SonyLIV’s latest Tamil original offering Kaiyum Kalavum is bursting with the most unusual, neurotic ideas. What if a housewife (played by a brilliant Ramya Nambeesan) tries to kill herself because she is too happy? And what if a librarian is compulsively looking to burn down his library? The show is not different, but just outrightly bizarre, laughingly admits Rohit Nandakumar (who goes by the moniker Roju), the writer-director of the show.
At the centre of Kaiyum Kalavum are two star-crossed thieves — a nameless boy (played by Roju himself) with an itch (quite literally) to destroy desires of the people around him, and Anbu (Sanchana Natarajan), an unlucky pickpocket who is dealt a bad hand in life. And each of its seven episodes — which feature cameos by actors including Nambeesan, Madonna Sebastian and veteran comedian Senthil — is set in a world of magical realism, where logic has no place.
The filmmaker calls this show a plotter’s paradise. And that is exactly how he pitched it to production house Stone Bench Films. “The one thing I wanted to explore was to write a story that could not be explained in a line or brought down to a single sentence. After that, everything was born out of a what if and explored themes such as magic realism and predestiny, themes that have naturally moved me as a director,” Roju says.
The idea was to break all possible rules of storytelling and push the envelope with every episode, points out Roju, who has been working on the show for the past four years. “My character is a destroyer of desires. People put their desires on their social media and often constantly talk about their wishes. As somebody whose only desire is to write and make films, I was like, ‘why do people always desire for something’. What started as a minor irritation turned into a plot. And then we brought in the whole ‘itch’ thing to make it circumstantial.”
Aptly complementing its theme, the show’s residents are all people you would never meet in real life. Sample this for size: there is a lawyer named Vakeel in the show (Vivek Prasanna) who practises law as a front for pimping. “My parents are lawyers and several lawyers practise law as a front for several things like real estate. So, I was like what if a lawyer is a pimp? It is very bizarre. I was freewheeling into whatever I would never be able to do,” he laughs.
And the filmmaker applied the same level of wackiness to the casting as well, getting an eclectic bunch to play cameos. “We wanted a cameo from somebody big in the industry for every episode, and marry their narrative into the story. So, for instance when I wrote the housewife character, I didn't have anyone in mind. But when the producer suggested Ramya Nambeesan, something clicked. She played a dream housewife in Sethupathi (2016). So her coming in to play a housewife like this would break moulds.”
Actor Senthil’s casting too turned out to be a perfect fit for the world. “I wanted to cast someone for an ailing father's role, when my production manager suggested Senthil sir. And he was on board because he was very excited to finish his part in just one call sheet. There is a serious Senthil sir for 3/4th of the episode. And then in the last few minutes, I remember changing the lighting and telling him to just let go and have fun with the character. And he just let go and became the comedian Senthil we know. We had so much fun with him.”
This bizarre world wouldn’t have become a reality without the help of Stone Bench Films, the director insists. The production house also backed the director’s first web series Kallachirippu, a feminist take on a domestic noir, back in 2018. “The truth is, I was given so much freedom that no questions were asked. Kalyan (producer Kalyan Subramanian) and Karthik Subbaraj just told me to run with the ideas. They kept the environment so safe for me. We woke up to the fact that it was such a bizarre show much later.”
But of course, Roju knew that with great freedom comes great responsibility. And part of that responsibility was to figure out how to package this show into a palatable mainstream series. “The challenge of having so much freedom was figuring out how much to spoon feed. A film like Kuthiraivaal is great and has so much freedom. But it doesn't position itself as a mainstream entertainer. But Kaiyum Kalavum does. And I feel like that is the biggest plus that this show has.”
Roju, who has had writing and acting credits in both films and web series, enjoys writing for other filmmakers. His most recent writing collaboration was for PS Mithran’s Sardar. “When I am writing for somebody as intelligent a filmmaker as Mithran, who has his film in his mind, it makes the process fun. I am just giving him a new perspective. The only person I need to impress when I'm writing for another filmmaker is the filmmaker and not the audience.”
But writing collaborations is a rarity in Tamil films, and Roju agrees. “It is rare for people who come to a writer, respecting his skill. But the flipside of it is that we get very personal films in the mainstream space, when a writer-director creates the most personal films such as a Paruthiveeran (2007),” he says, adding that it would be refreshing to see big-star films collaborating with writers for a whiff of freshness.
Feature films are definitely in the cards for Roju, who is certain his next project is going to be for the big screen. But for now the actor-director is just content that a production like Kaiyum Kalavum exists. “It is more of a social experiment for us. So, any kind of result is a win. The fact that this show exists is enough for me and all of us.”