Tamil Interviews

‘We Needed An Actress Who Could Be Just As Powerful As A Male Lead’: Ajay Gnanamuthu On Nayanthara & ‘Imaikka Nodigal’

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Imaikka Nodigal is not a psycho or dark thriller, it’s not even a thriller in entirety, reveals director Ajay Gnanamuthu who had earlier made the horror film Demonte Colony. In his new film that releases on August 30, there’s romance, also humour… 

Ajay Gnanamuthu, director of Imaikka Nodigal, declares that it wasn’t an all-consuming passion for filmmaking that drove him towards cinema. After all, he says, it’s only during a certain period in our lives that we discover what we are good at. That moment for him came during school one day. It was simple enough: He prefixed his name with ‘director’.

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His family was shocked when he made known his aspirations. They were all doctors, and Ajay himself, pored over biology texts in school.

“It was quite unacceptable to them when I said I didn’t want to study further,” he laughs, during our half-hour long conversation. He wears a dhoti and a shirt, a style that has come to be synonymous with him, especially at film events. Ajay is expected at the studio to oversee the colour correction of his second film, Imaikka… which releases tomorrow, but he hangs back to finish his tale. “I had no parental approval and there was a lot of pressure to pursue medicine,” he says, “But I think I am happy now – my siblings look up to me; they say I swam against the tide. If I hadn’t turned to films, I would have, of course, taken up medicine.”

Demonte Colony, Ajay’s 2015 release, was horror that tried to take after the several horromedys that were in vogue then. Starring Arulnithi in the lead, it made much of the myth surrounding a supposedly haunted location within the city, invoking run down bungalows and apparitions to aid its cause. With Imaikka Nodigal, the director hasn’t ventured far from his debut; the trailer features a guy (Anurag Kashyap) who has a penchant for killing, and a cop (Nayanthara) who is on his tail. There’s Atharvaa who makes an appearance too, in the lighter portions. “The common perception – especially after my first film – is that Imaikka… is a psycho or a dark thriller. But the film also has romance and light-hearted moments and can be enjoyed with family,” Ajay says. Sometime in the future, he would love to explore lighter themes, too.

The film had been long in the coming, even before Demonte Colony, but as is the case with first-time filmmakers, none were ready to invest in a “big project” – something that demanded serious financing and manpower. “I knocked on many doors but finally realised I needed a visiting card to make this film. I knew I didn’t have much time, so I immediately wrote the script for Demonte Colony. I did not approach many producers for that one; just actor Arulnithi and the project took off.”

When Ajay finally made the film though, he encountered other roadblocks, some natural, some man-made. “It wasn’t just us,” he recalls, “Other movies like Irumbuthirai, Key etc were in similar situations. The cast of my film were quite busy, and I had to inform them well in advance to get their dates. When all was done, demonetisation happened, then our former CM J Jayalalithaa amma died and we had to call off the shoot – followed by the Jallikattu protests, theatre strike etc. Many wondered if the film would release at all, but the producer and I wanted to see this through.”

Casting Nayanthara and Anurag Kashyap

Imaikka Nodigal was initially written with two heroes in mind. “It was about two brothers – a double hero subject. Later, when we started working extensively on the screenplay, I realised that there was nothing new about it. So, I changed the male lead to a female lead and modified the entire script. I felt that it had stronger emotions after effecting the changes. And, when we needed an actress who could be just as powerful as the male lead, we could only think of Nayanthara.” I’d heard that she was “strict” and hard to handle, Ajay smiles, “but she was quite co-operative; I once made her take four to five shots and she did that without asking questions.”

As for the role that Anurag Kashyap plays, of a man with a thing for murder, Ajay wanted someone very menacing – “that even when he smiles, it must induce fear.” “I did not want to cast a prominent face, but someone new in Tamil cinema. I wanted someone unique, with no traces of his other projects on him. I’m sure his character Rudra would make its mark, and will be talked about for a long time.

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If Anurag hadn’t had dates, I would have waited another six months; wouldn’t have compromised.”

In this mix, Ajay had brought in Vijay Sethupathi too, in a guest role. According to the producer of the film, CJ Jayakumar, the scenes involving Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupathi are very moving. “It’s a deep emotion,” Ajay responds. “It is what you feel when you love a person for a long time, love them so deeply that you are forced to leave them forever. I can say that I have worked on this scene with the best possible stars.”

Being filmmaker

I wouldn’t judge the work of a filmmaker harshly, Ajay declares, “there are many constraints that one needs to work through. It would be nice if people stood in the shoes of a director and viewed things from his perspective, the struggles he faced… at least, I hope they spare upcoming directors because it’s not easy to be here.”

Imaikka Nodigal, starring Nayanthara, Atharvaa and Anurag Kashyap. releases on August 30.

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The Ajay Gnanamuthu interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.

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