How 'Kuthiraivaal' directors Manoj and Shyam made a film about a man with a horse's tail

Manoj and Shyam speak about the struggle to make their first film, a unique story about a man with a horse's tail.
Kuthiraivaal directors Manoj Leonel Jahson and Shyam Sunder
Kuthiraivaal directors Manoj Leonel Jahson and Shyam Sunder
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The teaser of upcoming Tamil film Kuthiraivaal dropped last week, creating a ripple. In an industry where film promos focus on punch dialogues, close-up shots of the hero and perhaps a few seconds from a song featuring the heroine, the Kuthiraivaal teaser showed a man with a horse's tail. The intriguing premise is only one of the many reasons to be excited by this film which has Kalaiyarasan and Anjali Patil in lead roles.

Speaking to TNM, directors Manoj Leonel Jahson and Shyam Sunder say that they both studied at the LV Prasad Film and TV Academy where Manoj was Shyam's senior by a year.

"Manoj was making a short film back then and I was acting onstage. He was an important link to me moving from theatre to cinema. He was my senior by a year at LV Prasad along with Karthik, who is the cinematographer of the film. Our association has been for over 10 years now, not just for this film," says Shyam.

The editor of the film, Giri, is also from LV Prasad. The team tried to make a film back in 2015 but things didn't work out. Kuthiraivaal, produced by Pa Ranjith's Neelam Productions and Yaazhi Films, is their second attempt.

The writer of the film, G Rajesh, approached them with the script and that's when things fell in place. The duo loved the ideas floated in the script, and they decided to make the film no matter how long it would take. From 2016-2017, they pitched the film to many producers, but it was when Pa Ranjith came on board that the game changed, says Shyam.

"My friend Raghav who is part of our LVP group, his tenants were Jeny (an associate of Pa Ranjith) and Ruben (sound designer). Jeny was one of the first people we told the story to, and she loved it and supported it. She made us meet Kalai (Kalaiyarasan) and Ranjith sir," says Manoj.

The crux of the story is revealed in the teaser. A middle-aged single man, a bank employee, dreams about meeting a horse without a tail and when he wakes up, he finds that he has the tail attached to his body.

Kalaiyarasan as the man with the tail of a horse

"He doesn't know whether the tail is real or not, he doesn't know if other people can see it. We're playing on what is real and what is a dream, what is inside the head sort of an equation," says Shyam.

The film goes back in the past, as the MGR references in the teaser suggest, but it is through memories; it is a distorted version of reality, as is often the case with how we remember events and details.

"We can look at it as a psychological exploration or as him literally getting the tail as part of his body," adds Manoj, noting that the premise opens up various possibilities and scenarios and isn't limited to obsessing with the tail or slapstick comedy.

The story of the film is unique, but that's also an adjective that producers are wary of. Filmmakers are often forced to think about whether an idea would work for A, B and C centres rather than focus on what they wish to make. For first time directors, the struggle is even more acute. Ranjith's support, therefore, was much needed. Vignesh of Yaazhi Films also came on board as co-producer, and Kuthiraivaal went on floors in 2018. The film has been in post-production from 2019 because of the heavy CG (Computer Graphics) involved.

From the shoot of Kuthiraivaal

Considering it's a script with many layers and symbolism, do the directors feel the audience will get it?

"I've noticed that now, especially since Ranjith sir started making films, people watch what's happening very closely. They try to interpret the symbols and metaphors in play, even colours. It could be part of the mass cinema machinery, with clickbait YouTube videos, but it's still happening. Even with our teaser, people have been trying to interpret it," says Manoj. Pointing out that reality is complex, Manoj adds that they see cinema as the "foremost tool" to project that complexity.

Anjali Patil in Kuthiraivaal

Shyam says that from the making point of view, they were clear that they wanted this to be a mainstream film.

"We wanted to work within the commercial framework. That's also why we got Kalaiyarasan and Anjali Patil - they may not be superstars, but they are names that people know. Pradeep Kumar for the music was a similar choice. We wanted to work with people who are already in the industry and bring them into this kind of film," says Shyam.

He adds that "intellectual cinema" is targeted at a niche, elite audience, but that on ground, intellectuals could come from any sphere of life.

"Maybe they're reading Kafka and postmodernism in Tamil, watching such lectures on YouTube. If you're born in an English-speaking family in India, you may assume that [film] festival films are intellectual cinema and the rest are commercial cinema. But we wish to work without such boxes," he says.

Watch: Kuthiraivaal teaser

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