Tamil Interviews

I Needed Suriya For Kaappaan. I Wanted Someone I Could Blindly Trust To Perform In A Commercial Script: KV Anand

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Sometime in September 2018, director KV Anand, known for his big-budget entertainers that fused a fair bit of logic and entertainment hit Twitter, asking for a bittergourd creeper for a film shoot. And, with the tag #urbangardener.

The man knows his Twitter tags, knows bittergourd is not a plant, and is aware of light-weight grow bags, used prolifically by urban gardeners to ensure a better root system and plant health. When you watch Kaappaan, do look out for the creeper; knowing the director, it will feature in a scene that has something to do with science.

Suriya and Sayyeshaa in Kaappaan

KV Anand loves detail. He’s the kind of person who loves to go down the rabbithole called Google and keep following a thread till it takes him somewhere far away from where he began. He’s someone who enjoys the detour and all the learning that comes in from that reading.

Many might still remember that class on water desalination from Kana Kandein, the film that saw Anand progress from hot-shot cinematographer to director. It has science, and it was not watered down for the masses like many are.

“I was not a very bright student. But, I make movies believing my audience is intelligent. Everyone need not understand everything very well. We all have a basic understanding of things, and I keep that in mind while making my movies. Even children know how to play one parent against the other, and get what they want. Getting back to Kana Kandein, in the film, Srikanth’s character of Bhaskar is a chemical engineer, and what he speaks is based on a quantum chemistry theory that won the Nobel Prize. The audience need not understand all of it, but it is important that the character speaks that way, because that is a vital part of his life. I don’t ever want a situation where someone who knows the subject watches the film and wonders why something absurd is happening on screen,” he says.

Which is why when it was time to shoot the heart surgery scene, where Vimalan and Akhilan are separated in Maattrraan, Anand went to a cardiac surgeon who’d performed hundreds of surgeries, KM Cherian of Frontier Lifeline Hospitals. The doctor who ‘performed’ the surgery on screen is his son, cardiac surgeon Sanjay Cherian. “I had long discussions with Dr KM Cherian, checked what size the heart of conjoined twins could be, and asked if they could dance and be active. He asked me if I believed in God, and said, ‘then, anything is possible’, recalls Anand. “I wanted a real surgeon in that scene because when a doctor watches that movie, he/she should know someone who knows how to hold the scalpel held it.” Like Anand says, “Theriyaama thappu panradhu vera, therinju thappu pannakoodaathu.” (It’s okay to make a mistake, unknowingly; but wrong to do so knowingly).

Our conversation then drifts towards Ayan, sniffer dogs, drugs, the customs department… the doping scandal among Russian athletes… you realise you read news but Anand had figured a way to fit that into a vast canvas.

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Kaappaan will be Anand’s third film with Suriya, after the blockbuster Ayan, and Maattrraan. “After having worked with him for three films, I know him well, know how much I can push him, how much I can take his performance for granted, work-wise… He’s easy as an actor and comes with a certain dedication. I needed him for Kaappaan. A script like this needed someone I could blindly trust to ‘perform’ in a commercial script. That said, I do look outside. I needed Vijay Sethupathi for Kavan. I know people have issues with his pronunciation {the film too takes a gentle rib at that}, but that character needed someone with heart, and he did a fantastic job. No one but Jiiva could have done Ko. Likewise, with Dhanush, only he could have done Anegan, especially the role of Kaali.”

Anegan Movie Stills
Dhanush and Amyra Dastur in Anegan

Before 2005, Anand was a cinematographer who lent films rich visuals. He bagged the National Award for his very first film, the Malayalam Thenmavin Kombath, in 1994. And, then, just after a decade, he turned director. Even today, Anand says he’ll gladly take up cinematography if a project impresses him enough. “Shankar called me for 2.0, but he wanted 1.5 years. I had only eight months before I began work on Kavan. I do miss that world, because, in a sense, you go back home to relative peace. On the sets, a cinematographer has a difficult task on hand, handling 100-200 people, but you can sleep well after work. Directing is all-consuming. You worry if someone has a fever, you worry about visas {he did for Kaappaan, when Allu Sirish could not make it for the London leg; finally, Arya joined the team at short notice}. Yes, you’re the captain of the ship, but you’re also the first one who has to rush in to plug a hole in the ship! (laughs).”

