Hari has a fascination for the men in khaki. He wanted to become a police officer and even attempted the civil services preliminary exam before films happened. "I didn't end up being a cop, at least let me enjoy the privilege of directing cop stories," he laughs.
Excerpts from a conversation follow:
Why is the cop such a draw on the big screen?
From Kamal Haasan to Rajinikanth to Vikram, Ajith, Vijay and Suriya – all the leading stars have played cops. Irrespective of the way they're portrayed, their films have been a huge hit. I guess it has something to do with the family audience who make it work at the box-office. Moreover, when an actor does a successful cop-film, it increases his market as a 'mass' hero.
Fifteen years after Saamy, Vikram is back in a dual role as Aarusamy IPS and his son Ramasamy IPS in Saamy Square. How has been the experience of directing him once again?
Vikram and I understand each other extremely well. We don't need to really speak; eye movements will do. (Grins) After Saamy, I directed him in Arul (2004). He's one of the most fantastic actors around, who gives his best in whatever he does. You don't have to revisit Saamy to enjoy the sequel because it doesn't exactly start where the previous one ended. It's largely a story of revenge. A sequel to Saamy was on the cards way back then. We ended the film with the words, 'Saamy-in vettai thodarum'. The first ten minutes into this story will provide you with a gist of the original.
In general, your films are fast-paced, which you've been criticised for
In today's world, our minds run faster than us. And, your films are after all, what you are! (Laughs) As long as the speed doesn't translate to a compromise, I am good. I plan everything in advance and write my screenplay. I prefer faster cuts and I believe that's one of the ways to keep the audience hooked to your film. Execution is faster, but not the generation of ideas. Usually, I take 6-8 months to complete a script. Also, my working style on the sets is similar. During the day, you won't see me chill post-lunch hours. I am on my toes all the time. I insist that my assistant directors that we complete shooting by six in the evening every day and plan for the next day's work for some more time.
You have often repeated actors like Vikram and Suriya in your films
Filmmaking is a collaborative effort. The more you understand your actors, the better your films are. I am not saying this because I'm a commercial filmmaker. I know of a director who had worked with the same actor in 25 films. Successful hero-director collaborations aren't new to Tamil cinema. The main reason for such repeated partnerships is nothing but mutual trust and respect. As for Suriya, he's been a great pillar of support. After Aaru, Vel and the Singam franchise, we're teaming up for another film — not Si-4 (part 4 of the popular series). It's a fresh idea — something that we had planned two years ago. It's a big deal when an actor (of Vikram's or Suriya's stature) values me for what I am.
Why do you think the audience liked Saamy?
Because of the characterisation of Aarusamy, and how the film was laced with family sentiments and love sequences. Saamy is a brand, but I didn't capitalise on its success.
But why 'Saamy Square'? Even Singam-3 was later changed into Si-3
Tamil films have always had numbers in the titles. And most of them have been successful.
Moving on, don't you think the story elements in your cop films are mostly exaggerated? The trailer, for instance, got a lot of flak on social media because Vikram mouthed dialogues like 'Naan Saamy illa, da… bootham'. (I am not Saamy, I'm a ghost). A policeman doesn't fly like a Superman. He rather can't
(Pauses) Sample this. A father gets upset with his son and says, 'Ozunga padi, da. Illena, naan mirugama maariduven'. When he says that, does it mean, he'll turn into an animal? Not really. When someone is in anger and frustration, it's natural that he says something of that sort. I was trying to say — Saamy kitta kooda justice edhirpaarkalam. Aana, bootham enna venaalum pannum. (You can expect justice from Saamy; not from a ghost).
I see. On one hand, cop heroes are shown as 'good men'. On the other, they display a sense of hysterical behaviour — beating up gundas to death. How do you justify this?
All cop films are stories of good fighting evil. Sometimes, you're required to do certain things to cater to a star's image. Ella cops-um sincere-o illayo serious dhaan en padangal-a kaatra maadhiri. (Irrespective of whether cops are sincere or not, they're serious like I've shown in my films). Those days, the accused were manhandled by the cops. They'd be dragged along the streets, and nowadays, there's less drama. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and viral videos. Cops have become more vigilant. They don't want to get 'trolled'.
You seem more comfortable doing sequels
Directing a sequel is more challenging than churning out an ordinary film. It puts a lot of pressure on the hero and director. Sometimes, the comparison can kill a sequel. Vikram trusted me in 2003, and he still does, after all these years. I think I am fortunate.
Your growth as a director from an assistant director has been phenomenal
Thank you. I tried to be different from the others and worked hard. When I started out, I was thoroughly excited about making films, building characters scene by scene and making people believe in an alternate reality. I have always believed that a good concept can be a commercial film. I meticulously took notes after my daily work and evaluated my own work. I kept learning and unlearning.
I am surprised that you only make 'commercial' films
(Laughs) I can never think of making arthouse cinema. Trust me, I admire Mani Ratnam, Bala, Ameer for their work because they do something that I can't. I'm a huge fan of their making styles. Even when I tried I should make something different, I ended up with an Ayya, a family drama. I also like Sasikumar. His Subramaniapuram is one of my favourites. Maanagaram and Kolamaavu Kokila were equally refreshing.
Who are your favourite actors?
I was a huge Rajinikanth fan as a teenager. But eventually, I became a fan of directors. When I watched Mersal, I became a fan of Atlee and Vijay. When I watched Vedalam, I became a fan of Siva and Ajith.
Back to Saamy Square… Why did Trisha walk out of the project?
Honestly, I don't know why. It was her decision, and I respect that.
Also, Harris Jayaraj was replaced by Devi Sri Prasad
Yes. DSP has done a fantastic job on the background score and songs. Again, comparisons are inevitable.