As I speak to director Krishna Marimuthu, the city is in partial shutdown. Most places of social gathering, including theatres, have been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. It isn’t ideal for a debut director (in Tamil) whose film has just hit the screens to positive reviews. “It is painful,” admits Krishna, quickly adding that the situation we are dealing with a larger issue at stake. “This is bigger than our individual issues though. I hope we get over this soon.”
You directed the 2017 Telugu film Yuddham Sharanam. So why choose a remake for your Tamil debut? And in specific, why Vicky Donor, after eight years of its release?
I was offered this remake, but Dharala Prabhu is a film that’s close to my heart. I am a fan of director Shoojit, and Vicky Donor is a film I thoroughly enjoyed. I rewrote the script and they liked it a lot. I didn’t get the feeling I was helming a remake, especially after the rewriting. We spoke to fertility centres here, about how healthy a sperm donor needs to be. It isn’t just about one individual but how our reproductive health has been affected as a society, with changing times. I feel the script is becoming more relevant with time.
How did you decide what had to be changed in the remake?
We didn’t approach it like that. The doctor portions are where most similarities are; that’s the core of the film. But we made changes there as well — we named him Kannadasan, made him a pious, god-fearing person who is also a man of science. We added certain aspects for Vivekh sir. All characters were written this way; after a point, Vicky Donor became a reference point to ensure we weren’t going too far from why that story was told. The new adoption angle, is what closed the eight-year gap between the films.
Vicky begins donating sperm for money, while Prabhu goes for the ‘social angle’. In South India, It is natural for a boy to take responsibility when he is raised by a progressive grandmother and a hard-working mother. It wasn’t feasible to think he would be so carefree when his family is this way. Also, Harish Kalyan has soft eyes, unlike Ayushmann who has that ‘Dei, aamaam da’ swag. Also, a protagonist without a job was new for Bollywood, but not for us. Inga panna thirumbiyum-a nu thonum. (laughs) So, we wanted him to desire taking care of the ladies, even though they don’t depend on him at all. The major criterion for us was to ensure the protagonist isn’t stressed. He had to look at life lightly.
Why did you choose to use a euphemism like ‘uyir’ for sperm?
We were sure that the audience would accept the film, but we also wanted to ensure they understood sperm donation completely. This was spoon-feeding. But what if someone doesn’t know the meaning of the word, sperm? It would alienate them. We did say the truth. Uyir angerunthu than start agudhu, so there is no need to look at it with judgement.
Won’t uninitiated people misconstrue the police station scene where Prabhu’s wife finds out he is a donor?
Nidhi was angry because she was infertile, but it comes across as though she was mad that he did it for money. Correct. But if you look at conflicts between couples, sometimes, they don’t address the actual conflict in hand. At that moment, Nidhi’s anguish stems from being alone in the infertility battle. The easy escape for her, to throw at him there, is that he made money out of it. The fight is because she couldn’t address the actual elephant in the room.
The Hindi film would have been open about it. But we felt a character who is educated and sophisticated like her, would judge herself before saying such a thing out loud. Also, we had already stepped into the adoption angle, which was more important to us. In 2012, maybe sperm donation was new. But now, it is a thriving business. By no means do we want to say that artificial insemination is the only way to have children. In fact, we were wondering why they didn’t consider adoption while we were watching the film. We wanted our protagonist to feel that.
You say that it was important to normalise adoption, but then, isn’t making the adopted girl his biological birth daughter counterproductive?
It is a legitimate question, but it was thought out. Prabhu wholeheartedly adopts the child and in the end, they would probably adopt another child. Had we spent too much time, it would have taken the focus away again. Sperm donation paththi paathathu waste, adoption than seri-nu aagirukkum. We just wanted people to understand that there are several options. Our conflict centered on Kavya being his child; for Prabhu, that was a negative thing. Even in the dialogues, we would have clarified that she was his daughter when he adopted her, not when she was born.
Tell us about the casting process. Vivekh and Sachu, for example, are great value additions to the film.
Apart from the main cast (Sachu ma’am, Vivekh sir, Tanya, and Harish), the rest of the casting was done by our casting director, Sharanya Subramaniam. This was new for me, but also very helpful as I had to create a profile for each character for her to cast.
It gave much clarity to all of us. Her inputs were also insightful. It was a great experience to work with Vivekh sir. He is an amazing comedian and a great actor too. He can effectively sell all the emotions, and is also the narrative hero of this film. And once he was there, humour just followed. Avaru advise panna solli naane ketruken. After all, I grew up watching films like Boys and Run. (laughs) He used to give us so many spontaneous variations that I was spoilt for choice. So much so that he said, “Naan nooru pannuven pa, nee dhan edhu seri nu sollanum.”
The production design was also quite interesting. Unlike in the original, Prabhu’s house looks very sophisticated for a middle-class family, while the clinic, on the other hand, feels a tad shady.
These were artistic calls. We wanted the house to look antique, in a good way. Considering that they are from a royal family, and aren’t definitely poor. The clinic is an old one in Parrys. Kai raasi doctor nu solli edhuvum maatha maatanga. It is an establishment like that. The hospitals where the children are delivered are swanky though.
Also, that passing reference about his royal lineage. Was that necessary? Some may think of it as an ‘indication’ of healthy sperm.
That is there, but one can’t discount greed from human nature. People do ask for kids like Dhoni; there’s that desire within. And the donor’s lineage is taken into account, as the last point. Adhuna nala than healthy donor nu illa, but adhuvum iruka nu oru point add pannanum nu pannom. Also, I am quite in awe with the history of royal dynasties in the South. So it is also a personal thing, that their traits are still being passed on. I did not mean to be political.