I thought why not make a film where the devil was all-powerful and God suffered, says director Selvaraghavan
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Director Selvaraghavan spoke to Baradwaj Rangan about the moral and philosophical universe of his recently released SJ Suryah-starrer Nenjam Marappathillai. Excerpts…

In Aayirathil Oruvan and Mayakkam Enna, we seem to be getting a 1.0 version of a director. There’s linearity and continuity, there aren’t many surreal elements, and after that there’s a 2.0. Do you accept this fact or do you think you’ve been the same throughout?

That depends on the project actually. I don’t believe in doing the same kind of films. I want to explore as a filmmaker. Every time life has to be different for me. I have a bad habit of always searching for a new thing. I don’t settle that easily. That came as a circle and got into Nenjam Marappathillai.

If you take Kadhir in 7G Rainbow Colony, there’s continuity in whatever he does. Whereas with SJ Suryah’s character Ramsay in Nenjam Marappathillai, there are many things that are exploding in front of us without necessarily being explained to us. That’s also different from what you used to do. 

I think the time has come when we don’t need to spoon-feed and explain. Those were different times. When 7G was made, films used to run for 175 days. Now it’s all about OTT and the pandemic. In cinema, we should evolve.

In the beginning you say that Nenjam Marappathillai is based on an idea from choreographer Kalyan. What was the original idea?

Actually, if you ask me, I don’t remember. It was four to five years before. I wanted to do something challenging within restricted budget and time. I thought that would be the future, where everybody sticks to the schedule and money, and at no point going out of proportion. So I used to talk to Kalyan because he’s my friend. But I don’t remember what the original idea was.

One of the most interesting things is that most horror films, whether it’s Hollywood or here, it’s about good and evil. Here it’s about God and evil. That for me is the key to the whole film. Is that what you started writing with?

Yeah. I’m always fascinated. We create God as very powerful, and he kills the devil just like that.  He doesn’t suffer much when killing the devil. I thought why don’t we make it in a different way where God suffers and the devil is the most powerful. I thought it was different.

I almost saw this as a reincarnation drama in one way, and the older Nenjam Marappathillai by CV Sridhar as a proper reincarnation drama. In this it’s almost like Jesus coming back to Earth, and this is how he would suffer all over again for his sins. Because everything that happens to the central character Mariam, you show a parallel with Jesus carrying a cross and crown of thorns. What made you say that this time God is reborn, he’d be reborn as a woman?

We all have mothers, right. There’s always a thought inside me that if God is born today it’s not going to be a cakewalk for him. I thought he’s going to suffer because this world is so different. As SJ Suryah says in the end, ‘you are powerless, today we’re all evil.’ I was always fascinated by God being born again. The gender doesn’t matter, for God there’s no gender.

Whenever good versus evil happens in any movie universe, it’s’ usually within the same religion. In Hollywood there would be a priest with a cross and the people who are affected and exorcised are also Christians. Similarly here, there would be a tantric. Here’s a very interesting combination of the good being Christian and the evil being Hindu. Could you tell me about that?

Religion doesn’t matter to me. More than the religion, it’s how they are. Religion is just a foundation for her, she used to be a Christian. I could have made her a Buddhist also. It’s fascinating to see God as a human being because we’ve never seen him as a human being in our life. It’s written in Ramayana that he’s powerful, but what if God is a human being? I would see him as a human being instead of restricting it to a certain religion.

What is Selvaraghavan’s fascination with Christianity? I’m genuinely curious because one of the most wonderful images in the poster from 7G is Anita holding Kadhir like Virgin Mary holding Jesus. In Kadhal Kondein there’s a Christian orphanage. 

I grew up with Christians for 12 years. I used to go to the church with my neighbours. I’m a Hindu but there are 16 of them in my neighbours family. Often, they raised me because my mother had no time. So it’s maybe that (laughs).

What does the old man represent? He’s unable to see but he’s the kindest man there, and even after Mariam dies he’s able to sense her.

He’s just a drop of God. I want to show that there are droplets of God in this world, but you meet them rarely. The moment he says the name she starts crying because he knows her future. Maybe he’s not a drop of God, maybe he sensed that God has come. This man didn’t have any religion. After he buys bread you can see a shot where he says ‘I’ll come,’ and before she turns he’s near the end of the street. So, for her, she’s so pure she could identify an image of God, only she could do that.

 

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