A cricket film (Jeeva), a psychological thriller (Ratsasan), a time-travel flick (Indru Netru Naalai), a period comedy (Mundasupatti), and now a progressive sports drama with Gatta Kusthi. Throughout his enviably versatile filmography, Vishnu Vishal has had one goal — to be a “hero.” Ella heroes kum hero aaganum nu thaa aasai, but na panna padangal la naa kadhaapaathirama irundhene thavira, hero ah ila / All heroes would want to become a hero but I was only characters in my films, not the hero.
The “hero” he is referring to here is a commercial hero who can do it all — dance, punch, and spew punch dialogue. And that is exactly what he got to do with Veera, the moustache-twirling man in his recent sports production Gatta Kusthi. But Veera is not your typical man’s man. Even if he starts off his graph as a misogynist with a skewered opinion on women, when he marries a wife stronger than him, he leaves way for her to do the heavy lifting. The actor looks at Gatta Kusthi as the perfect commercial comedy that he always wanted to do. “The film fell into place at the right time with the right message.” Edited excerpts from an interview.
What interested you the most about Gatta Kusthi?
From Kullanari Koottam (2011) to Indru Netru Naalai (2015), all my films were content-oriented and it helped me reach a good space. But somebody told me then (six years ago), “If you try to do commercial cinema, neenga kaanama poiduveenga (you might not be there in the industry anymore).” What he said hurt me but somewhere he was right. So I thought I must do something that I haven’t done so far, commercially. I produced Velainu Vandhutta Vellaikaaran (2016). I was scared but when it clicked, I felt confident. That is how I made Katha Nayagan (2017) and Silukkuvarupatti Singam (2018). The one I did outside was Ratsasan (2018).
But after Ratsasan, I had nine films that dropped. People said, “Vishnu is doing well but his films are not running because of him.” So, I decided to prove that I was a commercially viable hero. Ratsasan was one of the first films that I carried entirely on my shoulders and it gave me the confidence to do FIR and also produce it. After FIR, I wanted to do Gatta Kusthi because this film had the right mix of commercial elements and the right content.
I decided to make the film long back but I was waiting for the right time. I am playing to my strengths in the film — I have learned to dance and fight like a commercial hero. And commercial films should also have the right dose of the right things. This film is about women's empowerment and gender equality. I should be able to support a woman in her dream and she should be able to support me in my dream. That is what the film is all about. I wanted to convey this through this movie and that is why I chose to do Gatta Kusthi.
You said that the story was supposed to fall into place long back. Can you speak about that?
Even before making Silukkuvarupatti Singam, Chella Ayyavu narrated this idea to me. I told him that we will do this film as our second film and that it will definitely succeed. But he had an entirely comedy-oriented script back then. I saw huge potential in the script, but thought it needed more emotions. In most scenarios today, women are not able to continue playing sports after they get pregnant. I wanted to show their emotions. Rather than just make people laugh and send them away, I wanted them to see the change in this man’s character.
After Ratsasan, I had the choice of either producing Gatta Kusthi or FIR. So I decided to give what the audience expected from me first. If I had made Gatta Kusthi first, they might have thought that I was just doing comedy films. But when I did FIR first and followed it up with Gatta Kusthi, it created a fine balance. Meanwhile, I asked him to work on the script and the emotional parts. That is why we waited and made the film after a gap.
How did you decide to step back and give the space for Aishwarya Lekshmi to dabble in the typically hero-led space?
My travel is going to be a little different from the rest. Gatta Kusthi is my first step in getting into the commercial space wherein I have done all that is expected of a commercial hero. I have danced better and also had some of the best action sequences of my career in the film. The interval fight sequence that is centred on my character is one of the biggest buildup fights I have ever had. I also have an opening song. I got whatever I needed as a hero from this movie. But can I be a hero in every movie I act in? I am not for that.
The hero of Mundasupatti was Munishkanth. The hero of Ratsasan was not just me, it was also the villain. I always give that space. So, the hero of Gatta Kusthi is not just me, it is also Aishwarya Lekshmi. Let’s talk about what I got from the film. Frankly, 70% of the film’s comedy was on my shoulder. In most of my previous comedies, I did not play a huge part in the humour — only the comedians around me did. But here, I got to do that.
I am also the producer of the film, which means that I have a clear vision. This movie is purely for people to understand that men and women are equal, so if that is the case, the woman's character should be equal to the man’s, right? So, Aishwarya Lekshmi has a role that is equal to mine, perhaps even 5% more than mine in this movie.
Although your character Veera is a misogynist in the film, it is clear that his judgments are clouded by his uncle’s influence. Veera could’ve very easily become a person that audiences detest. But you’ve treated the character with a certain humour to depict his sensitive side
That was the most difficult part of the movie. It was like literally walking on a knife. When I heard the script, I said, “It is a very good script but my character can go wrong in a jiffy”. If I made one mistake, the film could be gone. I am the hero of this film and not the villain. The misogynists in the society are in turn the film’s villain.
But somewhere along the way, I am portraying misogynistic characteristics and traits, so that was very challenging for me. I was clear that Veera shouldn’t say these lines with arrogance. He should say these lines in a way that appears to be strict, but it is not really so. I had to make sure that he was likeable.
The interval scene was a laugh riot. What was the set like when the scene was filmed?
We all knew that the interval block was going to be great. As a producer, what I spent for that fight sequence is something I haven’t spent even on the action sequences for any of my own movies. Veera bayangarama adipan, but Veera ah va thaandi iva adipa (Veera will fight well, but Keerthi will hit even better). That is what I showed in the film. The crowd that was on the spot during filming, was also surprised to see the heroine’s fight sequence. My fight sequence was shot only for a day, while Aishwarya’s was shot over six days. And today, everyone is appreciating Aishwarya, and I am very happy. That is how it should be. The way it is received in theatres with all those whistles and claps, Yeppa, chance eh illa.
How did Ravi Teja come into the picture?
I was looking at getting into the Telugu industry. So, I tried to release FIR in Telugu and that is when my wife’s friend introduced me to Ravi Teja sir, and he presented the film. I told him about Gatta Kusthi at the time and he wanted to collaborate. That’s how it all started. The film got a bigger scale when he came on board. I could have shot the film at half the budget of what I have shot today, but I was able to get the best technicians like Anbariv master for the stunt sequences and got a bigger kusthi set for the climax. I was able to pull it off because Ravi Teja sir believed in me.
So, what kind of roles does Vishnu Vishal, the producer, want for Vishnu Vishal, the actor?
As a producer (a split personality if you will), I have taken all these risks for Vishnu Vishal, the actor, to grow. I have lined up different kinds of films. The agreement between the producer and the actor in me was to do five films together — FIR (2022), Gatta Kusthi, and three upcoming projects Mohandas, Aaryan, and an untitled project. Only after that, the actor is doing Laal Salaam, a movie with the Ratsasan director Ram Kumar, and another big film.
So, when he comes back, I am going to give him the kind of roles that are bigger in vision and scale. So, it is like, “Listen, I am going to put you in a proper commercial space where you have to carry it and I will give you a lot of challenges.” The producer here is purely for the actor and I want to see him grow. In that process, I want to grow my business and do even bigger films.