Seththumaan is directed by debutant Thamizh and is based on a short story penned by Perumal Murugan. It is produced by Pa Ranjith and releases on SonyLIV on May 27.
Ahead of its release, director Thamizh talks about the making, the casting process, his experience working with Perumal Murugan and Pa Ranjith, and his future plans.
Seththumaan is based on Perumal Murugan's short story "Varugari/Pork Roast". What inspired you to make a film based on this short story?
While I was reading the story, I could feel life in it. The last line touched me emotionally. The end line was something like Vaaikaalil Saaindha Thaathanai Thaangi pidika Kumarasenai Thavira Angu Veru Yaarum Illai (When the grandfather died, there was no one except his grandson Kumaresan). It gave me the feeling that only Kumaresan was there. I had so many questions after reading that.
What happened to the boy's life after that? Would he study well and come back? These questions woke me up. What would he be like today? That last image disturbed me so much that I decided to disturb everyone else by making this movie.
So, you have made a full-fledged feature film based on a short story. Did you add more depth to the characters or added new scenes? Can you take us through the process of your screenplay writing?
Definitely, It's a four-page story. So, while writing the screenplay, I'd think about what would have happened to the Grandfather. The short story was set in the 1970s. I had to make it for the current period, thus having to change a few elements. So, I added a few things while writing the screenplay.
I wrote how the grandfather takes it upon him to make his grandson study. For another character, only his name Rangan and what he does for a living were mentioned. So, I thought about what would Rangan's life be like, and added all of this to the screenplay. Then, I had given it to Perumal Murugan sir and he gave me the first draft of the dialogues. I changed the dialogues here and there to my needs and presented it to Perumal Murugan sir again and he accepted it.
In another interview, you'd said you'd initially planned to make the film independently. How did it then go on to be produced by Pa Ranjith?
Yes, I wanted to do it independently first. The reason is before this, I worked on two scripts. They'd say that we'd sign the next day and over time it would take over four years. Then, I realized that this wasn't going to work out and that I should independently make the film if I want to make a film I like.
So, when I had finished with the script, I calculated the budget and it was way overboard. I needed money for the camera rent just to start and when I was checking whom to ask for the rent, Pariyerum Perumal (2018) was being made. So I approached Pa Ranjith. When he had asked for a line for the film, I'd told him and he told me to finish the screenplay and he'd then decide. When he read it, he'd called me two days later and called me in two three days. He'd asked me why I came and I'd told him I needed a camera for rent. He told me he liked it a lot and he'll make it under his banner.
He'd given me 100% independence. Being a creator himself he knows how it is for a creator. He believed in me and that I would do it right because of which I did it well. Dubbing itself went on for about forty-fifty days. He didn't say anything about any of it and told me to do whatever I wanted to until I was happy.
Let's talk about the casting process. In an interview, director Manikandan had said that he had cast more non-actors for Kadaisi Vivasaayi. Finding the perfect actor for a script would also take a lot of auditions and time. Did you cast non-actors? How was the casting process?
When Pa Ranjith came in as the producer, I could've gone for a Raj Kiran or a Sathyaraj, but I wanted to do it as honestly and authentically as possible. He himself has given a couple of suggestions but later told me to do it the way I wanted to. Getting the right casting was a big struggle for me. From Coimbatore to Namakkal to Salem, I had gone to all the acting associations hoping to get the right actors.
So, I had to search one by one and get it done. As far as I know, only one person has cinema experience. Apart from that, nobody has any sizeable experience. I conducted workshops and rehearsals for about two weeks. And a week before the shooting, we had gone to the shooting spot and we rehearsed it in the shooting spot itself using Handicam.
The film's title is Seththumaan. In the short story, respectfully they'd call the pig "Muruvaan". So, you could've named your film "Pandri" or "Muruvaan". How and why did you name the film 'Seththumaan'?
My intention was for my film to be a little apart from mainstream commercial cinema but the title should be catchy. The name of the short story, Varugari, or the grandfather's name Poochi didn't work for me.
Perumal Murugan's student Gopi helped me a lot throughout the process. When I was talking to him about the title, I'd asked him what people call pigs in their area. He said Kattakal, Muruvaan, and a few other names. One such name was Seththumaan, and I found it apt and found a connection.
People say that Pork (pig meat) will be as tasty as Venison (deer meat). So seththu la irukura maan ( Pig is referred to as Deer that lives in mud; Seththu – Mud, Maan – Deer). There is a connection and it also directly speaks about the content, so we had named it Seththumaan.
The film has been winning a lot of awards and is getting a direct OTT release, is there any specific reason for this?
Nothing specific, in the current Tamil Cinema situation, the rise of OTT has been phenomenal. People are only willing to pay for a film if it has grand visuals, we are in that kind of a stage.
Not just a hero's film, it has to be grand and interesting. So, in this situation, to spend money and send it to the theatre and if it doesn't reach the audience will be a bigger betrayal. This film was made with a certain set audience in mind and if it doesn't reach them it would be very unfortunate. So, I'd spoken to Ranjith, and we decided to release it in OTT.
In this film, there is a small boy acting as Kumaresan, compared to your actors, how was it working with him. Did you find a difference or did you have a different approach?
Not really, getting work done with kids is a very easy task as they do what they're told instantaneously. If I take 100 shots or 1 shot, this boy's performance will always be perfect.
That boy is a single-take artist.
This is your first film, what is your plan after this?
I have committed to my next project about six months ago. We have finished pre-production and are yet to start shooting. The film will be in my style. It will be from my point of view, my film language will be in that meter.
If you see Vetri Maaran and Pa Ranjith, they have a unique style and film language. So, after Seththumaan, when you watch my next project you will be able to notice my distinct film language. Good content and reach is my aim. It will not be as artistic as Seththumaan, but will definitely carry my film language and will be in my style.