When a filmmaker makes a mark with his very film, the multi-narrative Maanagaram, the pressure of expectation builds up. When his sophomore film is Kaithi — a taut thriller with a star-performer like Karthi, where the director is confident to make a movie without a female lead — everyone's eyes train on the person. And when the third brings together a much-loved star and a much-loved performer together, you know there's something special brewing. If there was pressure, Lokesh Kanagaraj did not show it, even though his film starred Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi. But, for the pandemic, he would have silently shot the film, done post-production and sat back and watched the response. But, he had to keep the initial buzz alive for a full year, as theatres shut shop during the pandemic. Master finally released on January 13, 2019, to rapturous response from fans and mostly positive reviews from the critics.
In a post-release interview with Baradwaj Rangan, Lokesh speaks about the choices he exercised while writing a film for a star, the narrative tools used, the intro shot and the song placement. Excerpts.
In mass movies, for the hero's entry, you can either do a song or a dance. You started with an action sequence. This establishes him as a heroic guy, but we don't know much about him. If you had started with the 'Vaathi Coming' song, the audience would have looked at him as an alcoholic. Why did you choose to have an action sequence in the beginning?
The first reason would be Vijay's stardom. People would definitely enjoy the action sequence. Another thing is I had already established Bhavani, he's very steady and shown as a forceful, stable guy. So, I wanted to show both these characters visually this way for the first shot. The action sequence is because of his stardom, because, otherwise, the opening shot would be of him picking the phone while sitting on a sofa.
In a hero-oriented film, one of the most important shots is the hero intro shot. Why an auto?
I came to films because of Kamal sir's films. At the same time, Rajini sir, Vijay and Ajith sir have intro scenes that thrills people in the theatre. I felt the auto is unique since it reminds me of Kamal Sir and Rajini Sir. So, the problem posed was why he'd be sitting in the auto and I thought it would be unique to place him in that street listening to music. I had once seen someone sitting on a tricycle listening to music, and I decided to recreate it.
One of the best scenes in the movie is the post-interval scene where Arjun sings 'Kutti story' to mock Vijay. I was thinking Vijay would give a counter punch because that's what the hero would do. There is one real emotional integrity in that scene, because at that point he knows he doesn't have the moral authority to give that as two kids died because of him. He's still vulnerable. When did you think of this? Because when it comes to Vijay-level films, there is no such thing as vulnerability. When Vijay called you, did you ever think that this character is not perfect and did you think of changing it?
I had that feeling during the first two meetings. Then, when the meetings became regular and we began to sync I asked him directly. Usually Vijay Sir portrays larger-than-life characters and this is a normal character, a drunkard professor. Even when someone dies of an accident, it takes time to get out of guilt, there were several things like this. When I asked him, he said, "It's okay, there is no problem."
Among many interesting decisions here is Vijay meets Vijay Sethupathi only in the end. Das is the common point between them. Could you tell me about that?
In Kaithi, we showed Arjun Das as someone who is restless and agitated. In this, we wanted someone who's focussed and thinks a lot. Someone else was supposed to do the role Arjun eventually did. When Arjun came on board, we changed a few things.
What changes did you make?
The previously-written character was straightforward and listened to Vijay Sethupathi's character and did what he said. When it came to Arjun, his features and aggression were more in this film. That's why he calls for a kabaddi match.
Earlier, movies used the double role trope to showcase the weakness of the hero, where one character is timid and the other is more daring. In Master, you have shown the hero play a flawed character who gets a chance of redemption, which was the strength of the film. But the problem I had was you establish the college portion for about 45 minutes but the crux of the story begins only when Vijay joins the observation home. What made you think you had to have the elaborate college portion before getting into the story's conflict? And why did you not feel the characters needed to come back?
The initial idea was to showcase an upscale and posh college, since it'll work out in contrast colour palettes between the College and the observation home. Since a major portion of the story takes place at the observation home, it was necessary to have that elaborate college portion to observe the contrast. The second reason was I wanted the story arcs of both Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi's characters to be established thoroughly — hence the length. I have also received feedback that the movie is lengthy and have taken it into consideration.
Even the romance is toned down with only a one-sided angle. What was the reason?
We couldn't include a romance angle in the first half and also there wasn't a solid purpose to justify it. Hence, in the latter half of the film, the story progresses because of a decision made by Malavika's character, and she begins to like the change in JD's character and that's where we established a crush sort of angle with the song 'Andha Kanna Paathaakaa'.