‘I wanted to bring back the Mullum Malarum Rajini’

Pa. Ranjith on the experience of making Kabali just a day after its release

Updated - December 05, 2021 09:04 am IST

Published - July 23, 2016 05:04 pm IST

Making it real Ranjith directing the superstar Photo: Special Arrangement

Making it real Ranjith directing the superstar Photo: Special Arrangement

Pa. Ranjith, the director of Kabali , agrees to an interview just a day after the movie’srelease. Instead of an impatient voice, I hear a friendly and composed one. I ask tentatively about the mixed response to the film.

While a few Rajini fans have showered him with praise, others have abused him for not giving them the mass movie they desired. But, Ranjith is unperturbed. “I wanted to bring back the Mullum Malarum Rajini, the brilliant actor we knew.”

Ranjith’s well-wishers praised him for his craft, Rajini’s acting, the climax, the political context, layered characters, etc. Rajinikanth himself watched the film. “He told me it is not a usual Rajini film. ‘Don’t fear. You give this to the makkal and they will love it,’ he said. He was very happy after watching it,” says the director.

Kabali tracks the lives of the Tamil labourers who moved to Malaysia and made it their home years ago. I have wanted to make a movie about their conflicts. Many of them are non-citizens and do not own property. Their children are school drop-outs and join gangs at a young age. Some of them have not seen the world beyond their thottams for three generations,” says Ranjith. The narrative revolves around an ageing don, who stands up for them. One is reminded of Godfather , which continues to inspire him even now, says Ranjith. “Anyone, who makes a gangster film, has to be inspired by it. And, I am a fan of Marlon Brando’s understated acting.”

Ranjith feels Rajini pulled off the same subtle performance, but in his own unique way. “Rajini sir puts in a lot of thought before every scene. After I described the scene to him, he reflected on it for some time before the take. For instance, the scene where he meets his daughter during a stunt sequence left us spellbound.” In the highly emotional scene where Kabali and his wife Kumudhavalli (Radhika Apte) meet after many years, neither of them used glycerine, says Ranjith. “We first shot Radhika’s single shot. Rajini sir watched it closely. In the next shot, he walked into the scene and just enhanced it. And, that’s when it was complete.”

There is a lot to learn from Rajinikanth, the man, says Ranjith. “He sees every labourer in the set as an equal. He would say, ‘I am just a human being, a thani manushan . Do not give me any special treatment’.”

Dismantling of caste, class and creed barriers is the essence of Ranjith’s films. “My aim is to make films that bring justice to the marginalised. And erase divisions created by men.”

Just like in Madras , Ranjith treats Kabali realistically. The songs are part of the narrative and there are no glossy sets. Nor are there item numbers. “It is simple and easy to make a realistic film. I find it more difficult to make a commercial film, where you have to sell lies and try to make them sound convincing. It is so much better to write about real-life experiences.” Santhosh Narayanan’s music blended perfectly with the film. “He understood the mood and created an exceptional album.”

Caste is also a strong presence in all his works. There are scenes in which Rajini refers to Mahatma Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar. There are subtle references to casteism within the Malaysian Tamil community. “In Malaysia, earlier, there were less caste differences among the Tamil community. But, gradually casteist sensibilities seeped in. So many caste sanghams were formed. And, as a filmmaker, I had to address this issue. Many people ask me why I talk about caste. They even taunted me about my caste. But, that’s not a problem for me. I am used to this from a young age. I stick to the thoughts and ideas which Ambedkar has taught me. My aim is to get back the dignity of the marginalised through my films. Because, only art and literature can bring some change to this society.”

About negative criticism, he says, “I observe it dispassionately; both negative and positive feedback. I am not into the 200-crore club. I have made a movie on a subject I wanted to engage with. I had a superb actor like Rajini sir to execute it. I will continue to be who I am and make movies that will carry social responsibility.”

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