Karthik Subbaraj’s debut film Pizza, a heist thriller laced with horror, turned ten last month. With the advent of the digital camera, Karthik, along with several new-age directors at the time, brought a unique commercial formula to Tamil cinema. A decade later, in this conversation with Krishna, the filmmaker looks back at Pizza, recalling the first day of release and why many wanted him to change the climax of the film.
Ten Years In Cinema
Karthik calls these ten years in the cinema industry satisfying and challenging. “If you think about it, any filmmaker's career process is challenging. There always seems to be a challenge. It's really about how we face unexpected things. We’ve also been learning and evolving as we speak, not just technically and knowledge-wise but also psychologically. So in terms of learning, the journey was really exciting and I'm happy that these ten years have been like this,” says the director.
Karthik credits technology and digital cameras for helping many filmmakers like himself enter the industry. He asserts that if the shift to digital cameras like 5D and 7D had not happened, we wouldn’t have had so many filmmakers. “I was there when the digital shift happened. It was the time 5D and 7D cameras were used and that gave me the confidence to do a film like Pizza. We felt like projecting these shots on the big screen would make it look really nice. So I think technology played a big part in that. Had we remained in the ‘film’ era, I don’t think we’d have half as many filmmakers as we have right now,” says Karthik.
First Day Response
Speaking about the first day of Pizza, Karthik reminisces that though the film opened with only 150 theatres or so, the numbers increased in the next 2-3 days. “Producer CV Kumar sir told me the night before that his friend said the movie will be a sure success. So we felt a little confident. But the next day, it was raining and CV Kumar told us that there was no crowd in Madurai and surrounding areas. We were quite disappointed. But that evening things really changed. I can't ever forget those moments. We were busy with a press show and some events. And by that time, we got the news that the afternoon shows were faring better than the morning ones. The press members also asserted that the movie would succeed. It was around 7 pm when we were returning and saw the houseful board in the AVM theatres. When we went inside, the film was nearing its climax, and the response we saw there really affected us. It changed our life,” recalls Karthik.
The Horror Effect: Shooting in a dark room with no extra lighting
Most of the horror sequences in Pizza unfold in a dark bungalow. When Michael Karthikeyan (Vijay Sethupathi) visits the house to deliver pizza, the electricity gets cut, and supernatural events begin to unfold. Karthik decodes how they shot these horror sequences in a dark room. “The entire sequence happens in a dark house without any electricity. We have seen such visuals in many films, where there will be no electricity but the audience might still be able to see the furniture in the room, the actors moving, etc. But I felt this technique would be a little fake. So, I wanted the entire place to be dark and made the actor carry a torchlight. I had asked the team not to have the entire lighting set up.” But the film’s DOP Gopi Amaranath had other ideas. “Gopi suggested that we just follow the light from a torchlight. So, he ordered a military-kind torchlight from the US, which had a high beam effect. We had a test shoot and it worked. That’s how we managed to get the feel of a thriller.”
Why was Karthik asked to change the climax?
Karthik says that challenges are common for every filmmaker, even for the likes of the legendary Mani Ratnam. Talking about the issues he faced during the distribution of Pizza, the director shares that he was asked to change its climax and even reshoot the entire film. “CV Kumar liked the script that’s how Pizza got made. But when we were trying to distribute it post filming, we received mixed responses. Few people said that the film had come out well but added that the audience might not accept the climax since we shifted the genre from horror to heist at the end. But I saw that as the script’s highlight. In the trade circles, a few even asked us to change the climax to retain horror. Some said the film was good but asked me to change the hero. They asked us to reshoot the entire film. But my producer was very supportive. The level of challenges we face keeps increasing with each film,” concludes the filmmaker.