AR Murugadoss is endlessly polite, soft-spoken and modest. It is hard to believe he is the same guy, who directed powerful star vehicles Ramana, Ghajini, Thuppakki, Kaththi and Sarkar that reflect the pent-up rage and collective angst of people.
Filmmaking started as a personal journey for Murugadoss. He says, “I studied in a Government school in Kallidaikurichi that didn’t have a roof. I remember writing sentences on sand because I didn’t have a slate or chalk piece. Growing up, as a teenager, I endured so much pain because of financial circumstances. So, it was natural that at every given opportunity, I talk about things that bothered me. I use cinema as a platform to channelise the anger in a better way.”
As we begin discussing Darbar, Murugadoss adds he feels butterflies in the stomach. “It doesn’t matter how many films I have made, but I feel nervous before a release,” he admits. The director quickly reveals the Rajinikanth-starrer was, undoubtedly, the most-satisfying film in his career thus far. “I am happy that I finally got to direct Rajinikanth. Dreams do come true. I am eagerly waiting for people to react to it.”
Excerpts from a conversation:
Your first film Dheena (2001) was with Ajith. I am surprised it has taken two decades to collaborate with Rajinikanth.
Good things take time, and I am a huge fan of Rajini sir. We have been discussing scripts ever since I made Ramana. I would say Darbar just happened at the right time. Usually, Rajini sir listens to multiple narrations, and there is a bit of uncertainty involved. I am not blaming him, but that’s how it is. He is extremely busy person. He can like a script but not end up signing it. For that reason, only after the shoot, a director can be confident that he is making a film with Rajini sir. Truth to be told, whenever he used to call, I would be in if-something-is-meant-to-be-it-will-happen mindset. (Laughs)
Rajinikanth last played a policeman in Pandiyan (1992). How did you convince him to play a cop again?
Barring Moondru Mugam, his other cop-based outings weren’t blockbusters. Maybe, this could have been the reason Rajini sir avoided them—but I wanted to break the jinx with Darbar. I assume that he must have had some kind of trust in me. In the film, he plays an Assistant Commissioner of Police—a no-nonsense cop. It has been a while since Thalaivar fans witnessed the stylish Superstar of the 90s. Any Rajini sir film is like a festival on-screen, right? Hopefully, Darbar will satisfy his fans.
Also read | Movies that define ‘the actor’ Rajinikanth
Tell us more.
I don’t want to open up much because the moment you say something, people come out in public and claim, “It is their story!” (Laughs) Darbar is not a political film, but it is filled with Rajini-isms. Show me one actor whose fan base has been constant for years! Rajini sir was in the top during the 80s and still, he’s the box-office king. Normally, cops sport clean-shaven looks, but here, Rajini sir’s character has thick hair and a beard. You will know why when you watch Darbar. Rajini sir doesn’t look his age at all. He’s 70 years ‘young’ and brims with unmatchable energy levels. With makeup, costumes and the right kind of hair-do, you can easily show him as someone in the late 40s. Darbar also touches upon issues pertaining to women’s safety. See, these days, the situation is pretty scary. First, I am a father and then a filmmaker. I felt happy when cops killed rapists in the recent Hyderabad case. Public admire cops when they provide “instant” justice. We have something similar in Darbar.
What was in your mind while directing Rajinikanth?
Darbar! What else? (Grins) Rajini sir isn’t a planner. At least, from the interactions I have had with him, I can assure this. He is highly intuitive and focused. Most importantly, he doesn’t gossip or belittle others. That’s a quality that I admire. Also, he rarely goes into the caravan. He prefers sitting on the chair and watch others perform.
How have you been delivering hits consistently?
Reaching the top of the ladder isn’t difficult; whereas sustaining the position is. Making ‘mass movies’ work needs a bit of calculation. Darbar has Rajini sir playing the lead, and so we wanted to take the film to a wider audience. We promoted the film extensively in the north, and cut the trailer in such a way that everyone would enjoy it. The conventional commercial template hasn’t changed much since the MGR days—but the treatment and business have undergone a drastic transformation. I realise the audience’s mindset keeps changing every five years, and I keep track of the market trends and learn with every mistake. You are only as good as your last film. (Laughs) Moreover, I see a film not as a director, but as the audience. If I am entertained, they will be, too.
I swear by commercial cinema and strive to mould the script according to the actor’s image. I have never had issues with it. In fact, I enjoy the process. I am aware of what works for me and what is required of me. Today, I need to compete with young filmmakers, which is a huge challenge. I am comfortable handling larger-than-life projects. I think the audience also expect the same from me and I don’t want to disappoint them. See, working with experienced actors is something I like. Be it Vijayakanth sir, Suriya sir, Rajini sir or Vijay sir, everyone is very understanding and cooperative on the sets.
Can we ever see you direct a small-budget film as all your movies have been made on a large scale?
I never consciously worked towards creating a brand for myself, but I am more inclined towards directing entertainers with mass appeal. I am not sure what will happen suddenly if I shift gears. I might find myself out of place. But my films are for everybody. As a director, I want everyone to watch my films. Especially when somebody comes with good content from the prevailing trends, the audience appreciates it. As for films, I don’t do lazy work. I research before I come up with something. I strive to direct “different films” within the commercial formula and believe in what I do. People think we make the same stuff. But we know that we don’t. Though the primary task of every film is to entertain people, I take my job seriously. I realise I have some responsibility as a storyteller-filmmaker. To me, every film is about expressing myself in more effective ways. Audience looks forward to watching my films. At the end of the day, only that matters. I make cinema for them, after all.
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Reports suggest that you are likely to direct Allu Arjun next.
Frankly, I have not yet decided, but I am keeping my options open.