EIGHT years after he made a smashing debut with the critically-acclaimed gangster drama, Aaranya Kaandam (2011), Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s second film, Super Deluxe, has only confirmed his position as one of Indian cinema’s most exciting filmmakers. Super Deluxe, which released across India on March 29 to critical praise, is a richly-layered anthology in Tamil, featuring Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha Akkineni and Ramya Krishnan. In a phone interview, the Chennai-based writer-director, who calls himself a “slacker”, talks about early creative influences, his unusual approach to writing and why his movies are tributes to pop culture. Excerpts:
After the critical success of Aaranya Kaandam, why did you take eight years to direct your second movie?
I was writing a big project that I couldn’t mount. That was a very challenging movie to write, and it kept me occupied for some time. I started writing Super Deluxe towards the end of 2015, when this project failed to take off.
For me, both movies are about that moment when a person is jumping off a cliff, losing control as gravity takes over. Super Deluxe has several moments like that. I had this idea for a long time, but I did not want to do yet another movie with multiple storylines after Aaranya Kaandam. But then I thought that since some years have passed, it was okay to do another movie with multiple tracks.
Super Deluxe is also a tribute to cinema, with references to Star Wars, and the use of songs by Bappi Lahiri and Ilaiyaraaja.
I don’t know if it was conscious, but that’s my way of writing a movie. Even Aaranya Kaandam had many pop culture references. It seeps into my writing naturally.
Putting two former lovers in bed with Disco Dancer’s (1982) title track playing in the background seems unusual.
I watched Disco Dancer when I was very young. I have always loved its songs. When I write a story or think of a scene, I always play some song in the background. Sometimes when I don’t add a song at the writing stage, I do it while editing the film.
Why did you cast Vijay Sethupathi as the trans-woman, Shilpa?
I had approached Vijay to act in another project, a French movie that I wanted to produce. Though he liked that script, he wanted to know what I was planning to direct. I told him about Shilpa and narrated the story (of Super Deluxe). Within two hours, he agreed to essay this role.
Initially, we found it difficult to crack his character on screen. That had more to do with my craft. I was not very convinced about the way I was handling it. We took a break from the shooting schedule and approached it again.
Is it true that you wrote the climax of Aaranya Kaandam first? Did you follow a similar technique here?
Aaranya Kaandam was conceived entirely as a climax. Generally, movies have first, second and third acts. But I only wrote it as a third act. Ditto for Super Deluxe, where I start off the stories with that climactic moment. I don’t like to dwell on the development of scenes. Take, for example, the story of Vaembu (Akkineni) and Mugil (Faasil). A conventional story would narrate how they were forced to get married, the failure of that marriage, and the fact that she has a former boyfriend whom she calls up. But I tell the story from the point when she makes the call.
Is it in order to heighten the drama?
For me, how the conclusion unfolds is exciting. I put the audience directly in that moment, when they get to know a bit about the characters but are drawn more towards the drama. As the drama unravels, you understand the characters too. I just skip the formalities and introduction.
You were asked to make 52 cuts to Aaranya Kaandam. This movie, too, has got an ‘A’ certificate.
Both my movies are meant for a mature audience. Personally, I believe that rating a film is okay. They can definitely certify a movie saying that it is not suitable for children or young adults. However, they should not demand cuts, especially when we live in a time when the viewers can access anything they wish.
Your movies have strong women characters such as Aaranya Kaandam’s Subbu and almost all the female characters of Super Deluxe.
I like strong women. Strong women characters have always existed in the movies of directors such as K Balachander and Mani Ratnam. Of course, in mainstream cinema, the narrative revolves around the ‘hero’, while the female lead is there for song, dance and two more scenes. The industry understands the language of money. If women-centric movies make money, more people would make them.
What drew you to cinema as a child?
If you live in Chennai, it is easy to be influenced by cinema. Growing up in the ’80s, the two windows to the world of entertainment were television and movies. I was one of those people who was influenced by these mediums. I used to listen to programmes such as Aap Ki Farmaish on radio or watch Chitrahaar and Chitramala. On Saturdays, we used to watch Hindi movies on Doordarshan and Tamil movies on Sundays.
How would you sum up contemporary Tamil cinema?
There are good movies, as well as average and bad movies. Some very interesting movies are being made, as well as money-spinners. Both are important for the industry. Today, viewers are open to watching a wide variety of movies and thanks to subtitles, they can watch movies in other languages.
Are you working on any other projects right now?
No, I’m not. Usually, when I am not working, I mostly hang out with my friends, ride my bike, listen to music, and, occasionally, watch movies. Like any other slacker, I laze around. I just observe life, watching it.
This article appeared in print with the headline ‘‘I start my stories at the climax’