Director Vijay Kumar is apologetic when we finally get him over the phone after a missed call and a short wait later. “Sorry, I nodded off. I've barely got any sleep in these past few days,” he says, a note of fatigue in his voice. And for someone who distances himself from the spotlight the minute the curtains come down, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind, he admits. “I usually stay away from the industry when I’m not working. I feel it eats into my time that could otherwise be spent on work,” - confessions of a workaholic?
Perhaps this explains why we saw or heard very little of him since his first film in 2016. But Vijay Kumar tells us that soon after the film’s release, he plunged into writing his next. “The film released in May 2016 and in August that year, I began writing Uriyadi 2. The film’s premise was something that I had thought about for the first film but I had to unfortunately wait on it for budget reasons back then. By March 2017, I had finished the second film’s first draft,” he says.
Vijay Kumar’s first film Uriyadi released in 2016 to critical acclaim and has since been hailed as Tamil cinema’s best political thriller of all time by many. The director’s second film, Uriyadi 2, is waiting to hit the screens this Friday and Vijay Kumar, who also plays the lead, says that he did the film only because the story “had to be told”.
In these three years, since Uriyadi’s release, Vijay Kumar has had several offers to direct as well as act. Yet, the filmmaker was drawn to this story in particular. “I got close to 20 offers to act but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with any. I have made this film specifically for people. I feel it is my duty as an artist to make it for people,” he says with conviction.
Uriyadi 2, Vijay Kumar says, will not be a political thriller unlike his first film. “This film is not a sequel. The protagonist is someone who is looking for a job. It is all about how a common man is affected even if he is unrelated to politics. What happens when a common man’s basic needs are not met? This will be a social drama” he says.
Interestingly, the film will have three villains - a politician, a caste-obsessed politician and an industrialist.
Though Uriyadi was known for its daring storyline, the film’s fate in the hands of the CBFC will always remain a disappointment for many. Fortunately, Uriyadi 2 has been certified ‘U’ and we ask if Vijay Kumar had to go soft on the film’s content. “Absolutely not; This is an intense film, there are no second thoughts about it. Unlike Uriyadi, there are not many scenes with violence in this film. That was because the story did not demand it,” he reasons.
Vijay Kumar also found the CBFC to be more accepting this time. “When I presented Uriyadi to the CBFC in 2014, the first question they asked me was ‘Why caste?’ They even suggested that I could’ve made a short film instead. I received my censor certificate only in 2015 and the release happened a year later in 2016. That was the reason why it was not eligible for a National Award either. But now I feel the Board members are more understanding,” says Vijay Kumar.
For someone who had to run from pillar to post to release his first film, Uriyadi 2 has been relatively smooth. “I'm not sure how it is all working out in the release front. I have been focusing on promotion. I should also tell you that 2D gave me absolute freedom with the film’s content. You’d see my name as co producer,” he shares.
Vijay Kumar’s attention to detail is something that we’re now familiar with and by his own admission, he maintains that he takes about a year to perfect the script and another to film it. Did he sketch an elaborate storyboard for this film as well? “No, not for Uriyadi 2. This time, the people I worked with were the ones from my first film. One of my assistant directors from Uriyadi is acting in this one (Abbas). An associate cameraperson from the first film has done the cinematography for this one (Praveen Kumar N). Moreover I had a clear script in my head,” he says.
While Uriyadi was clearly a man’s world, in Uriyadi 2, Vijay reveals that the female lead will play an important role. “Even though Uriyadi focused on the boys, I made sure I showed the women in it with dignity. In this film, the heroine, who is a doctor, in addition to the love angle will also be the bearer of crucial information," he says.
That Uriyadi was hailed for its stunts and how real its action sequences looked is a well-known story. The filmmaker in his interviews, too, has made it apparent that he strives for delivering realistic stunts. “I have received my fair share of punches and kicks for it,” he admits.
But violence in cinema also runs the risk of becoming inspirational to its viewer. Is he aware of all its implications? “I was an avid war film watcher. I would devour them with utmost interest up until I saw Saving Private Ryan. Now this is one film that drips with violence. You see, when you see the real face of violence, of war, only then will you understand what it truly is. Real violence will scare us. Violence in my films will not just be an idea. I don’t believe in making real films with cinematic fights in them. The fights will be as real as possible. Only then people will be able to see it for what it really is,” he explains, adding “Moreover Uriyadi was only for adults. I believe grown-ups will and should be able to tell the difference between what is inspiring and what isn’t.”
But Vijay Kumar firmly believes in making hopeful cinema. “In fact, I had a different ending for the first film. In real life the ending that people saw in Uriyadi may not have been possible but it gave hope. Art is not always about its craft. And this is what I want for my films too. To give hope.”
He is also steadfast on making art that is reflective of its times. “Any genre of art must reflect the discrimination we see in current situations. It should speak of the problems we face. We don’t always offer solutions through art but it is very important that we address them. I find the present crop of filmmakers who are doing this to be very important in today’s cinema,” says Vijay.
As someone who has made a bold film such as Uriyadi, what are his thoughts on the double standards the industry adopts when it comes to addressing allegations of sexual harassment at the workplace? “I think the initial wave of people coming out and sharing their instances of such accounts in itself will begin a change. This will send out a message. 20 years ago, people feared speaking out. Now all this has changed. I also see a lot of people coming into the industry with passion. The workplace atmosphere is changing in the industry. In my sets, I make sure not just big actors but also those who appear as extras are treated with respect," he notes.
If there’s one thing that has come through about the director during the course of the interview, it is this - he makes films only when it is absolutely necessary, when there’s a story compelling enough to be made. Vijay has nothing planned for the immediate future - “I may resume writing, there’s already a half-done script. I may act if a very good story comes my way. I will only get into things only when there’s a pull.” This reminds us of another director who works on a similar principle - Thiagarajan Kumararaja.
Even thought Uriyadi came to Vijay Kaumar long ago (January 6, 2011 to be precise by his own admission), he waited patiently to deliver the film he wanted. Now that he’s back with his second film, we can be sure it will be worth the wait.