Edited excerpts below:
How was your first meeting with Kamal Haasan?
I first met him in 2017 after Maanagaram, it was the time when sir had been injured in the leg. He was in rest. I wasn't able to speak to him at all. He asked me about the name of the film and I had no answers. That was the first time of meeting him. The next time I met him was when we agreed to make this film. During the shooting of Master, Kaithi was also not released then, I was asked if I wanted to do a movie with Kamal sir. I thought they were being funny. When I met sir to finalize the film, I met him on the Indian 2 set and he was in that makeup. I didn't know what to do. On the set itself, we signed the film. I never thought I would get an autograph like that. It was an unforgettable moment.
You are experiencing this amazing emotion every time you meet him. From there to meeting him every day on the sets where you are the director and he is the actor, how was the feeling? When did it start sinking in that you are directing a Kamal Haasan film?
It took me just the first day. If I keep thinking about the excitement, we can't really make the film. Sir also let me have the whole film and process. It was like I owned the film. He trusted me in that set.
Has this developed a deep bonding with him? What did you learn professionally and personally from him?
Obviously. Personally, there was a lot of advice from him. A lot of personal advice. Advice in the sense — of career-based ones — how long to shoot movies, the writing process, and his experiences. Professionally, besides all that I have seen in his old interviews, when I directly worked with him, I saw how dedicated he is. For the movie, he wanted to build his triceps and did it with so much dedication, even after covid.
Even after achieving so much, he is so down to earth and dedicated. I'll also take his value of respect for life and how to treat another human. He spends time with people around him and treats them with the utmost respect regardless of how small their role in the film is.
Is he a call-away mentor right now? Someone you can call today?
From watching his films from afar to watching him act up close, I can discuss a lot with him. Anyday, If I want to meet him, I can go and meet him, I get that time. The most surprising thing is that he respects and likes my kind of films. Obviously, he is my mentor for a long time, but now it is more evident.
Somewhere in your zen mode, I sense an emotion while talking about sir, but coming to this again, on the last day of shooting with Kamal sir did you tear up? Was it emotional?
There was a scene where Kamal sir had to become teary-eyed. While that shot was happening, my AD and I felt emotional while watching him on the monitor. The last day was very tedious for this film. There was a lot of night shoot and I had a lot of pressure to finish.
For sir's last shot I felt very emotional too. I didn't expect it but once it ended, he called me to his caravan. He told me, "I was so happy on the set." He also bought me a watch on the last day and asked me to wear it right in front of him. It is very valuable and I will treasure it.
Coming back to Vikram, the music album was a properly packaged album. The most viral song was sung by sir, was this planned, or was it incidental?
While the other songs were planned and went in flow with the film. But initially, we had discussed skipping the 'Pathala Pathala' song because sir was injured. But he recovered and was ready to discuss these things. It took me a while to decide about the songs for this film. I really wanted to see sir dance but I needed to make sure it wasn't alien to the film too. I decided to do that song only ten days before the shoot. I wanted him to write, sing and dance for it and we did the song immediately.
Aren't these things surreal?
Yes, it was surreal for everyone. Even Sandy, the choreographer, felt that choreographing and seeing Kamal sir dance was surreal. Yeah, we can even call this a movie made by ardent fans of Kamal sir.
Since you were talking about Anirudh Ravichander, nowadays there is a crowd that just wants to see his BGM scores, how is that coming out in Vikram?
For that audience, it is going to be a feast because Ani hasn't tried to do this type of dark commercial film. He really enjoyed doing this and he killed it.
Girish Gangadharan is a renowned Cinematographer and is known for his movement shots. When did you decide you needed him on board?
Sathyan Sooryan, who was the DOP for Kaithi and Master couldn't do this film. Since Vikram was a set like Kaithi, I wanted to replicate the lighting and setting. I liked all of Girish's works like Angamaly Diaries, Jallikattu, Sarkar, etc. So we told Girish the story and he came on board and he settled in within the first few days.
You are giving hope to a lot of aspiring directors and your progress is getting by the day. How are you handling this success?
Beyond being proud of my success, I've fear about failure. When I face failure, it's not just me going down but I am taking my entire team down. It's not easy for the audience to give us a name and space. If we realize that responsibility and always have the fear of failure, I think we can sustain ourselves. We need not change us for this. So I like being myself because my team would then remain with me even if the movie fails.
Which is tougher – achieving success or sustaining and living with it?
I see this as not just luck — I didn't get Kamal sir's film just because of luck; it has 10 years of sincere and honest effort. When such true efforts and sincerity are there, I don't think there is an issue. With sincere efforts, I think this film will also meet the audience's expectations.
What after this, what are the upcoming movies like? Was Suriya's involvement planned in this film planned?
I'd like to make that announcement next month. Suriya's involvement in the film was a surprise for me too.