Director Karthik Subbaraj On What Inspired Him To Write Jigarthanda

The writer-director whose latest film Mercury stars Prabhudeva takes us through how he goes from core idea to final draft and talks about being blown away by Shawshank Redemption
Director Karthik Subbaraj On What Inspired Him To Write Jigarthanda

Director Karthik Subbaraj, who broke onto the Kollywood scene with his debut feature Pizza, says the starting point for him while writing a film is always the core idea. The 35-year-old, whose latest release Mercury stars Prabhudeva, says the film took less than 10 days to write. Here he elaborates on his writing process, where he gets his inspiration from and who his influences are:

How Long It Takes Him To Write

I cannot start writing something the next day of getting the idea. Once I get the idea, I think about it for maybe a week or two. I'll read something about it. I get a few ideas about it and when I sit and start writing it takes me a maximum of 15-20 days to finish the first draft.

The remaining drafts depend upon when I am going to shoot. For example, I wrote Jigarthanda thinking it would be my first film. It was before Pizza. I had already prepared the draft. I searched for producers but I didn't find any. So I got time also to write. I keep changing it. You have time until you go for the shoot. Until then, I keep changing it. There are some films, for example Mercury, for which I got the idea as a story and I wrote it in less than 10 days. I started pre-production on it and within a month I went for the shoot.

In my mind, to be satisfied that the screenplay is ready to be shot, it takes until I finish my first draft. Only that takes times, after that I enter the process. After that you can continue to make small changes, but the first draft is the spine and to create that it takes me a maximum of one month.

On His Writing Process And Where The Inspiration For Jigarthanda Came From

My writing process is this – the starting point is the core idea. This core idea can come from anywhere. For Jigarthanda, we had done a short film here in Chennai, called Ravanan which involved a murder. Manikandan (DoP) and I were talking regarding the scene and we did not want to make it the usual shooting scene.

It was then that he said that he knew someone in Alapakkam who was a bike mechanic and another friend of his had just come out from jail for murder. We thought we could speak to him and understand the psychology. We decided to go about it psychologically. If you see the short film, the cop kills a person momentarily. He gets insulted and in that second he spontaneously kills a person. So we wanted to understand what happens psychologically in that second.

So when we went to talk to him, I got the idea of making Jigarthanda since he was more interested in being a part of the film we were making than actually explaining his story to us. This was very interesting to me. The idea began with a clash between a filmmaker and a gangster/murderer. But when I started writing the screenplay, I could not start the movie from that point. I needed to build up the gangster to a point so that the drama became interesting.

So I did more research for that. In my mind, the scene where the filmmaker gets caught by the gangster was the interval block. So when we get to that scene even the audience needed to feel the panic of him getting busted. In the scenes prior to that we had to build up his character. So we had to build a history, an opponent and a story for him. In the process it became a gangster film. The idea was to make a comedy about the murderer wanting to be in the film being made by the filmmaker, but the lead up to it turned out to be a proper gangster film.

So after that I had to shift it to the actual genre that I wanted to do. In the end, there had to be another emotional change over between these guys. All this is the writing process.

On His Influences

When I just started making short films, a friend of mine told me to watch a certain kind of films to get influence from. So I asked him to suggest the name of a movie for me to watch. The first name he suggested was Shawshank Redemption. He told me to watch that. I could never bring myself to watch the film entirely. I started and stopped 3-4 times. I don't know why.  But one particular day I sat and watch the entire film and was blown away. It was only after that I started watching movies from outside India.

Of course, I had already seen plenty of movies like Titanic and Jurassic Park, Terminator and other such movies. But Shawshank Redemption was the first movie that I saw that I was able to truly appreciate for its story telling. After I saw the end of that movie, I was truly blown away.

After that I started watching a series of films. The person that influenced me the most was Clint Eastwood. When he started making movies I was taken in. I like all of his movies a lot.

Then of course, there was Tarantino. His raw method of film- making and his style in general was brilliant. So there are a few people like that.

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