Sundar C: ‘My biggest achievement is surviving 24 years in Tamil cinema’

Sundar C

Sundar C  

The director discusses Vishal-Tamannaah starrer 'Action', and how he has mastered the art of packaging films

Sundar C is a survivor. In an industry that churns out filmmakers every Friday, he has not only managed to stay afloat — for 24 years now — but also deliver multiple hits.

“Most importantly, I am busy even today and have back-to-back projects,” says Sundar, lounging on a sofa in his RA Puram office, “Unlike other industries where experience counts, here, in Kollywood, there’s more demand for new directors. As senior directors, we have to be on our toes. My biggest achievement is that I have survived for so long.”

With Action, starring Vishal and Tamannaah, Sundar promises to take audiences on a world tour — since the film has been shot in multiple countries. What he does not promise is that it will be something ‘radically different.’ “It is not extraordinary, and there’s no twist, but there are so many milieu changes and stories. The story will always be in transit and that’s its USP. Every action sequence is in movement, and you can feel a rush of blood.”

Vishal and Tamannaah in ‘Action’

Vishal and Tamannaah in ‘Action’  

Action is the result of the director’s passion for the films of MGR. “Having watched MGR’s films like Nadodi Mannan and Aayirathil Oruvan in awe, I wanted to give audiences a similar experience and wrote a film titled Sanghamitra, which has been delayed due to certain reasons. That’s when I turned to MGR’s Ulagam Sutrum Valiban, whose USP was a globe-trotting hero. Vishal does pretty much the same thing in Action.”

A product of evolution

Sundar’s style of filmmaking is a little different from others — and it stems from the fact that he lacks narrative skills. “I get bored when I am telling a story,” he sighs, “So I developed this mechanism of telling a tale within a minute. It can be a summary of the story, or the opening sequence or the interval block. But if you are able to sustain interest in that one minute, I believe you can confidently flesh it into a couple of hours.”

For him, a film is a product of evolution. “Many directors think that cinema is all about converting what is on paper to the big screen. It isn’t,” he says, “Cinema is about keeping your mind open and evolving based on the star and the location you are shooting in.”

He has done that many times, and cites the example of the popular ‘Amitabh mama’ character in his 2012 hit Kalakalappu to elucidate. “We had written a lady vesham for the actor (Ilavarasu) for that particular sequence. On the day of shooting, we came to know that he could not shave off his moustache because of continuity issues for another film. We were in a fix. We discovered that the costume designer had a wig — the one Vadivelu wore in my previous film, Nagaram Marupakkam — and got that on Ilavarasu. Within an hour, we got a bright orange pant and colourful shirt stitched from a ladies shop nearby. Now, Ilavarasu looked like someone straight from the 1970s... and we named him ‘Amitabh’ since he was a popular star then. All this happened in those two hours. Had I persisted with my initial cross-dress idea, we would not have got ‘Amitabh mama’.”

A comedy specialist?

People familiar with Tamil cinema describe Sundar C as a ‘comedy specialist’, something that even his Wikipedia page acknowledges. The director does not mind the sobriquet, but makes it clear that he makes ‘entertainers’. “I have done all types of films. Take Giri, Aranmanai or even Winner... they might have had only 15% of comedy scenes. Fortunately or unfortunately, those tracks became big hits, and I became known for them.”

The comedy in many of his films, especially his début, was actually an afterthought. Murai Maaman, his début way back in 1995, was actually a rural sentimental subject that was supposed to feature a top star who was later replaced by Jayaram. “To suit this change in cast, I had to do a minor tweak. I had written the hero’s father originally for someone like Vijayakumar, but I made that a brother character, and roped in Goundamani to play it. Those comedy sequences worked big time. Comedy is not my forte, but whenever I’ve used it, it has fallen in place.”

Sundar studiously reads cinematic trends and consumption patterns before embarking on a project. He discusses an old Bhagyaraj film, Idhu Namma Aalu, to explain. "The audience then were taken aback at the events that unfold in the interval block, featuring a father-in-law and a couple, and waited with bated breath to see what would unfold next. Today’s audiences will be like: ‘Okay, the couple is going to reunite in the end, right? What’s new?’ The trick is to give the audience what they sort of expect in the beginning itself, and then take the story forward. Audiences these days want a new movie every 10 minutes inside a film. During my growing up days, I could watch a film for a mere ₹3.50, including the rent for my cycle. With rising costs, to pull audiences into a theatre, we need to give them a complete cinematic experience.”

He consciously tries to do that with every film — if his upcoming Action has multiple locations and high-octane action sequences, his previous hit Aranmanai took the concept of a ghost away from the dark corridors of a haunted bungalow, to the colourful confines of a big palace.

“The difference was in the packaging, and it worked,” he smiles. “I will continue to do that for as long as I make films.”

No reason to prove anything to anybody’

One film that stands out in Sundar’s filmography is Anbe Sivam, and that Kamal Haasan-starrer is a project that he is often asked about. “There are people who still think I’m not its director, but I don’t have to prove anything to anybody,” he smiles, “It was a milestone in my career. One reason I have made it so far is that I got the opportunity to direct the superstars of Tamil cinema — Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan — so early in my career. There have been so many learnings from my interactions with them.”

With Anbe Sivam, he got the opportunity to do that. “During a sequence, writer Madhan had penned a line about a character thinking aloud, and Kamal remarked, ‘Mind voice should not creep into cinema.’ It was casually uttered, but got me thinking. I realised that I had never used ‘mind voice’ in my films.”

A scene from ‘Anbe Sivam’

A scene from ‘Anbe Sivam’  

Sundar also wanted the critically-acclaimed film to showcase the efforts Kamal had put in. But the star showed otherwise. “The character he plays wears slippers of different heights. Kamal sir could have easily not worn that during a few days and still shot comfortably, but he insisted he wears that throughout,” he reveals.

During the film, the two had some friendly disagreements as well, especially with respect to the ‘Nattukoru Seithi’ song. “He learnt thavil every day for three weeks for that sequence that lasts only a few seconds. When we shot it, we realised that that sequence had him wearing a mask, and I argued that audiences might think that the person playing the thavil wasn’t Kamal himself but a dupe. He hesitated, but we convinced him.”

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Printable version | Jul 8, 2020 11:39:06 AM |

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