It isn’t easy making a political film anywhere. There’s always the possibility that offence could be taken by the powers that be. And then, there’s the potential criticism from the audiences. If the film isn’t edgy enough, it gets tagged as weak, and if the film is too biting, there’s the chance that it could be perceived to be a threat. So, these films need to have a certain special quality to, well, be ‘safe’. With Tughlaq Durbar, debutant director Delhi Prasad Deenadayalan does this by using politics only as a crux with which to mount a fantasy drama that has the quintessential good vs evil debate at its centre.
“It is a totally fictional story, and as we were dealing with the good-bad dichotomy, we felt that the theme would naturally lend itself to mass appeal,” says the director. But despite extra care being taken to avoid touching upon real-life politicians and controversial topics, the film did run into hot water when certain political outfits felt the film was critical of their brand of politics. “We were careful, but there were still some misunderstandings. But then, we cleared the misconceptions about the film and sorted the problem,” says Deenadayalan.
As someone who knows Vijay Sethupathi right from his Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom days, Deenadayalan has seen the actor’s rise from an actor to a star. The filmmaker has no qualms in accepting that the script, which was first narrated to Vijay Sethupathi in 2016, underwent multiple changes to accommodate the meteoric rise of the actor’s stardom. “In my first draft, the film had less mass appeal and was more of a performance-oriented script. But after Vikram Vedha, we realised Sethu anna had an inherent mass factor. So, we worked on the script accordingly. Interestingly, it was Balaji Tharaneetharan anna who told me to make it massier,” shares the director, who talks about the added responsibility of roping in actors like Parthiban and Sathyaraj in the film.
“In the first draft, we didn’t have Parthiban sir in mind. The producers felt the Naanum Rowdy Dhaan combination of Sethu anna and Parthiban sir would work well. When he came into the script, we worked on it further. There were a lot of inputs from Parthiban sir too. Even when we couldn’t accept some of his inputs, he did not take it personally. In fact, he supported me a lot while filming,” says the director, who shared that bringing in Sathyaraj on board was ‘a masterstroke’. “We couldn’t zero in on a punchy end to Tughlaq Durbar, and it is then that we thought of bringing in Ammavasai into the scheme of things. After listening to the narration, he said, ‘Idhu apdiye Ammavasai maadhri irukke’. That got him excited, and it was all him after that. He tailored the look and feel of the role. Both Sethu anna and Parthiban sir were excited about that. Directing the three of them was a blessing in itself,” shares Deenadayalan.
While the film got quite a bit of praise, there was some criticism about how simplistically the dual personality idea was dealt with. The character sketches of Manjima Mohan and Raashi Khanna came in for some rebuke too. Deenadayalan accepts that there were flaws in the execution. “In my head, I thought the split personality was fleshed out enough, but I agree that sections of the audience felt it was too convenient. However, with respect to Manjima Mohan’s role, I was clear from the start that this was what the role was. She is a bold woman, and yet, docile and reserved.
But I do agree that there was no proper punch to the resolution of that character,” says Deenadayalan, but agrees that Raashi Khanna’s Kamakshi role was more of a forced addition to adhere to the commercial cinema format. “Though we wrestled with the idea of forcing in a heroine, I felt we needed those elements. And yet, I wanted Kamakshi to be there for a reason, and not be a mindless addition. I understand why the audience expected more from an actor of Raashi’s calibre. I must thank Raashi for understanding the limited scope of the role and giving it her best.”
It must not be easy for someone making their debut film to be as accepting of criticism. “The point is to learn and get better. That’s what I want to take away from reviews. Stifling opinions is a dangerous thing to do. We must move on despite the differences and find similarities,” signs off Deenadayalan.