Vijay Sethupathi’s fantastic run at the box office so far has seen him experiment with different genres, but barring a couple of films, not many have focussed on the romantic in him. One director who has always managed to showcase that side of the actor is SU Arun Kumar, who worked with him in Pannayaarum Padminiyum, Sethupathi and now Sindhubaadh, which finally releases today after a hectic week of parleys. Silverscreen.in caught up with the director to talk about his films and writing, about working with Vijay Sethupathi three times in a row, and how tears are a form of film appreciation too.
Arun must be the object of every young director’s envy. At a time when most of them are vying for an opportunity to work with Vijay Sethupathi, Arun has managed it thrice on the trot, without meaning to. “We did decide to work with others, but I narrated the story of Sindhubaadh, a romantic action thriller, to 11 actors, and they either did not like it or signed up but the project never took off from the ground. Finally, Sethu called me and we started shooting in two days.”
It helps that he shares a great rapport with Vijay Sethupathi. “Working with Sethu is like the feeling you get when you reach home. I have the liberty to tell him what I feel, and he understands that. We have mutual respect, and no one tries to dominate the other. In fact, if I sometimes add a nuance because it suits his current image, he always tells me, ‘It’s not you. Thevaiillai nanba’ (it’s not you, it’s not necessary, my friend)”.
While making any film, Arun says he avoids adding anything unnecessary to the script. “My scenes usually write themselves, and I go with the flow. But I struggled with Sethupathi. Adhu bayathula panna padam (It was a film made with fear) I was afraid and kept going back and forth, second guessing every step I took, as I was scalded by what happened with Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum — the film failed at the box office despite much critical acclaim. It was editor Sreekar Prasad sir who consoled me. When I wept and told him that I can only make films like Pannaiyaarum, he told me that I had the film language and it was wrong to restrict oneself. He encouraged me to do a commercial film. The success of Sethupathi was a huge shock, but a very pleasant one,” he recalls.
That way, Arun says Sindhubaadh is his playground, a film he did without any fear. “And, as always, my characters will never move out of the boundaries of the script.” In fact, Arun was happily surprised when Sethupathi, which, at one level, was a police officer’s revenge saga, was received very differently from what he had originally conceived. In his head, Sethupathi was a love story between a cop and his wife and how he balances family and work.
Arun writes love, young love, middle-aged love and senior love well, and the women in his film have a mind of their own and, invariably, have a say in their lives; his three films stand proof of that. “When writing my female characters, I’m very particular that they should not come and go. Whatever the format, they must have their rightful space. In fact, after Thulasi of Pannaiyaarum Padminiyum, I’d rate Sindhubaadh’s Venbaa as the strongest female character I’ve written. This is the story of Thiru and Venbaa and their love, with lots of action,” says Arun.
Sindhubaadh also marks the debut of Vijay Sethupathi’s son Surya, whom Arun is very fond of. “Bringing him on board was purely my call. I’ve been seeing him for the past six years, and I felt he would be apt for this role. He’s a very active kid, and I wanted that spunk for this character. He prepared well, and is full of spontaneity, just like his father. It helps that he shares a good comfort level with me, and extracting work was not difficult.”
Anjali as Venbaa, the girl who speaks loudly, is a scream in the trailer. How did he think of casting an actress that most others have used in sober roles in one that calls for a certain lightness? “I was looking at many actors when I happened to speak to director Ram (who directed her in the lyrical Peranbu.) He felt she would suit this role. I spoke to her and explained the look of her character, and that it called for a leaner look. When we met, she looked the part, and seemed very fresh. She’s a lovely actress. On day one, we kept re-shooting a scene and when I finally told her I needed something more subtle and that she should speak with her eyes, she turned around and said, “Oh adhaa” (Oh, you want that?). That day on, every scene was a first-take scene. I realised that day that one can never fault her for a bad performance; it ultimately is the responsibility of the director. She’s an honest artiste who delivers what the director wants. Some scenes demanded so much from her; even when a retake meant more pain and scratches on her body, she’d gladly go ahead for a second take. After all these years in the industry, her dedication has never wavered.”
Arun loves speaking about film language, and its importance. Has he been impressed or influenced by any creations? “If you look at the bibliography in Sindhubaadh, I have mentioned five films. I’ve been influenced by survivor movies, because this film is ultimately about survival. Pannaiyaaryum was inspired by Hachiko (after watching which Arun headed to the bathroom and wept), The Pursuit of Happyness and The Way Home. Sethupathi did not have any specific references,” says Arun who loves a good cry at the movies.
Sindhubaadh was shot over 53 days, 20 in Tenkasi, 32 in Thailand and one day in Chennai. “The film called for a great deal of discipline, and I was lucky I had good performers with me. That’s a huge advantage, because I get to see how they explore a scene and character. My character artistes are usually not very well known, and working with them is pure learning.”
After Sindhubaadh, Arun is yet to decide his future course of action. He wants a brief break, before he makes his next film. Yes, there’s a possibility it might also star his Sethu, because he loved a script that Arun, all of 32, narrated.
This SU Arun Kumar interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.