Edited excerpts from an extensive interview between the writers of Super Deluxe, its director and Baradwaj Rangan:
Before we talk about Super Deluxe, I have one question to ask the three of you. Is there one scene from Aaranya Kaandam that defines Thiagarajan Kumararaja for you?
Myskkin: Even before I watched the film, I could make out that its director is a very sensible guy from the posters. You realise that he is someone who thinks out of the box. I watched the film five years later and I remember laughing watching the very first shot. You get a sense of how he will narrate and how he will shoot. He knows how to lure the audience into that black box.
Nalan: I didn't know him. I was not doing movies then. But I was intrigued to learn that the dialogue writer of Oram Po was making a film. I was waiting for that film and when I watched Aaranya Kaandam's trailer, it went beyond my expectations. It is still one of the best trailers and I still don't know how it was made. There's a person playing music in a car, it gets cut, the trailer plays, and the music plays again. It's really trippy.
When I watched the film, I felt it had the perfect build up. There is no real opening credits and no sound. It was awesome. I don't know how to create that effect. I've told him this…I can shoot a lot of things from his film. The behavior, mood, the gangster milieu, but the reason why this film is at another level is because of the climax where the woman says, "Sappa is a man too."
Neelan: Actually I know Kumar from around 6 or 7 years before that. We've spoken a lot. I knew what he was capable of. Aaranya Kaandam is just a trailer.
A film with many writers is not new. But the writers in your film have both written and directed their own films. They have their own USPs. Myskkin's film is not in the same space as Nalan's. How did you arrive at the idea that you could make a film with them?
Kumararaja: I'm always afraid of writing. I'm also a bit lazy. I had to make an ad film which was stop motion. I wanted the writing of Super Deluxe to be over before that gets done. So I asked these three and they said yes. It was not a big process. They all have individualistic styles but we had a blueprint. They wrote their parts without disturbing that. Finally, when one director is making the film, their contributions became complimentary.
Did you have to make any changes with their drafts to make the film yours?
It's like I have taken their recipes. But when I try to make the dish myself, I'll make my own changes. That was my original intention. I wanted them to add their soul. So when I reworked it, it still remains as it is one piece, without losing what they bring to it.
Nalan: Apart from just writing, I also got to experience what an actor does in films. It's like we've performed our parts like we're actors. He has given us something and it then became up to us to return it by making it our own. He has to take what we offer and then make it fit into his vision.
What did he give you first? Was it the story or did it have scene outlines or shots? Or was it just an idea?
Mysskin: Speaking specifically, he gave me a character, its platform, the psychological setup, the character's wants, and setbacks. And when I returned the draft to Kumar, I asked him to kill the writer in me.
See when a novelist writes, they are so adamant about each comma. But we are all directors. We ourselves feel something looks idiotic when we see it later. Similarly, I knew that my realm as a writer is different from the director's. That is what I told him. Even if you don't take a single thing from my script, I said I don't mind it. In fact, when I watched the film, I didn't even realize that I had written these parts.
Did you watch the film?
Mysskin: I watched my portions during the dubbing. I wouldn't have agreed to do this for anyone else.
Mysskin said that he gave you freedom. Supposing he took it off into his own thought process, taking it to an unexpected place, would it have been possible to fit it into your superstructure?
TK: Actually it was easy. He didn't disturb it. He knew the superstructure of his portions. As long as he didn't disturb that structure, he wouldn't have disturbed the entire film. In fact, the mould I gave each of them were very different. I gave Neelan just the starting point. I gave both Mysskin and Nalan a structure and they didn't know what the other person was writing.
The stories were hidden from each other?
Mysskin: We had a certain idea. But we were not inquisitive.
What if they had all started a Whatsapp group behind your back?
Mysskin: We didn't do it. TK worked like an architect. He asked me to make a room. So I concentrated on that. After I was done, they came on board and they started building their rooms. They built a house just like that.
Wasn't it simultaneous?
TK: It was. But it happened during different time periods. Nalan wrote it first and Mysskin last.
Did you make any changes because you had already seen the drafts before?
TK: No. I kept it exclusive because they're all individualistic. I didn't even read what they had written because I myself was writing.
When you write, you have your own style, right? Did you write it like it was your film or did you write it in Kumararaja's style based on Aaranya Kaandam?
Neelan: I was given the starting point and the end. I needed to take it from point A to point B. I wrote it in my own thought process. But at the same time, there was consciousness. Because I have spent so much time with him so I know his basic thought process. I keep that in mind but I wrote it in my style.
Nalan: I wrote it in my own style. What I wrote was crazier. As a director, I have certain ideas, like how the audience will perceive certain things. But the second he narrated his idea, I became free. I didn't write it with any limitations and I just went for it. Because why should I worry? Whatever happens, I knew he will take care of it so I just went ahead and wrote it like how I saw the film. I had a lot of fun and this is the most fun I've had writing after Soodhu Kavvum.
What about you?
