He is back. After six years. Selvaraghavan, the man behind cult films like Pudhupettai and 7G Rainbow Colony , almost disappeared after his Irandam Ulagam (2013). The film was a damp squib at the box office, prompting Selva to take a break from films, one that would last until now.
What was running on his mind when he decided to take that break? “It was more pain than a break. I wanted to reinvent myself because it’s been a long journey. I have been working since I was 21. I desperately needed rest. It took two years for me to actually write something,” he says. And that’s how Selvaraghavan ended up writing NGK , his big comeback film which releases tomorrow. While scripting NGK , Selva says he felt Suriya would be the ideal choice to play Nandha Gopalan Kumaran. “The idea to make a political thriller was always there,” he says, “Suriya sir was my obvious choice for the character. When I narrated the script to him, he loved it and said, ‘Let’s do this’. And that’s how NGK got materialised.”
The first look poster, which had a Che Guevara-styled Suriya, grabbed instant eyeballs. While admitting that he’s drawn to Communism, Selvaraghavan brushes off reports that it’s a propaganda film, explaining, “The politics is centred around Tamil Nadu. In that sense, NGK is my take on politics and political happenings in the State.” In many ways, one could argue that NGK is an admirable career decision taken by Suriya, who, lately, has been playing safe with ‘family-friendly’ outings. The sneak peek from the trailer — a pleasant reminder of an unadulterated Suriya from his Rakta Charitra days — seems to suggest that NGK explores the dark and gritty underworld of politics, something on the lines of Pudhupettai . Ask him if NGK is a much-needed departure for both him and Suriya, and Selva says that “it wasn’t intentional”, adding, “I always wanted to work with Suriya sir. He is a tremendous actor and loves to keep reinventing himself. It is his hard work and dedication that made it possible.”
NGK can also be seen as Selvaraghavan’s first star vehicle, given that Dhanush and Karthi were relatively new. Did he consider Suriya’s image while writing the script? “When you work with someone like Suriya sir, who has a huge fan base in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, you have to think about his fans. At the same time, we have tried to maintain a balance.” Which is to say that NGK is Selvaraghavan’s first “ mass padam ”? He laughs saying, “Actually, you could say that. It is my ‘first’ mass padam .”
Inside Selva’s world
The world that Selvaraghavan builds in his films is far from perfect. He succinctly puts it, “Ultimately, it’s my creation and doesn’t have to reflect reality.” Where does Selvaraghavan draw inspiration for his characters? And he gives the simplest yet most reasonable answer: “I think of myself as the character when I start writing. Take Thulluvadho Ilamai , for instance, I had just finished college then. And it reflected the popular opinion of youngsters at that point,” he says. About his writing process, Selva says, “There were days when I wrote 1,000 pages and did lots of rewriting. Later, I adapted myself to the 120-page screenplay format.” The characters that Selvaraghavan writes are flawed — even Maalai Nerathu Mayakkam , which he wrote for his wife Gitanjali. They’re raw, violent, and more importantly, real. Do his characters carry a tinge of Selva in them? “Not at all. I’m not like my characters in real life. It’s not about my personality. These are real characters. Which is why you’re able to connect with them,” he says, elaborating, “Maybe it’s also because of my roots. I grew up in a small house in T Nagar and then moved to KK Nagar. I observe people and their surroundings. These are subconsciously reflected in my films.”
Selvaraghavan’s writings explore the everyday aspects of human life, which we don’t normally see in Tamil films. Ask about the quintessential Selva-isms and he laughs, “There’s no such thing as Selva-ism. I observe my characters and see how they react to it. That’s all.”
Rooting for women
While his films often come under scrutiny for dealing with alpha men, it’s grave injustice to dismiss the fact that Selvaraghavan writes the most complex female characters, that are powerful in their own way (picture Sonia Agarwal from 7G Rainbow Colony ). “I firmly believe that women are far superior and more mature than men. Look at the roles they don: of a mother, girlfriend, wife, sister and so on. They play a larger role in shaping our lives. Maybe it’s because I’m close to my mother. I’m attached to her even today. I tend to observe my mom and two sisters.” Among the female characters that he had written, does he have a personal favourite? “In terms of on-screen impact, I think Sneha did a fabulous job, playing Krishnaveni in Pudhupettai . It was a tough character to pull off, but she did. When I watched Pudhupettai in theatre, I thought she justified the character. I also have a soft corner for Yamini from Mayakkam Enna .”
Brothers at work
One person whose combination with Selva is much-talked-about is his actor-brother Dhanush, and that resulted in movies like Thulluvadho Ilamai , Kaadhal Kondein , Pudhupettai and Mayakkam Enna . When they made these films together, the scenario was totally different. But now, Dhanush is no longer that boy who gets-hit-with-a-duster from Kaadhal Kondein . He’s a star now. If Selva directs his brother today, will he treat him the same way like he did in Kaadhal Kondein ? He says, “Over the years, Dhanush has improved his craft and has carved his own niche. If we make a film today, we would still work as brothers,” adding, “The difference, however, is that I don’t have to spell things out for him. In fact, when we made Mayakkam Enna , he said, ‘Listen, you helped me for three films. Now, it’s the other way round. I’ll do my thing, you correct me if I go wrong’.”
The Irandam Ulagam debacle
Selvaraghavan entered a rough phase in 2013, when his most ambitious project, Irandam Ulagam , failed to mint money at the box office. Forget money, the film didn’t even get the breathing time and was collectively panned by critics. Would Irandam Ulagam have worked, had Selva not gotten carried away by the visual spectacle? “The way I envisioned it was different from what you saw on the screen. Given the time constraint and budget, I had to buckle down at some point. It’s not that it didn’t have the visual potential. Maybe somewhere something went wrong,” he smiles.
Following the Irandam Ulagam debacle , Selva says that it took almost a year to come out of that emotional zone. So, when he finally got back to writing, was he the same old impulsive Selva or was he a tamed beast? “The latter mostly,” he laughs, adding, “If I start writing, I sit in front of my laptop and pour out my emotions. Which is why I always aspired to be a screenwriter.”
Young filmmakers idolise Selvaraghavan. And a bunch of them has expressed their desire to read his scripts, to understand the depth of his writings. So, is Selva open to the idea of releasing his movie scripts online? “I have never thought about it. Now that you mentioned, I’ll see what I can do,” he signs off.