Edited excerpts from an interview between Baradwaj Rangan and Venkat after the release of Maanaadu. Spoilers ahead:
BR: Your earlier films, especially Chennai 28, was able to maintain that complex balance between a serious story and light treatment. But later on, even though the concepts were there, I found your films focussing more on humour without paying enough attention to the serious part. Would you call that a fair observation?
VP: I want to have humour in all my films. That irreverence or sarcasm keeps coming as a I sit down to write. I want to make fun of myself before the audience gets to. That’s my mindset. If you see Saroja, it’s about the panic a couple face when their daughter goes missing. I would have handled those emotions there and I didn’t dilute that. They remain in the mindset and I didn’t make them heroes. But in Goa, I wanted to make a film with the feel of American Pie, a young adult film. So naturally, their ideology is flawed. In Mankatha, there was hardly any room for humour. It was a heist film about a bad guy with a lot of cheating and betrayal. When we do it with someone like Ajith, we had several mass scenes. Beyond that, in a big star film, there will also be a justification for why he is a evil. But I didn’t add anything like that. I maintained that he is a bad guy. The expections for Biryani, which released after, was huge. But I simply just wanted to make films across genres. The idea was to take a humorous take on a crime novel. Mass was about making a friendly ghost film for kids. Something like Sixth Sense but with a twist where the character can see all the ghosts around him. Chennai 28 Reunion then was just to see how these old friends maintain their friendship after marriage and kids. In all my films, the idea was to have a story. I dont treat any film as an out-an-out comedy. It reaches the audience sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t.
At first Maanaadu was just a political thriller. Then you added the time loop concept. Can you tell me how the writing process happened?
Normally, I like to talk a lot. Before writing, I keep talking to my ADs. I take a lot of inputs from them as well. After I brought the time-loop concept, my idea was to bring in elements of the concept that were not too common in the films before. There’s been a lot of interesting ways filmmakers have used it. Groundhog Day used it for romance and to make him a pro musician. More than trying to show people how intelligent I am, I wanted to take the concept to all types of audiences. If it had only appealed to one type of audience, it would have been my failure.
So before we delved into the concept, I wanted to take a little more time. When the lead character dies so early on, I wanted the audience to think what the protagonist is thinking.—“Is this a dream?” In the first loop, then, the idea was to reveal a few bits about the loop itself. He should realise that all this has happened before and we could add a little more information to it. Then in the third loop onwards, he stars getting frustrated. He will go at it alone and he starts talking to his friends about it. That’s when he realises that he’s reliving the same day and that it is only happening to him. So the first three loops: the director’s narration, first loop and second loop, needed to be explained in detail. After that, I knew I was going to be using jump cuts so the audience needed to be clear about the concept by then. That was the idea.
But I took a long time to write the second half. We thought of not bringing in the loop for SJ Suryah’s character becasue that would have made it even more complicated. It’s already a new concept and this might have made it too laborious for the new viewer. But then the hero here is like a superhero. It’s like a video game because he can always die and come back to life again. We needed to use that detail properly.
Was the interval block the same then?
Yes pretty much. My idea was to take the story to a new place in the second half. I didn’t want to give a scientific explanation for why the loop was happening. So I used a fantasy backstory in a way they can understand it. Vikramaditya Vedhalam idea was brought in and even they kind of live in a time loop. When blood mixes, the loop should pass on to the other person as well. That’s how we brought in the second loop. In these loops, we also needed to say a political story to make it more believable. The full story is conveyed in just half hour and then what happens in simply a process where the protagonist is forced to become a hero even though he never wanted to. That’s how I wrote Maanaadu.