If a casting director needs a native-looking middle-aged man for a brother character, who can do stunts and has some star value, Sasikumar would be the unmistakable choice. Partly because he did precisely that role a few years ago in Muthaiah's Kodiveeran. When I ask him about it, Sasikumar admits, "What you're telling me is what I told director Era Saravanan when he came to me with Udanpirappe."
At this point, he hadn't known anything about the film and was apprehensive of repeating his characters. It was on Saravanan's insistence that Sasikumar decided to even listen to the script. "But when he narrated the script, I liked it very much. It was unlike anything I've done so far," he says.
Does age have anything to do with it? I asked him. Udanpirappe is the story of older, more mature siblings. Tamil cinema, not just with family/village themes, but overall, has a bias for telling stories of young people. Nearly every film starts with a young hero falling in love with a much younger heroine, with older people playing 'supporting' roles. But Udanpirappe, by virtue of being headlined by actors like Jyothika, who are happy to play their age on screen, might be the exception. Sasikumar agrees.
"When we're younger, we play with our siblings and remain happy. We might fight a lot, but that would never stick. But when your sister gets married and starts her own family, even small fights cause big ripples in the family. The woman will fall into the choice of 'porandha veeda pugundha veeda' (birth home vs marital home). This film is that story," he says.
He also adds that this film goes beyond that. "In Tamil cinema, a film that features mature sibling relationships that I like a lot is Bharathiraja's Kizhakku Seemaiyile. Like that, Udanpirappe will be a film that captures the next generation too — what if the siblings have their own families/children and how that will affect their relationship is what this film is about."
Despite the complexity of emotions that he says is explored in the film, he didn't need to put in a lot of effort in advance to build a rapport among the lead actors because of how well the film is cast. "When you cast senior and well-liked actors like Jyothika ma'am, you don't need much preparation. She's widely accepted as Tamilnaattu Anni (Tamil Nadu's sister-in-law), and so it's easy to see her as the sister, Mathangi, in the film. The audience has also come to accept me as their 'Annan' (elder brother). Samuthirakani is always generous with advice. His performance too feels natural," he says.
Caste is an important part of all Tamil cinema. More so in stories set in villages where it's more visible. Udanpirappe doesn't shy away from exploring caste. The trailer seems to imply that Vairavan, the character played by Sasikumar, is a bit of an anti-caste warrior. Is the right social justice value system important for you? I asked.
"Of course, I always see it. Udanpirappe is not entirely an advice film. But it definitely speaks about social justice themes," he says. But his films have not always been on the right side of social justice. A quick look at his filmography, you'll notice 'problematic' has been an on-and-off companion for him. Does he regret his choices?
"I can't name the film. But I've made wrong choices in the past. For instance, a woman once told me that I shouldn't have said some things that I've said in my films. I can't wash my hands off it saying it's not my film, it's another director's film. People see it as my film. They treat me as a family member. So, it's my responsibility. I take it seriously and keep that in mind while making decisions. For instance, I make sure there is no aabaasam (pornographic content) in my films," he adds.
What should one look for in Udanpirappe? "This film will bring siblings together. If you have a misunderstanding, this film will make it go away," he assures.
Udanpirappe, featuring Jyothika, Sasikumar, and Samuthirakani, will stream on Amazon Prime Video from the 14th of October 2021.