In this Deep focus episode, Director Arun Matheswaran talks to Baradwaj Rangan about his debut directional Rocky and shares about the use of themes based on God and Time, the process behind building characters like Rocky and Manimaran and much more.
Edited Excerpts Below:
What was your state of mind when you wrote Rocky?
It is very obvious that the writer in me wasn’t amused with the way my life was heading. It kind of reflected on the script and the way it was written. It has got to do with mood also. So yeah, I was in a bad personal place when I wrote the script. I would say there is a bit of Rocky in everyone and this is like an expression I got to make through this film.
On the surface, this is just a revenge drama but what really makes the film is your addition of two existential concepts of God and Time, which kind brings these two extra layers into this thing. So what are your thoughts on God and Time?
For one, I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in the concept of God but growing up we have got these moral science classes and we were taught good vs evil. I love the theme and it appeals to me. For instance, karma, we do bad things and it comes back to us…as a theme, it works for me.
I thought putting it in the gangsters’ world and placing it in that milieu makes more sense because they are people who live on the edge. It kind of gives a layer to the film. As you said, it is not a very complicated narrative, it is a very simple story and it was intended to be that way. Sudha (Sudha Kongara) once told me that Mani sir had said, ‘When the soul of the film is very commercial, you can experiment with the narrative’. So I think that was something I stuck to.
I found this plot very common and generic. We would have seen this being told like a million times. So placing this more like a character study of Rocky, Manimaran and the other characters was the plan. In a concrete jungle, we see all these characters and we have this character study.
With the relevance of God, for instance, there is a scene where Rocky claims to be God, and the whole idea is Rocky is Ketta Kadavul (Bad God) and Manimaran is Nalla Saathaan (Good Satan). I felt having such a theme will work and give a layer, and we can also go into the psyche of the characters and give a narration about things that haven’t been told before. So these are all underlining the theme of the film.
Very early on, in the time repair mechanic’s house, over the radio, you hear the song of Malarndhu Malaraadha Paadhi Malar Polae from Pasamalar. Initially, you think it is just one of the things happening. But towards the end, just before he gets out the Eagle (aka) the Gatling Gun, he turns to his niece and tells her the exact line Shivaji tells in the film ‘Thangai magalaana Mangai unakaaga Ulagai vilai pesuvaar’. Except for pesuvaar, he says pesuven. So that’s something I have never seen in any film. Your film is visually stylistic of course, but this is kind of a stylistic device is something I have never seen before. Explain to me how that idea came about.
Usually, when I write, I do listen to songs depending on the mood of the scene. For me, when writing this sequence, I listened to the song Malarndhu Malaraadha and the line suddenly struck – this is the story of the film and this is the climax. I have always liked the song, it is a very close one. So when I was listening, they clearly kind of underlined the climax. The two lines are going to represent the climax of the film. So I thought we might as well use them.
Did you ever feel it would sound a little odd?
Colloquially, we do not pronounce those lines that way. But, I thought when you see the drama as a larger picture, people would immediately connect to those lines. They won’t look at it as speaking ‘print/old Tamil’. I don’t think they will look at it that way. It is a song that they have always listened to growing up, so I felt they will easily connect. Probably, when Rocky visits Rolex Mahalingam in the watch shop, this song subconsciously sticks to the memory. The story happens over two to three days, so it might be fresh in your mind.
Time is there in the very fabric of your film. For instance, you just mentioned the character name Rolex Mahalingam. It is there in the very soft tick tick tick noise of the wall clocks. And more surprisingly, when Rocky meets his sister, there is that wall clock under which he’s standing and you hear the tick-tick noise. It is there in the watch Rocky carries around, which is a gift that his mother gave his father. It is there in the 17 years that he spent in prison.
But it is also there in the shots, you do a lot of one-shot takes that actually makes the audience experience time the way Rocky experiences time. Was that deliberate?
Yes, it was. For example, in the scene where he meets his sister, I could have easily cut away to a few shots to a house and stuff like that. It is a 13-minute scene and I wanted the audience to also experience the longing that Rocky is going through for the 17 years of his life. He lived in a confined space where emptiness was all he got in those years.
The film is also not a ‘slice of life’ film. Since it is going in an episodic format, I didn’t have scenes where we show a happy family, how the brother and sister are growing up, and then lose their father. There are no such scenes and it is not that kind of a film. We enter the drama directly and we show his longing. The audience should also have real-time experience in the 14 minutes of what Rocky is going through. If we cut, it becomes cinema in a way.
It has to have that real-time experience where we see Rocky and follow, and then we see the equation between the two and shift from Rocky to his sister Amutha and see her emotions. Capturing this in a single shot, the audience also get invested in that time and keep watching the entire thing. So having those lengthy single shots was an intentional choice to keep that realism factor.