Edited excerpts from an interview between director Manikandan, actor Vijay Sethupathi and Baradwaj Rangan.
From the short film days, you had films like Kaaka Muttai in 2015 and then Aandavan Kattalai and Kutrame Thandanai in 2016. After a five year gap, you have Kadaisi Vivasayi in line for a theatrical release. Besides the Covid period, why was there a three-year gap?
Manikandan: It all depends on the time taken to craft the story. For the other films, it took me a maximum of only six months. But when it comes to this, it took me a year to bring out the fifth draft itself. After that, it took me six months for casting – to select people from the village.
Also, in Kaaka Muttai, we used the Gorilla filmmaking style, run and gun. But this is a classic standard filmmaking style and it was done by an amateur artist. They need to train and get into the zone where even professional artists struggle.
In Kaaka Muttai, except for the two boys, everyone else were professional artists. But cut back to Kadaisi Vivasayi, except the two mainstream actors Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu, everyone else were cast from the village. We have to train them to reach the meters of these actors and bring these actors to the meters of theirs to achieve the balance. We had 95 days of shoot and the scenes we shot could together make for three films. So it took another 75 days for editing.
Why did Kadaisi Vivasayi need such a long pre-production period?
Manikandan: Some stories take that much time. This film goes deep into our lives and survival. Starting from praying at our ‘Kuladeiva Kovil’ (Temple of our family deity) to the characteristics of a farmer and the state of mind of the village people, we cover our daily lives and we cannot incorporate a lot of creativity. That is not our intention as well, but then it should also be entertaining for our audience. So it will take more time and cause additional expense.
When we talk about Kaaka Muttai, there was no need for such big efforts. But then only those huge efforts give simplicity to the film. For instance, Kadasi Vivasayi involves court scenes. While the story is simple, it happens inside a court or sub-jail. And we need the production design and set work—all that takes time.
While you write a script, you visit a place, observe and do your research. So how do you work? Do you go and speak to people and create stories from that or create a story with your imagination by adding the life experiences you hear? There is a need for a bigger truth in Kadaisi Vivasayi and how did you do it?
Manikandan: You have a blueprint and story; writing a script is building the story. The first process is to go and stay in the environment based on which your story happens. This is not done in the search of scenes…you don’t get it like that. Going and interacting with ten farmers does not work. Observation is the key, discussions are very less.
For instance, if you go and talk to the farmers, they will say the same problems our media is talking about. Why should we take the same as a film again. In all my four films, I got a lot of interesting events and different perspectives. As a director, it’s all about how we blend the story and the physical material—the transformation from writing to visual form.
There are many new faces in the film who are not even actors, but are actual people from the village, so how did you get in line with their meter of acting and did you do anything extra? How do you practice the accent?
Vijay Sethupathi: I always have the habit of interacting with other people in their rhythm. So I see how other people are and sync with them. When it comes to accents, I don’t get a lot of time. For this film, I initially didn’t understand.
It took me a few days to understand it. When I performed, I started to see the Periyavar’s eyes intensely. It helped me get into character and get in line with the meter of the village people.
You have taken the film in sync sound mode. Why did you think this film needed sync sound?
Manikandan: Cinema means sync sound only. We started using dubbing for our own comfort. I tried the same in the first film, but the budget was an important thing. Also, you should be in a detailed and ready to go mode. Since it is our own production, we were able to do this. You could see the difference sync sound makes when you watch the film.
Vijay Sethupathi: I have acted in a few other films like Seetha Kaathi and two Hindi films which used sync sound. But we shot a lot of exterior scenes for Kadaisi Vivasaayi. We had to switch off the sounds happening in the entire place and neighbouring villages. Each and every shot needs close focus and so we stopped sounds in the entire village. We asked people not to play sounds at weddings and funerals. There was a nervousness to do the scene correctly, if not we would have had to re-do everything.
Would you say Kadaisi Vivasayi is your toughest film? If so, besides the new actors and sync sound, why was it the toughest?
Manikandan: First off, it has a huge budget. The story has to gel with nature and move in sync with natural happenings. For instance, we have scenes for each stage of paddy growth. So we shot it spread across the three months. That’s why it took ninety days. Other than that, we have elephants, cows and it reflects a lot of characteristics of the village, even in the way one handles cows. This film is very close to the truth. So if even a small thing gets missed, the result will not be good.
The last question, Why the title ‘Kadaisi Vivasayi’, can you explain it without revealing the story?
Manikandan: Farming was the main thing that helped people shift from hunting to civilization and settling. The entire social structure began with this. For a nation to function, food production is very important. So we need to understand this more deeply. For instance, during the lockdown, everything came to a halt but the farmers continued to harvest and they were allowed to do it.
We can develop farming and the time has come. The nation needs to understand this. When you see it that way, the whole chain is coming to an end and a new chain is starting. When you see it as a line, the ending is ending. But when you see it as a circle, the ending marks the beginning.
The ending in the farming cycle today are farmers who are in their 70s and 80s. They have abundant knowledge and know 1000-year-old farming procedures and climate.
Through these people, we can learn farming procedures, lifestyle and worship methods, and social situations. We need to shift to a new generation with this knowledge. If we have to start with the end thought, there is a need to capture the attention of everyone.