city.
What about a film like Easan (2010)? Do you think it would have worked today with an OTT release?
No. I think Easan would have worked in theatres today. It was way ahead of its time and Chennai back then was not known for this clubbing culture. Audiences couldn’t connect to the city portion. Even if films like Easan and Asuravadham may not have worked, it leaves you with the satisfaction of having done something good for society.
When are you planning your next directorial?
I am wrapping up all my acting commitments as soon as possible. Starting January, I’ll begin work on my directorial.
Capturing the spirit
Ponram felt there was something animatedly-funny about the way Sasikumar and Samuthirakani, both wearing a pair of sunglasses, turned up for the Nadigar Sangam Elections in 2019. “The sunglasses looked like thiruvizha kannadi ,” laughs Ponram, adding that the camaraderie they both shared was natural and unlike in their “serious” films.
This image — of them in sunglasses — inspired Ponram to write MGR Magan . “Both of them are good friends in real life; it is just that in movies, they become serious. I wanted to break that,” he says, about bringing Sasikumar and Samuthirakani together.
The director admits that all his films are based on two characters with contrasting points of views. They mostly represent the gulf between two generations: from Sivakarthikeyan and Sathyaraj in Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam to Sasikumar and Sathyaraj in MGR Magan . The latter, too, is the meeting of these two worlds, adds Ponram.
Ponram came to Chennai at the age of 19 and has been living here for close to 25 years. One would assume that he would have adapted to the city life, but he says no. “I still consider myself as someone from the village, familiar to that world,” says Ponram, adding that he draws inspiration for his films from the people he meets during festivals or ceremonies in his village near Usilampatti, Madurai.
Oft-known for making entertainers set against a village backdrop, Ponram says he wears this stamp like a badge of honour. “I have that tag because I must have captured rural life in good spirits. So far, I have only made films set in small towns. Once they [audiences] feel the excess, I will have to switch to making urban films.”
This year’s Navarasa , presented by filmmakers Mani Ratnam and Jayendra Panchapakesan, was a step towards that direction. The anthology was announced with Ponram being one of the directors. He, in fact, shot for his segment with actor Gautham Karthik. “It was a comedy film that was approved,” says Ponram, whose short was eventually rejected for reasons best known to the presenters.
Ponram says he felt dejected when he was ousted from Navarasa . “Mani sir said there was some issue with the sound, but that wasn’t a satisfactory explanation. I still don’t know why our film was rejected.” As they were asked to sign an agreement, Ponram couldn’t even sell the finished product to other platforms. “All of us involved in the film worked honestly. At the end of the day, we felt dejected.”
MGR Magan streams on Disney+Hotstar.