Which is why Anand speaks very fondly of Arya. “I called him from the set, with the light and sound crew working in the background. He just landed, with less than a day to go for shoot. So many others wondered what they will have to do in a film with Mohanlal and Suriya. All Arya asked is if I thought he would fit the role.”

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Before cinematography, Anand was fascinated by the world of letters, and later photography too. He was working in Kalki, when he was introduced to Subha (noted writing duo D Suresh and AN Balakrishnan, who have collaborated with Anand on films) and Pattukottai Prabakar. For Kaappaan, he collaborates with Prabakar and Kabilan Vairamuthu.

It was this love for reading that engages Anand when he’s not making films. “It began early enough with authors such as Tamizhvaanan, Sujatha, Indumathi, Vaasanthi, Jayakanthan… those days, we all read. Later, working with directors such as Priyadarshan, Mansoor Khan, Rajkumar Santhoshi, Shankar, Kathir and Vasanth, I saw how they worked with scripts. Now, when we write, we travel with a thread and then link the various plot points. It’s an enriching exercise.” Anand also gives his writers prime credit in the titles. “I follow this principle. First, the director, then music director, third writer, then cinematographer,” says Anand.

Among the seven films, he’s made so far, the one closest to his heart is Maattrraan. “Because, we took a lot of daring decisions. Ayan and Ko did very well, and I had the courage to take on something like Maattrraan. Audience mela oru dhairiyam irundadhu (had belief in the audience). Instead of a cliched plot where a twin avenges the deaths of his brother and father, we made the father the villain. We got him to tell Suriya on screen that he was the project that failed. There was a certain darkness in the film that did not go down well with some. But, it made money for the producer (Kalpathi S Aghoram’s AGS Entertainment), and we went on to make Anegan. Now, I do sit back and wonder if we went overboard with pushing certain concepts… but I don’t regret the film. If it had not made money for the producer, I would have been heartbroken. But, this film emboldened us to think out of the box.

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We go back to where Anand lends his characters certain quirks… In Ayan, Suriya’s character uses the form to apply for a government job to leave the drumsticks and curry leaves from his meal. Anand said he did something similar. “My father retired as a regional manager at State Bank of India, and he would keep the BSRB form ready for me to apply. I used to throw it away. Once, I did what Suriya’s character did, and my father got the hint.”

With seven films in 14 years, the director confesses he can afford to take things at his own pace because he never has had to depend on anyone. “I have been self-sufficient. Money was not a problem, I never had any responsibility to fulfill. And, I was doing well as a cinematographer. My needs were limited,” he recalls.

He also invested well. Initial savings went into buying land near Gummidipoondi. “Farming has always been a passion. I wanted to study agriculture but did not get into either Institute of Agricultural Research, Banaras Hindu University or TNAU, Coimbatore. We had a garden in our Besant Nagar home, and I liked working on it. At my farm, I raise Banganapalli, Rumani and Bengaloora mangoes. And, I intercrop them with groundnut, sesame and tapioca. That’s the life I love, in the outdoors,” says Anand, whose favourite destination, to which he keeps returning, is Norway, for its sheer landscape.

Speaking to Anand, you know he’s the kind who watches world cinema, reads, the kind who might make a film high on craft, and less on cinematic elements… Will he? “I look at my target audience. I have been in advertising, and I know that without that audience, I have nothing to sell. With every film and every hit, the budget keeps going up. Yes, a film without songs will be nice, but no one, not Mani Ratnam, not Shankar, not even Anurag Kashyap has been able to come out of that. You need songs for publicity, you need comedy scenes… But, someday, they will chase me from here, and I will go back to where I began. Then, I might just make a film on a budget of 2.5 crore or 3 crore, a film with just craft.”

But, most of all, what keeps the self-confessed fan of Krzysztof Kieślowski (of the The Three Colours trilogy fame) and Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar, happy with the world he makes movies for is also his love for a Naatamai and Kadaikutty Singham.

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