In this interview with Baradwaj Rangan, M. Manikandan and Vijay Sethupathi discuss their friendship and the experience of working together from Kadaisi Vivasayi, which releases tomorrow.
Edited Excerpts below:
BR: How and when did you both meet?
Vijay Sethupathi: We could maybe call it 'Love at First Sight'. We have a friend called Nasar and we were going to do a short film. Nasar was the director and Manikandan was the cinematographer. Before that, they asked me to come and meet them. I said, "I will look average in person and better in photos, so I will send a photo".
That's when we first met and we gradually became friends. I wouldn't go out mostly, because it was a tough time and I didn't have much money. When we go out to some other place, you feel as though you are an unwelcome guest there. But I didn't feel that with Manikandan. He treated me with respect.
He knew and understood cinema well, but I didn't know much about it. Only after I got to know him did I start learning and understanding cinema. When I came into the industry, I didn't know many things and I wanted to learn.
Tamil cinema has a lot of knowledge and advice to offer newcomers. But when you try to learn, sometimes people will not allow it. When I wanted to learn the behind-the-screen process, people have said, "You are an actor, you do not need to know other things". Some used to say not to interrupt because they are thinking.
But with Manikandan, I didn't face that issue. I was also involved in discussions and they even asked me for suggestions. You start thinking only when you realize there is a person with whom you can discuss, suggest and learn things.
I was searching for people to help me understand cinema when I met Manikandan. He made me watch films, discussed the different aspects of cinema. He reassured me that it is okay if I don't understand it. He made me watch different films like Taken, Cast Away, and others. He helped me see cinema through different perspectives and understand the different layers of it. I would say I started to understand films after that. Say there are ten layers between the film and myself. Today, I am able to understand at least five layers in it. I started to understand the first layer because of Manikandan, it started then.
Manikandan: He is just talking very modestly. He had filmmaking knowledge from the beginning. You can advise anyone, but it all depends on how the other person takes it. Vijay Sethupathi has that good quality. He understood several things and also actively took part in discussions, writing, direction, etc,
BR: When you see each film of Manikandan, it is entertaining on the surface level but later it makes you think a lot. What do you say about it Vijay?
Vijay Sethupathi: If I am not wrong, Selvaragavan said in an interview that you should watch films deeply. I didn't understand it then. But after I started to act in films, I have realized that watching a film and understanding it deeply benefits the audience, and not the filmmaker.
Then I started watching films of Manikandan, Kumararaja, SP Jananathan with more depth. When we do so and we understand layers, our sensibility in real life increases. Personally, I cannot accept that cinema is just entertainment. Cinema, knowingly or unknowingly, plays a significant role in our lives. It is not just 2-hour thing, it has the potential to fix breakups, help husband and wife reunite. It could have helped to make important decisions.
For instance, Andavan Kattalai, the villain in the film is just a lie. When the hero talks the truth, he overcomes his obstacles. So the hero is the truth and the villain is the lie. I understood this layer many years after acting in it. I have been working with him closely, I see that growth from close quarters and I admire it so much.
BR: Kadaisi Vivasayi needs more truth and how did you do it?
Manikandan: I had a story and many interesting events; to blend these as a director and work on the transformation from writing form to visual, that's where the core lies. A script is like material that I can use to communicate with the characters. There is more to the scenes.
While shooting a scene, several discussions take place. I don't have to talk or explain a lot when working with Vijay Sethupathi. If we say the keywords, he will work out different aspects of the character himself. So it helps a lot. Every character will have a specific personality and trait, Vijay Sethupathi will immediately catch it.
Vijay Sethupathi: We do not read screen papers and dialogues in his films. We will discuss a scene similar to how we normally talk. He will say to each one of us what we should do and say, then we will do two or three rehearsals. Then, we will go for the take. Since we do it like this, you will already know how the scene will play out. So the stress of doing the scene or saying the dialogue perfectly is not there. It reduces the burden for the actors.
BR: What is the takeaway from the film? Has anything changed for you personally?
Vijay Sethupathi: According to me, every work you do and every character changes and develops you. It is very similar to the crow putting stones in the water and the water level rising. Each and every experience will leave some kind of impact.
In this film, as an actor, I have learnt how to look at a person deeply and understand the character. The other person has been there for many years. So when I started to act for the film, I just started learning things. I was able to understand the character in-depth and perform. I can apply this learning in many places. When you act in a film, even if it is a bad one, this layer of additional learning will always increase. Manikandan and I already shared a good bond. After this film, our friendship has grown stronger and we have understood each other more.
Manikandan: When we both got to know each other, we both didn't have an identity. After that, we got our identities. We have been friends for so many years. In worst situations, like financially and other troubles in the making of a film, how we both sail and to move forward is very important. There were many such situations while doing this film and these are testing times for friendship. Since we have crossed those paths, I feel we have become closer.
As a craft, this film is a big upgrade for me. We could say my first three films were training to work on this one. To do this, it needed time and money, Vijay Sethupathi gave that.