Ahead of the release of Dhanush-starrer Karnan, its producer Kalaippuli S. Thanu speaks about how he selects scripts, the point at which he was convinced by Mari Selvaraj’s narration, and his experiences producing Sachein, Thuppakki, and Kabaali in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Excerpts…
You produced your first film Yaar in 1985 and now you’ve produced Karnan in 2021… how has the role of the producer changed in Tamil films?
I was a distributor from 1971 to 1984. I decided to make a film with friends in 1985. There have been a lot of obstacles and problems. But, if we are honest, we can overcome them.
As a producer, the situation in the industry is the same. It might have been different before me, when producers cast actors based on the story. But that had changed by the time I entered the industry.
Some producers start a project because they like the story or the hero-director combination. What is it for you? Has it changed over the years?
Nothing like that. It’s always the story for me. For instance, when I heard the story of Kizhakku Cheemayile, I said that it would be an important and successful film, and recommended that it be made with Bharathiraja with a producer of his choice. Eventually, I took up the film. And my prediction about the film was right.
Do you read scripts or do you have it narrated? At what point do you know that you like a story?
I need a narration for ninety minutes. But, on the other hand, Gautham Menon narrated Kaakha Kaakha for three and a half hours. I asked him to trim it because it would be a bit longer after you shoot due to songs and fights. He rewrote it.
Let’s take Asuran… when Vetrimaaran narrated the story to you, at what point did you feel that it would work?
I read just four pages of the novel ‘Vekkai’ (by Poomani) and decided to produce the film. I told Vetrimaaran that the film would do great. Vetrimaaran also does a certain magic with his screenplays. Only a few can do that.
Let’s take Karnan. At what point in Mari Selvaraj’s narration did you feel that you wanted to produce the film?
Right after he finished. I told him it would be a big hit. I even called up Dhanush and told him.
Could you tell me something you’ve learned or experienced with some of your films. Let’s start with Kandukondain Kandukondain…
It is a family movie. There was a lot of Rajeev Menon’s hard work, also Rahman’s. It was a good mixture of various things.
It was narrated a story, a different one was shot, and in the end it became a different film. I’m going to re-edit the film and take it to great heights.
I wanted to do something like Kushi. It satisfied everyone, really. They added smoke (to mimic Ooty), even in scenes that happen inside the airport. People mocked that. We could have removed it had we had today’s technology. Other than that, the film was a commercial hit.
It was a good Robin Hood story. But the director spent a lot of money shooting in several foreign countries. It was a good story, but was too long at three hours.
Vijay asked me to hear AR Murugadoss’s narration. Just the day before that, I received a one-line synopsis of the story. I didn’t need to hear the story, it was all I needed. I told them that it would be a super success. Even with Theri, I was convinced after I had heard the first half.
Rajini sir told me he would do a film with me in 1985. Before Annamalai, we tried to make a film but the story didn’t work out. When he was making Yajaman, I was one of the options too. I almost made Muthu. Finally, Kabaali worked out.
If someone asked you how someone could be a long-lasting producer in Tamil films, what would be your advice?
I would advise them against it. If they still wanted to produce films, they must make an effort. There’s a lot going on in the background. Experience as a distributor is very important. Because I’ve been a distributor, I know all exhibitors. It’s easier to release films.