Almost five years after his gripping directorial debut 8 Thottakkal, Sri Ganesh has gotten back to the big screen with the recently-released revenge drama Kuruthi Aattam, starring Atharvaa Murali and Priya Bhavani Shankar. But the film has been a long time in the making. In a free flowing chat, Ganesh speaks about writing an emotional gangster film in Kuruthi Aattam, the impact of the pandemic on his creativity and his sophomore film's overdue release. Edited excerpts:
8 Thottakkal was released in 2017 and you started filming Kuruthi Aattam around 2018. But there has been a gap of almost 5 years between the releases of the two films. Can you talk to us about the gap?
The gap was an unplanned thing. It wasn't even due to creative reasons. There were other things such as financial reasons. So there were a few breaks in between the 70-day shooting schedule. It was painful, but we wrapped the shooting in 2020. We felt relieved and thought that if we worked day and night for the next two months, we could finish the post-production and release the film soon.
But then Covid happened and the release was delayed for two more years. That period was very hard at first. However, when I look back now, I think it has strengthened me much more as a person. This journey has taught me to be patient and handle things more maturely. It has also seeped into my writing and my approach.
You roped in Atharvaa for Kuruthi Aattam. Did you have him in mind while writing the film?
Yes, Atharvaa spoke to me a week after the release of 8 Thottakkal. He told me we could do a film and asked me for a script. I also like Atharvaa's acting. So we started discussing. As I began writing the script and fleshed out the characters, I felt Raadika ma'am would be the right fit for Gandhimathi's character. Similarly, Radha Ravi sir and Vatsan Chakravarthy came to mind while drafting the script. After writing the script, I realized Priya Bhavani Shankar would suit the female lead character. It was a time when her films like Meyaadha Maan were released. I liked her acting and her journey was inspiring, so I spoke to her and she came on board.
Kuruthi Aattam is based on the gangsters of Madurai, but also has a kabbadi angle. What was your research for the film like?
I did in-depth research, but I didn't want to force everything into the film. I researched a lot for my own understanding. For example, I went and met kabbadi team players in and around Madurai. In fact, real players played in the tournament that we shot for the film. A State-level coach had organized the tournament and it was more like we conducted a real tournament and included Atharvaa and shot the film. I also met many people to know more about gangster life. I spoke to policemen, crime reporters, and even gangsters themselves. I tried to understand who they were as individuals and what their emotions were. When we talk with them, we can understand what made them who they are today. So I heard their entire life history empathically and used some fine emotions and details in the film.
You were an assistant to director Mysskin. What did you learn from that time with him?
I have always liked Mysskin sir's films. I watched Anjathe without any expectations. It took me by surprise and I was really inspired by the film. After that, I watched Nandalala and I personally connected with it. I watched the film four or five times in the theater, although it ran to empty seats most of the time. The film was very emotional for me.
I have heard that only voracious readers and those who are highly qualified could join him as assistant directors. But I went to the interview in a zen state. When I look back now, I wonder how innocent and sincere I was.
During the interview, I told him that Nandalala was my favorite film. Later when I began working with him, he told me that if I had called Anjathe my favorite, he wouldn't have offered me the job. He felt that I gave an honest answer even though Nandalala was not commercially successful.
Mysskin sir introduced world cinema to me. Until then, I only had exposure to Tamil cinema and a few Indian films. After that, I got to learn about several things. Workwise, I would say the main learning was discipline. Every day, we would report to him at 9 in the morning. Our day would end at midnight or sometimes go on till 3 in the morning. But you would have to report back at 9 in the morning the next day. It was a military-level discipline. Now I realize why Mysskin sir trained us that way as the discipline comes in handy when I direct my films.
You were one of the finalists of Naalaiya Iyakkunar, a reality talent-hunt for new-age filmmakers. How did the platform shape your career?
Whatever I am now is because of that show. There are two things I cherish thanks to the show. First, we had to do a short film every month or every 45 days. So I had a deadline to meet. We made eight short films in that one year, and I could see the difference and growth between my first and eighth short film. Second, the friends I have now – be it Lokesh Kanagaraj or Ashwin (of Mandela fame), I got to know all of them through short films or Naalaya Iyakunar. We used to help each other out while shooting.