Lokesh Kanagaraj has ARRIVED. Though he is two films old, he belongs to the top league of directors already. Courtesy: Thalapathy 64. “I am happy to discuss anything—except the Vijay film I am working on,” he smiles.
Lokesh displays an amazing sense of clarity about the movies he wants to make. “I am extremely self-critical and that’s why I didn’t rush post-Maanagaram. I patiently waited and finished writing two scripts, instead of signing back-to-back films,” he says.
The director, who is delighted to have made Kaithi, refers to the Karthi-starrer as a litmus test. “I am glad the film was gripping enough to appeal to a larger audience. One day, we were lunching at my office. A wacky incident in the newspaper caught my attention and I developed that into a film. I wrote Kaithi having Mansoor Ali Khan in mind, but when Karthi came into the scene—the film grew bigger in terms of budget. The process was more interesting than I thought it was,” he recalls.
Lokesh Kanagaraj observes the film stayed true to its premise. “Like Hollywood films, we had told the story of Kaithi in the trailer without any apprehensiveness. I think we prepared the audience in advance so that they knew what to expect.”
Lokesh doesn’t want to be a one-film wonder. “Finding a footing in the film industry can be challenging,” he admits. “When the audience liked Maanagaram, I analysed why and applied everything while making Kaithi. It’s all right if I am being identified as a director, who does only specific kinds of films. I am aware of my strengths and weaknesses,” he adds.
Kaithi was completed in 46 days—which Lokesh Kanagaraj thinks is no mean achievement. “The more you understand your technicians, the better it is. Having best friends as technicians is an added advantage. It is possible to write anything and get them translated on the screen,” he says, insisting he retained the same crew for Kaithi that worked on his short films. “I don’t have to explain to my crew why I am doing things in a certain way as they knew the answer. Working with such like-minded people is necessary,” he cites.
Lokesh reveals how he developed individual arcs for characters while writing. “Despite not having backstories for the characters, I had to establish a connection between them and the audience. I took considerable time to achieve that. Kaithi turned out successful because of the cast I had employed. I pay attention to even the trivial characters who contribute to a film. Starting from Narain, Dheena to Hareesh Peradi and Harish Uttaman—everyone’s character was important. They were roped in because of their unique voice and dialogue delivery. Maryam George’s character, for instance, is one of the most honest roles I have written so far,” he asserts.
Lokesh Kanagaraj was aware Kaithi is set entirely in an imaginatively-conceived world. “Cinema is all about making the audience believe it is real. So, I didn’t mind those couple of larger-than-life fights, towards the climax portions. Every fight had a backstory to it, and wasn’t away from the premise. I only wanted my characters to behave and sound authentic. As for those 7-8 action blocks, I was concerned about the crew’s safety. We were shooting live-action sequences, and Karthi had to perform risky stunts on a moving lorry. Our benchmark was the Naan Mahan Alla climax portions,” he says.
Lokesh says his phone hasn’t stopped ringing ever since Kaithi got released. “That made me feel a bit jittery because I had more than 1000 congratulatory messages on WhatsApp. I didn’t know how to react. I am still learning to handle success,” he laughs.
How about a sequel to the film? “Of course, the plans are on, but I don’t want to make Kaithi 2 immediately. Maybe, you can expect a sequel in three years,” Lokesh Kanagaraj adds.
The director says he completed the final draft of Kaithi in an 80-page notebook. “Everyone in the Dream Warrior Pictures, including SR Prabhu, was pulling my leg. Since it’s a character-driven film, I knew it required only minimal dialogues.”
According to Lokesh Kanagaraj, writing for movies is tricky. He believes in the magic of teamwork and ideation. “For films, a dialogue writer writes for ‘what we see’, unlike the authors who write for ‘what we read’. It’s important that the cast, crew and I are on the same page and share the same vision to achieve quality output.”
A legit screenplay gives an equal space to sound, action and movement among other things, feels Lokesh. “Though I am all for improvisations while shooting, I write down everything on paper and go by the bound script. In Kaithi, Pon Parthiban helped me with the dialogues,” he notes.
Was it a conscious choice to direct a film sans songs and a heroine? “Not at all. We did what the script demanded. It’s a sheer coincidence that both Maanagaram and Kaithi were dark films,” he says.
As the conversation progresses, Lokesh Kanagaraj discusses the cinema he likes. “I enjoy consuming lighthearted films like Ullathai Allithaa as much as intense films—but I can never imagine myself write a ‘jolly’ one. Also, I can’t write romantic comedies,” he bursts into laughter.
Lokesh talks about the influence of Kamal Haasan and his films. “Ulaganayagan is the reason I am into filmmaking. Back then, I wasn’t exposed to world cinema but grew up watching only Kamal Haasan films in Kinathukadavu. In fact, until class 10, I knew nothing about films,” he recalls.
Is a film with Kamal Haasan on the cards? “I had met him twice, but remember being silent. I don’t think I can speak in front of him—let alone working together,” chuckles Lokesh.
He goes on to list his favourite Kamal Haasan films. “Sathya had a huge impact on me as a teenager. I started wearing a Kada, which I still have. Virumandi is another film that inspires me even today. I equally love Pesum Padam, Anbe Sivam and Vishwaroopam 1. Technically, there is no better director than Kamal Haasan. In particular, I like how he handles explosives on the sets. A bomb blast in a Kamal Haasan film always sounds different,” states Lokesh Kanagaraj.
Before wrapping up the conversation, I hesitantly mention Thalapathy 64. “Aadai director Rathna Kumar, also a good friend I know for a long time, is on board for the additional screenplay. He’s a massive Vijay fan, too. It will be a sincere film, showcasing Vijay in a never-seen-before avatar. You can expect the unexpected,” Lokesh assures.
Ask why is he not active on social media, Lokesh Kanagaraj says, “It is time-consuming,” adding he opened an account on Twitter because he was asked to. “As long as you aren’t addicted to social media, it’s fine. But space is tempting and addictive,” he grins.
Does he feel pressurised? “I feel more responsible as a filmmaker. I am living my dreams, and enjoying every bit of it,” concludes Lokesh.
(Kaithi will stream on Hotstar from November 25)