In a conversation with Baradwaj Rangan, director Vetri Maaran speaks about why RDM’s Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban worked for him. And, director RDM throws some light on how he wrote the film and came up with the narrative. Excerpts.
Vetri, what got you interested in this film? When he [RDM] showed you the film, what was the first thing that made you say, ‘This film is working for me’?
Usually when a filmmaker makes his first film, he’d try to somehow complete the movie by adding a couple of song and dance numbers, even if the budget is low. So, for him to take such an approach for his first film is very challenging, because it could go either way. I wanted to appreciate the intention to make such a story. After the first 20 minutes of the film when the conflict starts, the antagonist happens to be a cop and the story moves forward with respect to that aspect. But for me, the depth was about how a person in authority would react if his ego is disturbed. It could’ve been set in a hospital where a dean is offended and goes to the extent of killing someone. This story could be set anywhere — there is a universality to it. The movie was shot in 28 days and has a few glitches too, but leaving out all of that, when I placed the ego factor in the police department, that thought seemed very scary to me.
Mime Gopi’s character did not seem like a traditional villain. I felt that his character wasn’t standing up for his personal ego but for policemen in general. Did you keep this in mind while writing the script?
RDM: Yes. When I wrote the Inspector’s character, I wanted to have the detailing of a typical Inspector we see in police stations. There is a certain way they treat the public and he dominates his police station as well. I wanted to intentionally showcase that.
Did you feel like this is almost like a slight counterpart for Visaranai? Visaranai was about corruption in the system and how through the characters, you get into a larger perspective. Here, it is a minor perspective. Did you feel it while watching the movie?
Vetri Maaran: With Visaranai, the whole film is about responding to a story that happens outside the film. Here, the characters themselves experience the story and we are watching that. Technically, this is the difference. Like you said, in Kavalthurai Ungal Nanban, it is about one person representing the corrupt system, but in Visaranai it was about the entire system being corrupt. This puts the ball into the individual’s court. I also feel that the gap between the police and the people is increasing. At some point, the police have let it get wider and wider. I think more such films are coming up with a concern to bridge this gap.
In the beginning of the film, directors set up a scene. Now in almost every other film, we know when they are going to get back to that scene. But I couldn’t guess that for this film. How long did it take for you to write the film and what research went into it? You said it is based on a true story…
RDM: It is based on many true events. Different events in the story are related to different people. When I got the plot and decided to narrate it from a common man’s point of view, many people came in and told me the different experiences that they’ve had. As groundwork, we spoke to an Inspector and an advocate. So, when there is so much anger, ego and domination in play, I felt this script would work. The screenplay took around eight to nine months to complete.
What was the trigger to make this a film?
RDM: It was from personal experience. A policeman once used a very abusive word when I had not committed a big mistake. That really hit me, and it took me almost a week to come out of it. Later, whenever I drove past a policeman, I would get very angry. This kept building up in me. In fact, even while watching Visaranai, I could connect a lot with it.
I have a question for both of you. In today’s world, when you are making such a serious film, is it still necessary to showcase romance through a song?
RDM: I wanted to portray their relationship in the first 20 minutes of the film. The song was there to establish the husband-wife intimacy, because it connects at a critical point towards the end of the film.
I understand that, but my question is if a song is needed for a movie like this, or if it can be shown in any other way?
Vetri Maaran: When we are doing our first film, we are not very sure, and we are conditioned to think in a certain way, based on the films we have watched while growing up and the films that we have worked on earlier. I think that with the advent of direct OTT films, this thought will die away, because we are wasting time and money. The song can be in the background as well and a space without theatrical compulsions can be created. When this film was made two years ago, all this seemed relevant. Today, after OTTs have opened up and post the pandemic, I don’t think many people think of songs. In my opinion, there is no need for songs to portray intimacy. And, it also comes with practice and the confidence you have when writing your script.