Ideological Extremism Is More Poisonous Than Liquor: Karthik Subbaraj

“The coincidences of Gandhi, Satyavan and Gnanam meeting each other is a deliberate move as I thought that would make it more exciting”, says the director.
Ideological Extremism Is More Poisonous Than Liquor: Karthik Subbaraj

In this Deep Focus interview with Baradwaj Rangan, Karthik Subbaraj talks about the making of his film Mahaan, and why he wrote certain scenes in a particular manner. 

When Gandhi (Vikram) meets Naachi (Simran) after nearly 25 years, she goes and embraces him. So is it a hug that conveys 'I forgive you' or a hug to say that 'I am happy to see you after such a long time'?

When I wrote that scene, I felt it was important. They are meeting after 20 years, and during that period they had no contact. The son comes and stands like a demon, and the main reason is the way they have nurtured him with the vengeance against his father. The Mahaan character has faced a tragedy just before that scene and he walks in with so much anger. He doesn't know who and where to go. So when I was thinking what would they first do when they meet, I felt like they would hug each other.

Many asked me why that scene, I have no reason. I just felt it was justified. When we think from the perspective of Naachi, that action felt right. For Nachi, though he was against their ideologies, she always loved him. Even in earlier scenes, she will do everything but she would also ask him why he is wearing an old shirt on his birthday. Though she has the feeling that he has cheated, when she sees him after twenty years, I felt the first instinct would be to hug him. That's why we had the scene. After hugging, immediately, she slaps and then he too slaps back. When we shot that scene, it was very convincing.

Satyavan, Gnanam and Gandhi were childhood friends. Then, when Gandhi is celebrating his 40th birthday, that one night he decides to do whatever he likes. During that one night, he stumbles into Satyavan. Later, again in sort of a coincidence, he runs into Gnanam. When you wrote the scenes, did you deliberately write it as a coincidence?

Yes, I kept it as a coincidence. In childhood, the complaints reach their parents and they are split. They are not going to talk after that. So the three boys are separated at that moment itself. But they have to meet again because that is the story. I felt it could be coincidental. He goes to the bar and coincidentally he meets Rocky and gets to know that Rocky's father is Satyavan. And Gnanam comes in when there is a crucial situation where they need the support of a politician; he then accidentally becomes a close friend. So all these were deliberately written to be coincidences.

There are actually three phases in the film – Gandhi Mahaan's actual life, the bigger turn when he meets Satyavan, then later there is an issue when the Government decides to take up everything and we need someone to take them to the next level, so Gnanam comes in. When we are showing three phases, his entire life of 20 years should be shown in one hour and then the other story starts where his son comes back. So when I had to show 20 years in one hour, I thought it would not be wrong if these were coincidences. I thought it was more exciting than gradually making them meet each other.

Last question, has Karthik Subbaraj become a more political filmmaker? In the beginning, you used to do pure genre films like Pizza and Jigarthanda. But gradually, you have started to make more political films like your short film in Navarasa. In Jagame Thandiram, you talk about immigration and in Mahaan, you have Gandhism and you talk about free will and all these kinds of things. Are you changing, like, in terms of your thought process?

No, I would say all these experiences while making films like Pizza and Jigarthanda has given me the confidence to make anything into the script. If you ask me if I would have made Mahaan as my second film, I don't know, probably not. I did not have the courage to talk about how liquor is being politicised here in the past. But I think now I have more confidence and it might even give me the confidence to do more. I didn't do it deliberately. I wanted to talk about a father-son story, but when all this came, I thought let's explore it. Liquor is symbolism here. More than the liquor, what's poisonous is your ideological extremism.

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