Mysskin: I was familiar with that character. He is within me and I have seen him. So it is semi-biographical. You can't call it autobiographic because I know another person who is similar to the character I wrote. He has been an inspiration. My character Arputham is someone I've met. So the writing became very cathartic. I wrote it as that character and I always write like that. That's why I feel only an outsider can talk about style. When one writes, he is being subjective. Style is more objective. Writing is a deep, sub-conscious process.
When you were planning to give these portions to these writers, can you explain the process of deciding which part to give whom?
TK: Before I gave them the ideas I had worked it out. But during the inception, it wasn't like that. But later, it became clearer and I knew what to give whom. But I know that whichever portion I give them, they would still have made it beautiful. It is just that it is correct the way it is now.
The trailer is out now. Is it possible to make out who has written which portion from that?
It's not possible. My plan was not to reveal it.
Nalan: I know the portion I was given was the strongest. It would have been challenging if I was given some other part to write but I feel like I got what was my strength…my game.
Neelan: I was given an option to choose whichever I wanted. But what I chose was what I was most comfortable with.
Were you given any time limits?
Mysskin: He gave us enough time.
Nalan: There was nothing as unfair as the time limit he gave me.
I didn't mean time to write. I meant screen time?
Mysskin: We understood all that. We knew how much time it would take and wrote it. He was going to edit it so that wasn't a problem.
A few years ago, when we spoke, you had mentioned Jafar Panahi's Circle to be an inspiration. You said that the film made you wonder why you couldn't make something similar. Circle has no single protagonist and it has several interlinking stories. Is Super Deluxe still using such a form?
TK: Yeah it is. But Circle inspired me in a different manner. It freed me in a sense because I realized that they were making such films despite all the issues they face there. So why can't we? I didn't mean the structure as such. Of course, both films don't have one single protagonist. That is more about one story making way for another but the stories in Super Deluxe run parallel.
So let's say you're writing your next film. Will you still go to Nalan if you thought that a situation would best suit his style of writing?
I didn't mean it in a casual, friendly sense. I meant in a more formal sense. I know that it suits this film but what about another kind of film?
TK: In Aaranya Kaandam, there is that portion in the tea shop where Sampath narrates the story. How I wrote that story too was very similar to Super Deluxe. I had an outline and certain points which I felt I would give my actors to develop. Closer to the shoot, I changed my mind. But I couldn't write it myself. Sometimes, after you think you've written the script, it's tough to go into it again. So I got my director friend Krishna, he even acted as the astrologer in the film, to take care of that portion and got him to narrate it back to me. We even took a camera and shot it. That was a smaller version of the process we're following now.
In Super Deluxe, we had to write the trailer. Again I went back to Krishna. When he says it his way, something gets added on. I think it's called Chinese whisper. I gave Krishna a version and got his inputs added onto it. I'm sure he would have made some edges smoother. And then I got Vijay Sethupathy to dub for that version.
The title of your previous film is from the Ramayana. The idea for the trailer comes from a small part in Mahabharatha. Apart from the stories in these epics, are you more interested in their philosophies?
TK: We just try to use what we find in our journey.
You don't want to reveal it?
TK: No it's not that. Everyone works like that. When you see a great work, doesn't it get settled in you? And when that moment comes, it just comes out of your mental library. Then we reuse it.
Is that portion just for the trailer alone or is a part of the film as well?
TK: That story from Mahabharatha is almost a parallel to the stories in the film. It's like an older cousin. My logic is, if you like the trailer, you will like the film. I wanted to avoid the wrong crowd and to entice the right kind of people. The trailer is just to set the mood for the actual film. It was the same idea for the Aaranya Kaandam trailer as well. When I was discussing the process, I met Sridhar Raghavan and narrated the idea to him. He asked me why this even needed to be made. Generally, when friends tell me that, I usually tell them the story in the trailer.
It's like the backbone?
TK: I would say the DNA of both are the same. You may even call it the theme of Super Deluxe. It is when I narrated this story to Sridhar that he was convinced that I go ahead and make the film. The idea was to convince the audience like I convinced Sridhar.
What was your reaction to the trailer?
Mysskin: I didn't watch when it first released. I got a lot of calls but I had just returned from Canada. "You have acted very well," the phone calls said. That's when I understood that they're talking about the trailer. Everyone knows he's a smart rascal. Whatever he does, it has a beauty and an aesthetical sensibility. Naturally, I think the trailer in one of the best in the last ten years. And the payoff will be huge. It will have a big opening because of the trailer.
A trailer has its own form. You can even call it the film's most important frame, shot or facet. What I loved most of the trailer is its rhythm. The rhythm is that film. The way people are running and how a silence follows. The way I say 'Sorry'…the trailer had that rhythm. When we watch it, we watch it like a filmmaker. But when a layman watches it, he has another perspective. The dominant perspective is the filmmaker's and his thought process was there for all to see in the trailer. It has its own script. It is a beautiful statement. A trailer should be like that.
Watch the full episode here: