Though Uriyadi 2 was released to mixed reviews, Vijay Kumar remains confident and tells us he made a good film. Less than half an hour into the chat, the actor-director says with strangers he takes time to open up. Nevertheless, I find him at ease as we discuss Uriyadi 2, among other things.
Excerpts from the conversation:
You seem to be a serious filmmaker. I believe both Uriyadi 1 and 2 were born out of some collective anger towards society.
Yes. Caste issues are a raging menace in Tamil Nadu, and I wanted to make a film which will resonate with the audience. And, it did.
Reviews say otherwise.
I have stopped reading reviews, and don’t take them seriously. (Laughs) Not that I am not disappointed when critics don’t like my films. But everyone who watched Uriyadi 2 is recommending it to others as if it was their own film. That’s all I need. When I visited Thoothukudi recently, I got an overwhelming response, and I saw people getting emotional. I saw them shed tears in theaters. The day I came into the industry, I decided what kind of filmmaker I wanted to be. Films that I write and direct should engage the audience both intellectually and emotionally. They should expose people to problems happening in society and make them look for actions.
But I would say Uriyadi was more effective than its sequel.
That is your opinion, and I respect it. (Smiles) Uriyadi 2 is really not a sequel to the earlier film. But yes, I should have gone with a different title. I had to retain the same name as I sensed it became our identity. Uriyadi, set in 1999, had a good dose of violence. Also, it was a political thriller about two friends who take revenge on the men who attacked their friend. Whereas, Uriyadi 2, set in the present, is more about Lenin Vijay’s disappointment about caste politics and capitalism. In part 1, Vijay was a college student. In part 2, he has graduated and is working. This is more of a social drama. There is an audience for films like Uriyadi. It is significant, I am sure.
There was no forced message in Uriyadi. But Uriyadi 2 was almost like a social commentary.
I am drawn to the principles of Communism, but I didn’t capitalise on the related issues. If it had been done, the film would have become cliched. I wrote Uriyadi 2 because it is the kind of story that needs to be told. I realised the possibility of developing a sub-story when I wrote Uriyadi itself. The climax was cinematic, and of course, I knew it. Everything I did in the film was planned consciously. I was so organised that whatever I had on mind was transferred on to the script with no compromises.
I am sorry that I have to keep bringing Uriyadi into this conversation. But that wasn’t a ‘hero film’. Rather, I felt this one is.
There were light-hearted college scenes in the first part, but Uriyadi 2 didn’t have those. It is a standalone film that reflects how hate politics has seeped into our system. Again, the Sterlite and Bhopal tragedy references were kept for a reason.
Uriyadi didn’t enjoy a good run at the box office though everyone is raving about it now. To be honest, when I made the film, I didn’t know how to make it stay in theaters. We didn’t market it properly, and half the women crowd didn’t see it. With Uriyadi 2, I didn’t want to risk it. I realised making a film was easier than making sure it got released on time. 2D Entertainment gave me absolute freedom to execute my thoughts. I became a much-relieved man.
Did you go soft on the content by any chance—since the film is U-certified?
Not at all. I had shot exactly what I wrote. In fact, when I presented Uriyadi to the Censor Board, they asked me why I made a full-length feature, instead of a short film about caste politics. This time, to my surprise, they cleared Uriyadi 2 with no cuts and gave it a U-certificate. It is never about what others think or want. If I think I should make a film ten times more violent than Uriyadi, I will do it.
Take us through your writing process.
It happens organically. I enjoy the time I sit alone and write. After I zero in on the idea, I develop them. The cinema happens somewhere in between.
How challenging was it to balance both acting commitments and directorial responsibilities?
It wasn’t easy, but I am not complaining. Though I am up for acting assignments, filmmaking is my priority. I got around 20 film offers as a hero but didn’t accept any. All were romantic dramas, and trust me, till this date I don’t know why I was approached. (Laughs) The Vijay Lenin you see in the film is the real me.
You were a newcomer then. Do you feel you are today where you set out to be?
I am no planner, and I certainly never imagined that I would reach this far. But I was in love with cinema that I knew I would get into this someday. I was a student of metallurgy and grew up watching films of Coen Brothers, Tarantino, Scorsese and Mani Ratnam. I had no clue why I took Engineering but worked for around eight years before I quit my mundane job. I was abroad for some time and I shifted my base here. Between 2004 and 2007, I started writing scripts, hoping they would turn into films. (Laughs) Then, I made a short film, after which I had a brief stint with Naalaiya Iyakkunar, a reality show on television. I don’t know what future holds for me, but I am sure I want to be a part of this creative space—either writing the screenplay, lyrics or making films. Up next, I am penning dialogues for Sudha Kongara’s Soorarai Potru, starring Suriya in the lead.