Selvaraghavan On Why ‘Nenjam Marappathillai’ Is Not A Ghost Or A Horror Film

“Instead of having multiplexes everywhere why don’t you build theatres to screen independent films?,” asks the director.
Selvaraghavan On Why ‘Nenjam Marappathillai’ Is Not A Ghost Or A Horror Film

Director Selvaraghavan talks to us about SJ Suryah-starrer Nenjam Marappathillai, his next release after NGK (with Suriya). He says he writes by instinct but still does a lot of research for his films, especially the background score. He talks about how digital filmmaking revolutionized the way he created Nenjam Marappathillai and why the audience needs to participate in the drive for better cinema. Excerpts…

Where does an idea like Nenjam Marappathillai come from?

I wish I could say that I stare at the sky for hours or take a walk on the beach. I've heard that some screenwriters get their ideas in the bathtub. I believe that writers write. I've been writing for years and I can sit anywhere, and some idea comes out of nowhere, even if I am surrounded by a hundred people. You're either a writer or you're not.

If you keep researching, I assure you that you're not going to get anywhere. Instead, chill and feel free… let your heart or soul fly. Your instinct is your god, and it will come. When it does come, start writing, where you are. Don't delay.

We mostly get horror comedies in Tamil. How do you think the audience might receive Nenjam Marappathillai?

I've always said that the film is neither a horror film nor a ghost story because different films depict ghosts differently. I don't want to brand my film. Maybe it's about something beyond a ghost: the soul.

Do you feel like you don't have the burden of being Selvaraghavan when you make films in a different language? 

Yeah, but even in Nenjam Marappathillai I was almost like a newcomer because it was my first digital film. What can I do with it? Can I play with it like a toy? I was fascinated and thrilled. It changed my entire way of conceiving and making films.

It's really difficult for a filmmaker to explain the kind of magic you can make out of nothing with the right eye, lensing, lighting, mood, dialogue delivery, and things like how the camera moves. There are a zillion things that you can do with filmmaking. It's a pure and delightful art. One day, people might get it!

Is there more freedom with digital?

Absolutely, though it's not really freedom. You could do fifty takes if you wanted but that's not what I am talking about. It's a different film altogether because we had to do things differently. You can do a lot of stuff with digital. I enter the sets at eight-thirty in the morning, and suddenly it's six-thirty: pack up time!

If we had a better multiplex culture in Tamil Nadu, do you think you could make a pure Selvaraghavan film?

There's no pure Selvaraghavan film, in my opinion. I don't think there are A, B, and C centers. I come from a small village hours away from Madurai, and many of the guys from there are in America now. Thanks to television and social media, people are aware. Change has to come also from the audience by the way they see films. I don't think I am going to live to see people perceive films the way I want them to.

Our mainstream film culture has become a huge, monstrous tree now. Satisfying the masses has become a competition. Yet, everything has to start from the root. I think it will happen very slowly. A few occasional gems might work, but everyone will go back to satisfying the masses. We (including me) have to change. Instead of multiplexes everywhere why don't you build theatres to screen independent films?

What is it between you and Yuvan Shankar Raja that clicks? Obviously, there's wavelength or understanding, but what is that special something?

That's what happens when a music director is seventeen and a filmmaker is twenty one. It's like growing up together making movies. I criticize him a lot. But we have a lot of chemistry.

I do research for the background score. I'm influenced by Western classical and Carnatic. A fusion, like my childhood. I take my research to the composer and he gives me what the film needs. Rather than describing something to him for hours, I just tell him I need something that's similar to a piece by Beethoven or Mozart.

What was your mental state when Nenjam Marappathillai kept getting postponed? 

The film was ready but one thing after another happened in the industry. My state of mind is that nothing is in my hands. So, I stop blaming myself, and I keep moving.

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