Let’s talk about your heroes and their heroism. From the beginning. Your first film, Dheena. How did you feel Ajith would fit this role? Which qualities of his did you feel suited the part?
Usually, here, action heroes are expected to be dark-skinned. And the expectation is that fair-skinned people are ‘soft’. But with Ajith, right from the first film, he was very manly. In Amaravathi, Aasai… he isn’t ‘soft.’ His character carries rage inside.
Your next film was Ramana, with Vijayakanth? Why him?
I made this story for Vijayakanth. I do a bit of research about the hero I have in mind. He was doing two types of characters. He was playing either a villager or an inspector. So I decided I wouldn’t do either of these. I decided, he wouldn’t wear colourful clothes. He’s a normal office-goer. He just has four shirts, four pants. The audience should not know even if the clothes are repeated. So where to put him? I said let’s make him a college professor.
When you took Ghajini to Hindi, with Aamir, did you change anything to suit his screen personality?
A lot of people said Aamir wasn’t as effective as Suriya in the love scenes, and Suriya was as rugged in the action scenes. Suriya did Mayavi before Ghajini. He sells tickets in black. When I wanted to show him as a super-rich character, I was scared. I wasn’t afraid of the rugged role. I knew it just needed him to go bald and bulk up. So we took a lot of effort over the rich character: his hair, his body language, his speech. So when the girl mistakes him for Sanjay Ramasamy, he doesn’t act with her. He just stands back. It’s not like a Crazy Mohan play where he gets into the play-acting. So the love portions really stood out.
In Hindi, Aamir has already played super-rich in Dil Chahta Hai. So we had no doubts about how he would look in a suit. With him, it was the reverse problem. How will the audience accept him as the rugged guy? So we took a lot of care over that character. So when these films came out, the character we worked on the most got talked about the most.
Next, Telugu cinema. Chiranjeevi and Stalin. That was written for him…
My Ramana was remade as Tagore, and I was supposed to direct it. But I wasn’t keen on adding commercial elements. You can make another commercial film. But to add songs and colour to this story… I wouldn’t have been happy doing this. So I left the film. I am not against commercial films. I just didn’t want to make that story commercial. Tagore became a big hit. Then, I thought let’s write a nice commercial film for Chiranjeevi.
Now, Spyder, the new film.
I saw Mahesh Babu‘s Okkadu. At that time, in Tamil cinema, the ‘heroism’ was getting out of hand. People would look at the camera and say things, even those just a film or two old. That’s when I saw Okkadu. A hero does heroism so beautifully, without any ‘heroism.’ So when I decided to do a movie in Telugu, I asked about Mahesh Babu’s availability. I spoke to his manager and then he came on the line and said he wanted to do a film with me.
A hero is one thing. Heroism is another. In Hollywood, stars like Brad Pitt and George Clooney are sometimes used as actors. Is that possible in Tamil cinema?
Sivaji sir acted in Thiruvilaiyaadal. He acts as Shiva, He acts in Kappalottiya Thamizhan. Can we see any actor today play Shiva? Sivaji acts in Paasamalar. A family drama. Vijayakanth acted in Vaanathapola. This happens in all industries, even Tollywood and Bollywood.
But in Tamil, directors and heroes think of only one thing while writing the script: Why does the hero fight? Why can’t this hero star in a family story? MGR did Anbe Vaa. He was a mega star. And this is just a cute love story. So we had that too. But today, the hero’s trajectory has become love story, sentiment story, then action story. The belief is that an action hero is a big hero. And an action-film director is a big director. That has to change.
Will you change things in your next Vijay film?
Surely. I am thinking about it. It is an interesting character. But we also have to consider fans. I may want to show Vijay differently, but the difference cannot exceed the Thuppakki level. If you try to do something very different, it can’t be for the entire duration of the film…