Karthik Subbaraj, the director of Dhanush-starrer Jagame Thandhiram, speaks about what his expectations were about the reception for the film, why he consciously chose to treat the dramatic and gangster parts of the film differently and what he thinks of Jigarthanda today, seven years after its release. Edited Excerpts…
Suruli in Jagame Thandhiram starts off not knowing anything about the Eelam issue. Was that your way of saying that this generation is slowly forgetting recent historical events?
Yes, but not just this generation. A lot of people, generally, don’t know about what’s happening. Suruli says in a dialogue in the film: we are just people who pity and move on. All of us are among that crowd; the majority moves on. I’m not criticizing. In fact, Suruli is one such person.
I lived in Madurai all my life, until I began working. There’s a refugee camp there with people from Sri Lanka. They came there because of the war. But, I knew about that only after a long time. Half the people still don’t know about the place. I was surprised to learn about it. It had so many restrictions: everyone had to be back before six in the evening and they couldn’t get a job. I realized these issues very late and wanted to help people empathize.
There’s an obvious dialogue in the film: our boys are tigers. There’s also the larger issue of an immigration bill. Would you say Jagame Thandhiram is your first political film?
I can’t separate films by genre when I’m writing, but this film is about politics, from beginning to end. And we did anticipate controversies and arguments about the portrayal. I also expected mixed reviews. Pizza had no negative reviews. Slowly, as I made films, I got mixed reviews. Sometimes, I get hate reviews. I actually wanted to see the reaction of the audience.
Somewhere, I knew reactions would be mixed. I don’t think it should be taken personally; I’m learning too. I can identify the genuine reviews. I respect Madan sir’s reviews. He was one of the best. I think we should take constructive criticism. We’re not master filmmakers. We make mistakes and learn. I read and take constructive reviews.
Iraivi was the first time you got into a dramatic space. In Jagame Thandhiram, with the mix of the gangster parts that have genre sensibility and a real-life issue, how different was it to combine them?
The issue of immigration could be discussed very seriously or we could do it as a hardcore action like Oldboy with violence or we could do a celebratory action. But I somehow enjoy what I did in Jagame Thandhiram. I wanted the characters to be exciting to me while writing.
When it came to the making, we were very keen that the gangster part should have the right kind of making. There’s also a small portion that happens in Sri Lanka. We wanted that to be different in terms of the shots and music. The way we handled the dramatic scenes would be different. The film again comes back to the gangster zone when Suruli decides to go against Peter. It was planned during pre-production. Even a song like ‘Theengu Thaakka’ is very different from ‘Theipirai’.
It might seem like a different film but I wanted it to be like that. When the transformation of Suruli happens, I felt the film should be in a drama mode.
How much time does it take for you to begin to analyze what you could have done differently?
This film is a new experience for me. Any filmmaker makes a film to see how the audience reacts. Even in Petta, this has happened to me. A show starts in Dubai and a lot of unexpected reactions come in. But what you see in theatres would be very different. It takes time and has happened before. The initial reaction on social media is different.
Even for Pizza there was no opening around Madurai but when I saw it in a theatre, I thought people’s reaction was what we expected. With this film, I don’t know. I can’t see the audience reaction. Social media and reviews are the only source of feedback now. The number of people who message or call me is very minimal.
If you saw Jigarthanda today when there’s a certain distance from it, how would you assess it?
I never get that distance. Even when I was talking about Jigarthanda yesterday, I felt the closeness. It happens with every film. Until now, I have never felt that I should have done anything differently. I don’t want to because we have time to get it right beforehand.
From preproduction till the final output is when you have time to make changes. After that there’s no point.