Vignesh Shivn says he’s not ambitious and “simply goes with the flow”. He never thought Podaa Podi would flop and Naanum Rowdydhaan would become a hit. “In fact, I didn’t even think I’d make films after Podaa Podi. Life surprises me in unexpected ways,” he laughs.
After Naanum... (2015), Vignesh had plans to direct a film called Kaathu Vaakula Rendu Kaadhal starring Vijay Sethupathi in the lead. The project got dropped because the filmmaker couldn’t get an “apt cast”.
“Meanwhile, Vijay got busy with Kavan. That’s when Suriya and Gnanavel Raja (of Studio Green) approached me and how Thaanaa Serndha Koottam (TSK) happened,” he tells us.
Vignesh is at pains to clarify that TSK isn’t a scene-by-scene remake of Special 26. He says doing so wouldn’t have sat well with the writer in him. “When I got bulk dates from Suriya, I didn’t want to let go of the opportunity. I didn’t even have a proper script at the time. For TSK, I’ve taken a real incident that happens in Special 26, and presented it in my own way,” he says.
Comparisons are inevitable, he realises. “But only when you see TSK, you’ll know how different it is from Special 26,” he says. It stems from Vignesh’s confidence that he can narrate the same story in multiple ways. “It’s all about the screenplay ultimately, and how racy it is. For instance, the songs, Peela Peela or Sodakku Mela... aren’t in Special 26. I think it has been a long time since we got something on those lines. The script also has a lot of hidden dark humour; that’s the backbone of the film.”
The director is all praise for Suriya and is convinced that TSK is vastly different from the actor’s previous films. “Sir (Suriya) extended complete cooperation, and told me that I shouldn’t have to change the script to fit into his comfort zone.”
Vignesh admits that he was initially apprehensive about working with Suriya. “He’s a perfectionist and a senior artiste. People whom I’ve worked with so far including Simbu, Vijay Sethupathi have all been those in my age group. But sir (Suriya) made everything easy for me!”
It was just as well, for, Vignesh expects total creative freedom from his crew. “Though I am open to feedback and taking suggestions from everyone, I believe in my instincts and execute a project only when I feel it’s right. After we started TSK, I asked Gnanavel Raja if he could give me a month to crack certain things about the film.
Then, I sat down and added a lot of elements to the story. If the audience think that the film has come out well, the credit should go to Suriya and Gnanavel Raja for not insisting that I complete the film by a stipulated time. Of course, in cinema, I get that time is money. That’s why it’s quite rare to get such an understanding team.”
Ask him about pulling off a casting coup of sorts, given he’s roped in actors like Senthil, Ramya Krishnan, and Karthik, and he says he only brought actors on board for roles he felt they could do justice to. “Everyone’s presence will be felt. For example, when I thought of Senthil sir, I was confident about his role. It’s not a usual character. Appo work out aana vaazha pazham comedy, ippo work out aaguma? I don’t think so. I had to write separate tracks for each artiste.”
Vignesh doesn’t want to talk about Suriya’s role in the film, because he thinks it’s rather obvious. Instead he expands on what inspired him to write the character. “TSK talks about unemployment, and related issues. The film is set in 1987. When people watch the film now, I was not sure how they’d connect with it. So, I had to sketch my protagonist keeping Kamal Haasan’s Sathya and Varumayin Niram Sigappu in mind. Because they also dealt with the same issue.”
Vignesh thinks filmmakers aren’t being given enough freedom to express themselves, in response to my asking him about the complaint that was filed against the lyrics of Sodakku... recently. “Enna panninaalum thappa eduthukkaraanga,” he laughs, and adds, “Only people in cinema know how difficult is to make films.”
While on adverse reactions, I can’t help but ask him about Senjitaale... in Remo, a song that Vignesh wrote. “Who said it encourages stalking? Indha paata paathutu dhaan stalk panraangla? Appo, how many people take the good things that we show in films? I don’t understand why film personalities are subjected to constant moral policing. All said and done, it’s an entertainment industry, after all. I strongly feel we should stop taking offence to everything.”
So, does he take critics seriously? “Film criticism isn’t like eating a dosa and saying it is good. These days, films get killed because of a single negative tweet. They appreciate good films. But when it’s a mediocre one, they decimate it.”
Vignesh finds it amusing when he reads negative remarks about budgets, costumes, set designs and production aspects of filmmaking on Twitter. “I really don’t understand this,” he laughs. What’s next? “I don’t want to do too many films now. All I look for is consistency in my career—like AR Rahman. Ten years later, if I’m still doing what I’m doing now, I think that’d be a great achievement.”