I Want To Make High-Concept Films That Are Emotionally Accessible: ‘Teddy’ Director Shakti Soundar Rajan

The director, who previously directed ‘Tik Tik Tik’, talks about his new film ‘Teddy’, starring Arya, Sayyeshaa, and Magizh Thirumeni, that is set to release on March 12, 2021
I Want To Make High-Concept Films That Are Emotionally Accessible: ‘Teddy’ Director Shakti Soundar Rajan

Ahead of the release of Arya-starrer Teddy, director Shakti Soundar Rajan talks about his motivation to make intelligent and accessible films, his love for Robert Rodriguez, and what he thinks of comparisons between Seth MacFarlane's Ted and Teddy.

You make high-concept films within the mainstream Tamil cinema format. Teddy looks like that too…

I'm actually not looking to bring new genres into Tamil films at all. Teddy is not a first of a kind genre. It's a medical thriller with a special element. I want to make high-concept films with a new audiovisual experience. I don't think people will spend time and money on a film unless there is something in it for them. 

As a child, I was a big cinephile who watched everything. And I am actually a serious, bookish person. When it comes to films, though, I want my films to be accessible. People who know me through my films are sometimes shocked to know that I am well-read. I don't believe that intellectual people make intellectual films. I just want to make high-concept films that are emotionally accessible. 

How do you make your films emotionally accessible?

I think the best answer to that is that I don't look at myself as an outsider. I am also the audience I make films for. I don't have a holier-than-thou approach. I grew up in a small town before I got into films. I have that sensibility; it is me. I won't even separate the audience from myself by saying that I treat them with respect. I make films that I want to watch. 

Could the kind of films you make scale for a 'mass' star?

I think it depends on the film. Pretty much all the big stars are doing unique content in the past five years. I think everyone is moving towards good content, no matter what genre it is. Even a star film needs content to go the extra mile. 

I am an action film lover. I like Hollywood B-films, like the ones by Robert Rodriguez. He's someone who makes accessible films. That's the space I want to be in. It's also the space I can meet our audience to the maximum potential. It's the meeting point of my strengths and the sensibilities of Tamil cinema. 

When you pitch your films to actors or producers, how do they react? 

So far, it's been strangely positive. Once they say okay, they tell me that if the idea had come from anyone else, they would've said no. The producer of Tik Tik Tik, Nemichand Jhabak, told me that if it were anyone else other than me, he would have even asked the person not to do such a film. Arya told me that he would never have taken up a film like Teddy if it weren't me who was pitching it. 

Whether you're a novelist or a painter, you have to build a track record, you have to build an audience. You cannot jump straight to the CEO's chair without going through the grind. 

What went into creating and animating the teddy bear character in Teddy?

There are four parts to it: a toy company in Thailand designed the costume, Gokul, an artiste performed it in the suit, the computer graphics and motion capture team captured things like eye movements and emotions, and finally the dubbing artist gave voice to it. Teddy is probably the second film in Tamil to use performance capture.

How did you cast director Magizh Thirumeni as the villain in Teddy?

He has been a friend since we started out making films. Once I pitched him the idea of acting in my film, he refused, because he had already said no to Selvaraghavan and Gautham Menon. I lost all hope, and I didn't have a plan B. I felt it might become a very hammy villain if he didn't play it. I wanted a villain who was all brain and didn't need to have any brawn. It was a very difficult role to cast for. He surprised me the next day and accepted. It was for our friendship, and he really loved the narration too. He told me that he believed in the film. I was happy to get support from a proven writer-director. It was a new thing for me; it usually doesn't happen to filmmakers in the commercial space. 

Teddy looks superficially similar to Seth MacFarlane's Ted…

I've seen Ted, Ted 2, Family Guy, American Dad… but the film has no connection with Ted, except for the teddy bear. I don't blame people for comparisons. Once the trailer came out, people realised that it's a different film. If I make a film about a robot, it doesn't mean that it's a 2.0 remake. That's such a crude understanding of genre. 

Given the kind of intelligent, concept-based films you're making now, do you have plans to cast bigger stars in your next films?

Actors are everything, not just in Tamil cinema but the world over. Casting an actor is the most important decision. Firstly, I must share a good rapport. Secondly, I want their trust. I don't think I'll be able to make a film if the actor doesn't trust me. 

All of us want to make bigger films compared to our previous films. Everyone can have that desire, but things must come together and the situation must be conducive for that to happen. It's not something a director can just plan. I take only one film at a time. If one keeps doing good work, the films and the audience would definitely get bigger. 

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