A set of love stories called Paava Kadhaigal (stories of sin). How did that come about? "I think it (sin) encompasses all our films the best. Sin is something that is there in all of our stories," director Sudha Kongara tells Baradwaj Rangan in a conversation that features the directors of the anthology — Vetri Maaran, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vignesh Shivan. Edited excerpts.
Vetri, Gautham said this anthology was supposed to be about love till you changed it around. Can you tell us how it came about?
When Ashi (Dua) said there's an anthology, I said principally I'm in, let's do it. Then she said let's do love stories. First, it was Chennai Stories, then Lust Stories like what they have done in Hindi, then it became Love Stories. See I'm a mainstream filmmaker, all my films, whether I want it or not, will have a love story in it, either a primary or a secondary one. We keep doing love stories and we're bored of doing it. When I have a platform like Netflix and I want to do a film, I thought I should push myself outside my comfort zone. While discussing this with Ashi, she said there's an idea that's being worked on in Telugu based on honour killings and pride. I said "This is a good idea, and that I'm in. If it's love stories, then I'm out."
But Vetri, you should make a love story at some point.
Ashi Dua: He owes me a lust story now.
Gautham: Actually, Vetri said on call that if it's love stories, he doesn't want to be in it. Because, he thinks he cannot make a love story, and we should go ahead. We didn't want to lose Vetri, which is why we asked what he wanted and then discussed honour killings, and so on.
Did any of you consciously try to stay true to the story and avoid the activism trap?
Sudha: A film is a film, and if there is activism beneath all those layers, so be it. The story touched my heart. I was sobbing when I read it. That is what the story did to me. I wanted to see if I was sensitive enough to grasp what these people are feeling.
Vignesh: It is a very sensitive topic, But I didn't want to make it in the regular way. I wanted to give it my style of treatment, for it to be entertaining at some level.
Gautham: If you've seen the film, there is a line that I could have easily crossed. It was not in my zone, but then I put myself into it.
Vetri Maaran: I wanted to tell a story of a father and a daughter and their emotional journey. I just wanted to have a microscopic view on the pain in everybody, so that is the starting point of the story.
'Paavam' is sin, what made you think sin is the word that best encapsulates these four stories?
Vetri: You don't need to categorise them as honour killing stories alone, there is more to them. The sin element is ingrained in everybody. That's what makes the title interesting.
Sudha: I think it (sin) encompasses all our films the best. Sin is something that is there in all of our stories.
So, I am going to put you guys on the spot and ask you to name the film above everyone else's. I'll start with Vignesh.
I'll go with Vetri Maaran sir's film, because it explains things like 'What is honour killing'? Is it so gruesome'? I loved his film.
Sudha: I think what I couldn't have done, and done very well was Vicky's film. It was a very different take from the others.
Gautham and Vetri, did you ever toy with, may be, casting one big name?
Gautham: I thought simran Should be in this film. She was my first and only choice. I had somebody else in mind to act opposite her, but that didn't come through.
You are a big name Gautham. (Laughs)
Vetri Maaran: I really had big names. Normally, I don't have so many big names. This one had Prakash Raj and Sai Pallavi, I thought their being the father and daughter would add to what I have written.
Was it liberating to do something like this in this format or was it more challenging? What I'm trying to ask is, what are the pros and cons of this versus theatrical.
Vetri Maaran: Anthology or OTT?
Vetri Maaran: An OTT feature and an OTT anthology are different. I think people like me and Sudha are not made for anthologies. Gautham is ideally suited for an anthology, because he's such a beautiful sport. Sudha and I want our film to be first, but Gautham is not like that. I've never seen a team player like him. The experience of making a film with your contemporaries, people you've always worked with on various levels or friends is something else. But, an anthology is a challenging task.
They always say it's tougher to write a short story than a novel. Did you feel that while writing this?
Vetri Maaran: I normally don't write. (laughs)
Gautham: For me, it's good enough to get half an hour or 40 minutes. The problem starts after 40 minutes, always.
Sudha: I didn't find it easy at all, because when I write, there's a beginning, middle and an end. I take my time to work it out, the whole emotion. And I crushed all that for the short film format. What I was doing was treating it the same as a feature film. I didn't consider it as a separate format, so that became challenging for me.
Vignesh: I enjoyed it. It was a little challenging also, because I had many characters in the film, so I wanted to give proper endings for all the characters. It shouldn't just pop out and go missing towards the end. I wanted to leave it a little edgy, so the pace was slow, and to bring all in 30 minutes was tough.