From making Kollywood’s first zombie film to creating an action entertainer with an animated Teddy, filmmaker Shakti Soundar Rajan has always had surprising elements in store. In his upcoming film Captain, Arya’s army man takes on an extra-terrestial monster, which is a completely CG-generated character.
Rajan, who is well known for adapting western concepts, talks to Harshini SV about his excitement for concept-based films, the making of Captain, and his experience working with Arya.
You have made a zombie film, a space film, and a film with a Teddy. Now with Captain, we have a monster creature. What attracts you to the fantasy/sci-fi genre?
I like to explore new audio-visual elements each time. I feel people will come to the theatre for the movie with a new visual and audio experience. They will choose to watch on the big screen instead of the OTT.
Even my first film, Naayanam in 2010 was like a bank heist genre. The concept was very new because no one had done a film on a single robbery till then. The robbery scene will only be shot like an interval block episode or something. So back then, no one had done one whole film on one particular robbery. But I thought when you squeeze it down to one visual set piece, it will be interesting to make films that way. I am always interested in making action films and making films that are very accessible to people. In addition, only if I am convinced of the story do I go ahead with the project because each film of mine takes 2 years, so I have to be excited for 2 years on that subject.
Going back, how was it for you to pitch ideas like Naaigal Jaakiradhai in 2014 and Miruthan in 2016 itself?
I have been lucky to have very supportive artists and producers for all my six films. I have always been surprised by the amount of trust and support I receive from the actors and producers in each film. The milieu of Tamil films is very pro-director and it’s been a nurturing environment for me throughout.
As you said, you make a film for two years. So, how do you keep yourself invested at that point?
I think one must have a single-minded approach and that goes with any career. I never look at it in terms of hardships and all that, no complaints always – that’s my attitude. Even during the pandemic, there was an extended process for the release of Teddy (2021) but I never moved on to the next film. I always stick to one film till it’s released, whether it’s delayed or released quickly, I don’t load more than one film on myself.
What are the advantages of pitching such stories now that you have established yourself as a concept filmmaker?
I think, with each film, the trust factor grows in the audience as well. Earning goodwill is quicker within the industry, the audience’s goodwill takes a much longer time. I think it is slowly built up now and I am grateful for that.
So when you make such concept-based films that are very unique, there is a risk factor that you always carry with you? How do you deal with that?
I just look at the statistics for that. I have figured out that only 5 out of 100 films work. That’s always been the statistic in Tamil cinema or any industry. Whether you make new concept films or old concept films or recycle films, no matter what, the success rate is only 5%, and we all strive to be in that 5%. There is no additional risk per se.
Take us through the process of ideating the extraterrestrial creature in the film, what were the challenges?
The CGI is a major department for Captain. We started the CG work during scripting itself. So first we built the model and then we did the muscle movements and the skeletal structure. How the creature moves is a whole department in itself as the creature will move only according to those joints and structure.
Once that was built, we shot the film and then we locked the film in January. From January till now in September, it’s only been CGI work. Arun Raj is my CG supervisor and we have been working together for the past three films – Tik Tik Tik, Teddy, and now Captain. He is the main person I rely on for all the CG work.
Since you have worked with Arun Raj for three films now, is it easier to communicate your thoughts?
Yeah, it took 3 films for us to be able to have the confidence to make a completely CG-generated character.
As you said, you cannot shoot and see it on camera. So when you have a stand-in person for the creature doing the activities during the shoot, what are the challenges like?
We had done a little bit of that in Teddy. In Teddy, the body was a body suit and the head was completely CGI generated. So as a team, we all had some experience. It’s the same team that worked in Teddy straight to the hero. So moving from that step to this is like the next level.
Talking about Arya collaborating for the second time, you have made 6 films so far, you have worked twice with Sibiraj, and Jayam Ravi, and now with Arya. So is it like a pattern you follow in terms of casting?
I am just really happy that the artist and the producers who worked with me want to work with me again. Each actor comes with goodwill they have earned over decades in their career, so I am just happy for the friendship and trust.
So when you wrote the story for Captain, did you already have Arya in mind?
Yes, when Teddy was in the dubbing process, we decided to work again. So this was particularly written for Arya.
Tell us about what Arya brought to the role for this film.
For this film, Arya is also the producer along with Swaroop Reddy, who is the founder of Sathyam cinemas. So, I had much more freedom in this film. With the producer and actor being the same person, it was such a smooth ride.
As an actor, he had put a lot of effort stunt-wise. I don’t think anyone would have been able to pull off the stunts that Arya has done for this movie. Since he is a fitness enthusiast, it really helped him to push himself to the limits of his physical capabilities.
What was Arya’s first reaction when you narrated the script?
Since I answered very clinically for all the questions, I can answer this one with a personal touch. I am a very bad narrator. When I narrated Teddy, I came home and told my wife that Arya really liked the film, he wants to do it and he is super charged up and all that.
After we bonded during the shooting, like a week later, Arya said to me that he didn’t understand heads or tails and had no idea what film Teddy was going to be. He was like, “Okay, Shakti has made these films before, so let’s dive in.” So I am very bad at narrating. For Captain, he just took the script and I didn’t narrate it.