While Karthik Subbaraj’s debut film Pizza (2012) was a horror ride, his sophomore directorial Jigarthanda was an action comedy. Eight years after the release of Jigarthanda, which follows a young director aspiring to make a gangster film, Subbaraj is currently working on Jigarthanda 2. In an interview with Krishna, the filmmaker reveals that Jigarthanda was the first film he narrated to production houses.
While production houses were happy with Jigarthanda’s plot, it all came down to the budget. The filmmaker had set a budget of 2 crores, but producer CV Kumar (who later produced Pizza) told him that the budget will not be enough. “I felt like I’d be able to do it within that budget because I had Bobby (Bobby Simha) and Vijay Sethupathi ready (at the time), and we wanted to shoot in Madurai. But he said that the script would require at least 4 crores and no one would be willing to give so much because I was a debutant.”
Jigarthanda revolves around two polarising characters Karthik (Siddharth) and gangster Assault Sethu (Bobby Simha), who went on to win hearts among fans. Subbaraj reveals that many actors were approached to play these characters. “I first pitched Jigarthanda to Parthiban sir and he really liked it. I also narrated it to Madhavan sir, Pasupathy sir, and Kishore sir. I approached all of them for the Assault Sethu character. For the role of the director, Siddharth was always there as an option. I was also recommended to ask Sivakartikeyan sir. So I narrated the script to him during his Varuthapadatha Valibar Sangam (2013) shoot. He liked the script but he felt someone bigger must be cast for the villain role like Sathiyaraj sir or someone else. But at the time, I was already fixed on Bobby doing the role,” recalls the director.
The filmmaker has a way with naming his characters. Be it Assault Sethu or Petta Velan, characters from his universe end up making an impact among audiences. “For Petta Velan, it’s the word ‘Petta’ that caught my attention. Rajini sir liked the name and wanted the character’s name to connect with the word Petta. So I searched and came up with the word Petta Velan. When we talk about Assault Sethu, it was fixed around the name Sethu. The role was supposed to be played by Vijay Sethupathi and everyone calls him Sethu. When I was writing the story, I wanted the name to have something to go with it and the word ‘assault’ is commonly used in Madurai. In colloquial slang, assault means “to do things with ease”.
And seasoned actors apart, among the people who were offered a role in the film includes director Mani Ratnam. The Ponniyin Selvan director was approached for a cameo, which was eventually played by Vetri Maaran in the film. “Kathiresan sir, who produced Jigarthanda, was the producer of films like Polladhavan (2007) and Aadukalam (2011). So he helped us approach Vetri Maaran. In the end, Sethu says a dialogue - “Mani Ratnam number iruka?”. I wrote it like that because I wanted Mani Ratnam sir to play that cameo. The producer also tried contacting him but that didn’t work. The funny thing is that we filmed that shot with Sethu asking for different directors’ numbers, just to be ready in case we find one. But the dialogue “Mani Ratnam number iruka” sounded good, so we decided to keep it.”
Subbaraj, who is now making Jigarthanda 2, clarifies that it will not be a sequel to Jigarthanda. “None of the characters from Jigarthanda 1 are in part two. However, the former's soul will be retained. Jigarthanda is about a mix of two worlds — crime and art — and the same goes for Jigarthanda 2,” the director concludes.