96 director Prem Kumar, in conversation with Silverscreen, addressed the allegations of plagiarism against him.
“I will not respond to baseless allegations. Mine is a registered script. The matter ends there.”
Earlier, Suresh, an assistant director, claimed that the recently released 96 is based on his story. Speaking to Silverscreen, Suresh said that he wrote a script titled 92, based on his own recollections of school life and had narrated it to his mentor, Bharathiraja. “The plan was to make the film with Bharathiraja sir as director and Ilaiyaraaja sir as music director. When I told him the story, director sir simply hugged me. He said that the story was very evocative and that he would be happy to direct it.”
The film was meant to go on floors in 2013, but it did not take off. “It was not a good time for Bharathiraja sir and Ilaiyaraaja sir to come together. The project got delayed and so it was decided to cool things off for a while. Director sir went ahead with OM then.”
Around 2014, Suresh met Chennai Ungalai Anbudan Varaverkirathu director Marudhu Pandian. They became close friends and Suresh narrated the story of 92 to him. “Marudupandi sir told me that he’ll introduce me to his friend, actor Vijay Sethupathi. At that point, I had been trying to get this film made by other studios. I tried through Subramanian Siva sir to get to Dhanush, but it did not happen. So I agreed to my friend’s suggestion.”
Suresh did not get an opportunity to meet Vijay Sethupathi but Marudupandi did manage to secure a phone meeting with (then) cinematographer Prem Kumar. “Prem sir told me that Vijay has over twelve films in hand. He asked me to wait and keep in touch with him. I waited for six months.”
96 was launched in 2017. Prem Kumar, who directed 96, had earlier said that he wrote the script of the film during the Chennai floods. Suresh told us that this is just a few weeks after he told Prem the ‘knot’ of his story.
Prem Kumar’s 96 was picked up for production by Madras Pictures’ Nandhagopal in 2016. The film was launched with actors Vijay Sethupathi and Trisha Krishnan in 2017, with initial reports calling it a ‘road movie’.
Suresh said that Marudupandi was involved in the initial story discussions for 96. “I knew my friend was working on a film, but it never hit me that 96 and 92 were the same. Industry talk was that Prem’s film was a completely different one.”
Suresh said that Marudupandi was aware of the entire story of 92. “That he was involved in the story discussions of 96 tells me all I need to know.”
The assistant director said that even Bharathiraja was shocked to see the many similarities between his film and 96. “He saw the first few scenes of the film and immediately caught on that something very bad had happened.”
Suresh was informed by many of his close friends and associates that 96 was a copy of his story. But since he has not registered it with the South Indian Film Writers Association, he has no legal standing, the union spokesperson said. “He did not register the script with us. So there’s nothing we can do for him.”
Suresh, though, wanted to be credited for the story of 96. “The story I wrote is not just any other story. It is my life. It was a part of my life that I wanted to show onscreen. So I never felt the need to register it.”
Barring a few key differences (his hero is a teacher, not a photographer), the plot of 96 is similar to his, he said.