After directing Kamal Haasan in Thoongavanam, director Rajesh M Selva has now wrapped up Kadaram Kondan, which has Vikram in the lead. In an interview with us, the director talks about roping in Vikram in place of Kamal, what the actor brings to the table, casting Akshara Haasan, Kamal’s reaction to the film, and more…
You are once again doing a film for Kamal Haasan’s production house. How did you become part of this project?
Actually, Kamal sir and I were supposed to start this film immediately after we finished Thoongavanam. But he had a couple of other commitments, so we decided to finish those and then take this up. But then, Kamal sir became busy with politics, and Chandrahasan sir was the one who suggested we do the script with another actor. When I suggested Vikram sir’s name, Kamal sir was so happy that he immediately gave the go-ahead.
There are rumours that the film is a remake of the French film Point Blank…
I can’t reveal the source of the story at the moment. You will know that when you watch the film, as it is mentioned in the credits. All I can say is that I have written the screenplay of this film.
Did you have to modify the script after Vikram came into the picture?
Normally, you have to rewrite when you cast a different actor, but this one did not demand major changes. The treatment was more realistic when Kamal sir was supposed to do the film, as he prefers to be a character than a hero, but after signing up Vikram sir, I requested Kamal sir’s permission to go a bit louder — somewhat mass-y. When I shot some portions and showed him, he was very happy and asked me to proceed with this treatment.
How different are Kamal and Vikram as actors?
Like I said, Kamal sir prefers to keep it real. Vikram sir is open to playing to the gallery. It all boils down to individual taste. Chiyaan fans will love this film as it caters to them. I was apprehensive if Kamal sir would like the film because this isn’t what he prefers. But when I showed him the rough version last week, he watched the entire film without taking a break, and enjoyed it. He did not see it as a producer, but as a general audience. He said, ‘It is entertaining and completely works for me.’ It was a surprise for me as I got to know that he also likes watching such films.
Thoongavanam was a Kamal film as he had also written the screenplay, but here, it is you who is the writer-director. How different are your sensibilities?
In Indian cinema, if there is a star involved, the film always belongs to the star. In this sense, this is a Vikram film; I have no issues in saying so. Even though Thoongavanam was a remake, people appreciated me for my work in the film, and that gave me courage while working on this film. I actually prefer to do what the script demands rather than consciously trying to leave my imprints. So, there might be influences from my previous films, including the films I’ve worked on as an associate, like Vishwaroopam. And also aspects that I feel comfortable doing, like stunts… I prefer stunts that have an emotional connect. But even these touches are intended to better the filmmaking, not to leave my signature.
How was it working with Vikram?
I’d say he is a director’s artiste. He knows cinema is a democratic art and doesn’t throw his weight around just because he is the hero. I usually do some research about my artistes before going to shoot. So, after we’d decided that Vikram sir would do the film, I spoke to people who he has worked with. Director Vijay is a close friend of mine and I asked him about his experience with Vikram because he has done two films with him. He told me that if he’d take three days to form an idea, and if he likes the director, he’d take pains to keep everyone comfortable. And Vikram sir did just that. If we were having a late-night shoot, he’d come late to the set on purpose so that we could rest. He even stopped the shoot once and took us out to dinner after getting to know that we were working without having any food. The involvement that he shows towards the film is something else. And that’s how it should be. I gave him a lot of references for his look and after listening to all that, he told me to relax, saying he’d take care of it. He went to Mumbai and got it designed and it was more than what I’d expected.
Vikram tends to go for a different look with every film of his. Does he insist on this aspect when signing the film?
He doesn’t do it on purpose. He tries to get inside the character and become it, and in the process, his look becomes different. Also, look alone isn’t sufficient. An actor needs to perform as the character. When watching his scenes during the editing, I could see him only as KK and not as Vikram sir.
Did you cast Akshara because Kamal Haasan happens to the producer?
If that was the case, shouldn’t I have also cast Shruti Haasan in another role? In fact, Shruti was my first choice for Trisha’s role in Thoongavanam as the role did not have any romantic angle then. But Kamal sir was the one who rejected the idea. There was another script that was being developed for the two of them at that time as well. So, Akshara is definitely not in the film because it is her family’s production house. I wanted someone who looks vulnerable but has inner strength. The face had to look paavam and she has that look, especially in her eyes.
You are introducing Nasser’s son Abi Hassan with this film…
The story revolves around KK, played by Vikram, and a couple, played by Akshara and Abi Hassan. How their lives get entangled and who causes problem to whom is what the plot is all about. For both Akshara’s and Abi’s roles, I wanted actors who did not have an image. I wanted audiences to care for them when they face problems. I’ve known Abi for a long, and even knew that he was aspiring to become an actor. But I was looking for someone for a long time, even Tollywood actors, but no one felt right. When I told this to Kamal sir, he asked me to check Abi out. But he insisted we have a proper audition. Thankfully, he is a trained actor and the way he performed during the audition, and later at the workshops, ensured he would be part of the film.
What was the necessity to set the film in Malaysia?
The script required a Tamil guy to be in an unknown territory. I was not keen in shooting at a place in some exotic location with foreign faces speaking in Tamil. Our first choice was Mauritius, but due to logistical reasons, we couldn’t shoot there. We wanted Mauritius because there is a significant Tamil population there, and I could have Tamil faces in the frames. We then tried to have Mumbai as the setting, but the challenges (like getting out of the city) that the characters face wouldn’t have felt strong as the story happens over just two-three days. Finally, we decided on Malaysia, which, like Mauritius, has a lot of Tamils.