Two years ago, when director Rohit was first coming up with the idea of Kallachirippu, the Zee5 mini web series the internet is raving about, web series was still a nascent medium.
“Kallachirippu, during this time, has seen it all evolve and become what it has today. In a way, today’s climate has turned out to be beneficial for it,” says Rohit, who rather fascinatingly refused the producer’s invitation to make this into a feature film. “It was always conceived as an episodic mini web series lasting about 2.5 hours,” he says.
Among other things, Kallachirippu is quite noticeable for how it’s populated with morally ambiguous characters. Some, like Mahathi’s (Amrutha) father, are positively nasty. “The original script had explanations for their behaviour, and the characters may have come across as being more human,” says Rohit, who quite expected some criticism about the coldness of the series’ characters. “But that was my objective all along. Even if it seems a bit exaggerated, I persisted with my vision of a story full of cold, practical characters.”The show’s protagonist, Mahathi, is a remorseless murderer in an extra-marital affair. She’s also a character who’s, for the most part, shrill and irritable, and is a fascinating choice for a heroine. “I think her shrillness comes out when she’s with her father.
It’s because of all the pent-up frustration with her family,” says Amrutha. “With Indra (Rohit) though, you see her real side.” Rohit says the plan all along was to come up with an anti-heroine. “Not a femme fatale,” he clarifies. “I needed it to be a character who people may not really root for, but still understand why she does what she does.”Amrutha believes that the question of her morality arises only because of the ideal women populating our cinema. “What is morality, anyway?” she asks. “I hope that with characters like Mahathi, we can begin to show different types of women in films.”
The freedom inherent in making a web series came in quite handy in conceiving such a character, and writing situations and dialogues without fixating on potential censor backlash. Kallachirippu’s characters let out an earful every now and then, with one entire background track created around two obscenities. “I use abuses a lot, like quite a few people do,” says Rohit, whose quirky habit of replacing song lyrics with obscenities — as a joke — has won quite a few admirers amongst his friends.
“That’s how I stumbled upon the idea of coming up with a song like that.” Amrutha shares that the team has been receiving requests to release the OST soon. “I suspect it’s because they want to make that song their ringtone,” she says with a laugh. “Abuse,” Rohit believes, “can sometimes easily convey a complex emotion.” I ask him about the proposal scene that’s intermingled with a joke about flatulence. “That’s me paying homage to Selvaraghavan,” he says. “He has normalised such habits in his stories.” Amrutha interjects with a joke: “It’s the sort of person Roju (Rohit’s nickname) is anyway.”
It isn’t just Selvaraghavan. Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth are referenced a few times too. Mahathi’s mother waxes eloquent about Rajinikanth in one scene. “Some Kamal fans have taken offence to a line where she says she prefers Rajini over him,” laments Rohit. “The show’s very title is drawn from a Kamal song, Inji Iduppazhagi. The tie scene between the gay couple is drawn from a similar scene in Pammal K Sammandham. I wish people understood that just because you’re a fan of one, it doesn’t mean you hate the other.”
Kallachirippu also employs a non-linear narrative that allows Rohit to slowly reveal the surprising turns in the story. “I didn’t want a traditional flashback. I wanted the scenes to be the equivalent of someone randomly opening a page from the story’s past,” he says. At the heart of this web series is a homosexual relationship that’s handled with surprising tenderness and passion. “People from the gay community have reached out to convey their appreciation for this depiction,” says Rohit. “Aligarh was a big inspiration for me. I didn’t want to needlessly feminise the gay character, as is usually done in films.”
In fact, it’s the gay relationship that’s of love. The other relationship — between Mahathi and Indra — is of lust. “Some have told me that they were more moved by the gay relationship, but I have a problem with that too. Why should lust not be worthy of respect? Lust-um punidham dhaan. We are all trained to react with disgust for lust,” he says.
The show’s segues indicate much calculation in writing. “Some have expressed it by telling me that the writer in me shows in the story too much, but I’m fine with that. I know they say films are about creating an illusion, but I wanted to break this illusion. It’s the opposite of suspension of disbelief in a sense,” he says. As an example, he talks of that opening scene in which blood spurts on Mahathi’s face, in slightly exaggerated fashion. “It may seem a bit loud, but it’s also because it’s only by being loud that we can get people’s attention.”
As a parting comment, I express the relief of having a female actor like Amrutha who speaks such great Tamil. Rohit agrees: “As early as in class XI, I told her that she’s the sort of heroine Tamil cinema desperately wants: Someone who’s fair-complexioned and can speak good Tamil.” Amrutha underplays the importance of her complexion.
“People keep focussing on that, as if somehow by virtue of my complexion I shouldn’t be able to speak good Tamil,” says the actor, who’s been cast for a role in Karthi’s upcoming film, Dev. Rohit, meanwhile, has been signed up for a role in Karthik Subbaraj’s film starring Rajinikanth. He’s at pains to explain that this doesn’t mean that the director in him is taking a break. “I’m being asked to consider doing a second season of Kallachirippu,” he says. “If I do decide to make it, I think it will be something along the lines of Fargo.”