Thiagarajan Kumararaja directed his debut, Aaranya Kaandam, back in 2011, then fell off the radar.
“I was just chilling,” he says nonchalantly. And what did that entail? “Trying to be as close to a non-living thing as possible. I’d visit friends, hang out.”
It is those friends who had his back till the time he was ready to return with his latest, Super Deluxe. “Who else will give money? I still live with my parents, so no problem about rent or food. All I need to do is fill petrol for my bike. My friends take care of that,” he explains.
We are seated at actor Ramya Krishnan’s ECR house. The director is in white cargo shorts and even-tempered. We are here because his Vijay Sethupathi-starrer is set to release on March 29. With an ensemble cast that includes Ramya Krishnan, Fahadh Faasil and Samantha Akkineni, the thriller has a multi-segment plot that has been kept under wraps.
Sethupathi’s character as trans woman Shilpa, has taken on a life of its own, judging by the memes. I ask if he expects any backlash to Sethupathi playing a transgender.
“I don’t think it is offensive at all; the intention is definitely not to be. It is their job as actors to play different people. Should only a doctor play a doctor’s role? Or just because their character dies in one film, does it mean they can never act again?”
Interestingly, the story has been co-written by three other directors and friends: — Mysskin, Nalan Kumarasamy and Neelan K Sekar. Each of them did not know what the other had written, and Kumararaja says, “I would be happy if no one figured it out! I don’t think you will be able to figure out which part is whose — it will still be cohesive.”
But it is a ‘Kumararaja film’? “Avalo periya vaarthai ellaam edhuku (Why such big words),” he avers with a laugh, adding, “I’m saying that everything will have a similar flavour.”
For all his talk of taking it easy, it is hard to believe that Kumararaja is a man of inaction. And there is Ramya Krishnan’s description of her time on set — “For the first time in my career, I had to do more than my first shot” — for he is quite the perfectionist.
“If there is a flaw or weak link in this film, it is me. Everyone on the cast took their roles quite seriously. Not that we did not have fun, but they all realised that they should do their best, and they did,” he is quick to add.
He talks about how he deferred production during the first schedule of shooting. “I realised that I had completely forgotten my craft.” At the risk of losing Sethupathi’s dates, he was honest with the actor.
For reasons beyond his control, like the Kollywood strike last year, they had to stall a couple of times after that. “We ended up shooting only in the fourth and final schedule,” recalls Kumararaja, describing how Vijay Sethupathi continued to be generous with his dates.
Was it the script that brought his headliner back? “That is called charity,” is his succinct reply.
In between his two movies, Kumararaja directed a stop-motion ad film for Stayzilla, penned lyrics for a song in Seethakaathi and worked on a big script. Pointed questions about what else he did during his time away are deflected with a witty comeback.
However, he’s loquacious about his craft. Writing or directing? “Both are scary. With the former, even if I have brought something coherent and exciting into being before, there is no certainty that it will happen again. And if you don’t do justice to what has been written, it will not look or sound nice. It’s like a puncture — a small hole and everything goes flat — you can’t let that happen on screen.”
Kumararaja refuses to fall back on streaming platforms to show his work in its entirety. “We make movies to be watched in theatres. Online streaming is more of a bonus, to revisit the film,” he says.
Critics have said that Aaaranya Kaandam was possibly ahead of its time. Would he recommend a re-watch before Super Deluxe? “That film didn’t run, so everyone thinks it’s good. Because hardly anyone has seen Aaranya Kaandam, it’s like a mystical Yeti,” he says wryly.
According to industry sources, Super Deluxe would be required to gross about ₹20 crore just in Tamil Nadu to emerge commercially successful. As a co-producer, this must have crossed his mind. “One thing at a time. I have finished making the film. I think it will do well, but that is not in our hands. We put our best foot forward and only the film will know what it does.”
And has he thought about what comes next? “I’m only doing this film to be able to afford to go back to chilling,” he says in typical fashion. “Yes I have another couple of scripts, but what’s the hurry?”