You'd presume an actor who revels making thrillers would love watching films in that genre too. Possibly now, after making them his calling card of sorts, but as a teen, Arulnithi did not exactly prefer thrillers and horror films. He still remembers watching Annabelle in Sathyam theatre, Chennai. "I would go with a group of friends, and whatever little fear you had would disappear when everyone whistled for the pei. After all, in a horror film, the pei is the mass hero," he reminisces.
It's been a backbreaking week of promotions for his latest release, psychological thriller K-13, and that's a lot of talking for the normally-reticent Arulnithi. We catch up with the actor after a long day, even as his son Magizhan vies for his attention.
Excerpts from an interview:
Thrillers and Arulnithi have become synonymous, but even within the genre, you experiment. How did this one come out?
Thanks for noticing that all my thrillers are not alike. Normally, I don't ask anyone what genre their script is before narration. I like to experience it as an audience. For K-13, debut director Barath Neelakantan narrated the first 15 minutes and I felt this jump; you'll feel it too. Ultimately, a thriller is all about 'who did it?' and it's all in the narration. Barath was confident and I was clear that this film will work well despite minimal dialogues, provided the screenplay was perfect. Our first meeting lasted six hours, and it was a green signal.
My only suggestion was that they rope in cinematographer Aravinnd Singh; he shot Demote Colony Aaradhu Sinam and Iravukku Aayiram Kangal and I felt he would bring a lot to this project. We wrapped up work in just 27 days, and most of the movie is set inside house number 13 in K block; hence the title.
The technical team has lent this film much sheen — editor Ruben, composer Sam CS; a thriller depends heavily on music to take it to the next level. There was perfect sync among the team, with Shraddha Srinath, Barath… that matters if you need to bring out a quality product.
Now that thrillers are your comfort zone, how do you hope to emerge out of it?
I joke at home that like many have a warning outside the door stating that there are dogs inside, I should put one saying that 'the actor inside listens to non-thriller scripts too'. But, I'm trying, seriously. For now, I at least ensure that I don't pick any film with a weak script but one that glorifies my character. Some films set you on the right path. Mouna Guru did that for me; I have to make the right choices. That film was like a rebirth.
Your films are known to tightly budgeted, and make everyone in the distribution chain happy…
What happens to others after 10-odd films happened to me in my first. Everything about Vamsam was huge. My grandfather (former Chief Minister, the late M Karunanidhi) released the audio, and Suriya and Vijay received it. I've never had an audio release after that; you can't compete with that.
That said, I believe that if you climb high at a dizzying pace, you'll fall down hard, and climbing up again is going to be very difficult. So, I decided to use strong scripts as my crutch. I took a call to reach a safe place on the basis on the movies I make, and consolidate myself. So, even if I fail, I will be able to recover easily.
My grandfather used to tell us that we should be aware of our strength and play accordingly. I know my safe budget. I like the budget to suit the film; in the worst-case scenario, it should not leave the producer bereft of confidence to make another film.
Despite this, some films don't work as well. But they have great viewership on digital. When people tell me they loved it, I request them to watch it in theatres the next time I try something offbeat, and hopefully add one person to my audience.
You come from a family with a rich history in politics and cinema. You've taken the plunge into one, will the other follow?
My father stayed away from politics, and when I went up to him telling him I wanted to become an actor, he actively discouraged me. He feared that politics would follow, but my friend Felix spoke to him and convinced him. I was happy he produced my first film too.
Yes, considering my family background, I tend to hear a lot of things, see what's happening. I am in a situation where I know. But, I believe I am a chinnapayyan; there are bigger people to talk.
These days, everyone talks politics; it's become like cricket and cinema. Yes, I am tempted to tell people what I think too, but many a time, I've typed messages for social media, and deleted them before posting. Even now, I campaigned in Thiruvarur, purely because of my family's connect to the place. I've gone around Chepauk and Triplicane with my grandfather during campaigns.
As for my future, I first want to achieve a position of respect in my field before venturing anywhere.
In these nine years, you've mostly stuck to one film a year. Is that going to change anytime?
From this year, I hope to wrap up two movies a year. For now, I have Seenu Ramasamy Sir's film (we shoot from July), and the multi-starrer with Jiiva, directed by Rajasekar.
The most difficult thing to do
Dance for songs, I need rehearsals.
The easiest thing to do
Your learning in cinema
Arulnithi, only good scripts save you.