Madhumita’s fifth film KD is running successfully in theaters, and the director realises cinema has the ability to communicate with different sections of society in myriad ways. Though her film revolves around Thalaikoothal—a traditional form of geronticide—she keeps it highly engaging.
“Though euthanasia is legally permissible in India, a person is killed without his or her consent,” Madhumita points out, adding, “The age-old practice is still prevalent in certain parts of Tamil Nadu—where an ailing member of the family is given an oil bath and is made to consume lots of tender coconuts, which results in death.”
The smartest thing about a film is the script, Madhumita admits. “For KD, the initial idea came from a newspaper story,” she says.
Madhumita isn’t a fan of dark films. “I didn’t want to take any stand so to speak. I wanted to tell a good story with Thalaikoothal as the backdrop. For some reason, people assume KD is a serious film, whereas it is total fun. In fact, Karuppu Durai goes on to meet a crush from his youth,” Madhumita adds.
Before writing, Madhumita made sure she spoke with enough people in villages to understand her protagonist. Meanwhile, the filmmaker discusses her grandfather, who is no more. “He was 94 when he slipped in the bathroom and fell. Due to the age factor and memory loss-related issues, doctors asked us to let him pass. But, he wanted to visit Indonesia and kept talking about things he wanted to do. Only then, I realised he never lived for himself. Yes, he was a doting father and a terrific grandfather, but never quite did anything for his happiness. He wanted to watch a live cricket match, too. There was so much life in his eyes then,” recalls Madhumita.
KD has Mu Ramasamy playing the ailing person. “Eighty-year-old Karuppu Durai wakes up from a coma and overhears his family planning to perform the ritual of Thalaikoothal for him and runs away from the house. Midway, he meets an eight-year-old orphan, Kutty, played by Nagavishal. The little boy teaches Karuppu Durai about life and the importance of living for yourself. Ideally, in this setup, the boy should treat the old man as the grandfather, but Kutty treats Karuppu Durai as his best friend,” shares Madhumita.
While writing, Madhumita had a fair idea of how her protagonist should be. “I had written the story having Chokkalinga Bhagavathar in mind. He was an amazing performer. I loved him in Kamal Haasan’s Sathi Leelavathi, in particular,” she grins. Since Chokkalinga Bhagavathar passed away, Madhumita had to search for someone close to his resemblance. “After writing the script, I was searching for a dialogue writer and found Sabarivasan Shanmugam, a former assistant of Balu Mahendra. He was immensely helpful in bringing the much-needed local flavour to the film,” she says.
Interestingly, Madhumita thought of approaching Dhanush to play Karuppu Durai in the film. “We weren’t sure if he would accept the offer. But before taking this to Dhanush, I was convinced about Mu Ramasamy’s abilities. I realised it is important to have someone who is not a star, so that the audience can resonate more with the character.”
Madhumita found Nagavishal in Courtallam. “After auditioning for the role, I zeroed in on him. I gave him a situation to perform and was impressed by what he did towards the end. Initially, Nagavishal came across as a shy person. The more time I spent with him, I figured the ways to get what I want,” adds Madhumita.
Speaking about Mu Ramasamy, Madhumita says with a smile, “One of the scenes demanded that Karuppu Durai drinks and smokes, but Ramasamy resisted. He’s a huge MGR fan and thought those things are against his ideologies. I had to make him understand that it’s not Mu Ra that drinks, but the character, Karuppu Durai.”
KD also won awards in London, Singapore, Cincinnati and Jagran Film Festivals. “Overall, there is a misconception that award-winning films are slow. KD is a commercial film, and we made it with a lot of heart,” the director says.
When Madhumita made Vallamai Tharayo, she was 22. “In 2008, there weren’t many women directors, but now, it’s not the case. First, I am a director and then comes my gender. Both the industry and audiences have become more receptive. Women filmmakers direct commercial films, and not the conventional heroine-oriented subjects,” she notes.
On a lighter note, Madhumita says, “Though I knew I made a good film, I am no Farah Khan. The biggest challenge was to promote KD, and take it to theaters.”
Madhumita was supposed to direct Sridevi. “She loved the film, but unfortunately passed away before we started shooting. I don’t think I have found an appropriate replacement yet,” she says. “A film attracts the people it needs and I firmly believe in it,” Madhumita asserts.
Up next, she’s writing an action-oriented script. “It is not that I don’t want to make big-budget films. But if a producer gives Rs 20 crore, I’d rather make four films with a budget of Rs 5 crore each. Filmmaking is all about the math,” she sighs.
Madhumita, who works as a consultant for SonyLIV, will also direct a Telugu drama for one of the leading OTT platforms.
Madhumita tried her hand in the television industry, too. She directed Kamal Haasan in the first season of Bigg Boss Tamil. “It was nothing short of a beautiful experience,” she says, adding, “Kamal sir ensured everything was authentic. Since the reality show was launched in the south, everyone was excited about the opportunity and did our best. After each episode, he used to tell stories about K Balachander, Nagesh and SV Ranga Rao, among other people he worked with. More than directing Kamal sir, I was happy to listen to him share those memories with us!”