In this interview to TNM, the director speaks about his life after 'Oru Naal Koothu', working with a real rat for 'Monster', and the reason behind SJ Suryah’s very unique name in this film.

How Nelson Venkatesan made Monster a story about a rat A TNM interview
Flix Kollywood Thursday, May 16, 2019 - 13:13

The teaser for Monster that came out earlier this month promises a rib-tickling comedy entertainer, releasing right in time for summer. The teaser also reminds us of just how nerve-wracking a rat in the house can be! Scrambling about inside shelves, peeking out of pipes, squeaking as they zip across the floor… Driving the inhabitants of the house to sleepless nights and frantic desperation until the rats are finally caught!

All of us must have gone through this at least once and this is exactly what drove director Nelson Venkatesan to come up with the story for Monster. We prod a little further on his life after Oru Naal Koothu (his directorial debut), working with a real rat for Monster and the reason behind SJ Suryah’s very unique name in this film – Anjanam Azhagiya Pillai. Excerpts from the interview.

How was life after Oru Naal Koothu, and why the delay in making your next?

I’ve surely enjoyed the success of Oru Naal Koothu. I hear many people talking about it even today, and I am happy it touched as many people as it did. If people are still talking about a film that was released in 2016, then I think it is the greatest compliment I could ask for.

The gap between my first and my second film was not intentional. We in fact signed for Monster in 2017 and went into production in early 2018. We actually waited for a summer release and hence took quite some time.

How did Monster happen?

The film has a very simple story line and is based on my own personal experiences. It so happened that I lost sleep for a few days because of a rat, and the size of this rodent was an ego issue for me. “How small it is and how big a problem it poses!” I thought to myself. When I spoke about it to people, they too had so many stories to share.

There’s also a big industry that works for dealing with the rat. There’s rat poison, traps etc. There are also so many interesting stories. The film’s first form was different, a story between two characters – a man and the rat. But I wanted this story to reach many people so we started expanding it.

The teaser shows that the story would be about a man driven mad by the rodent. We’ve seen Sudeep do the same in Eega, in his case a fly. Do you think the two might be compared?

Directors Rajkumar Hirani and SS Rajamouli have inspired me greatly. When it comes to taking a film to a wider audience, they’ve been of huge influence and with that in mind we wrote an interesting script.

It is natural for any film to be compared to the films that have already come out in that genre. There is a story (Monster) that is pulling me and I’ve told it in a comfortable genre. But after watching it, I’m sure people will understand the difference.

In my first film I had thanked 15 directors in the opening credits, similarly, I would say I have learned grandeur from SS Rajamouli. He packs emotion with that grandeur and creates a phenomenal value for the audience. A film is a product at the end of the day.

You’ve also said you never worked under anyone before taking the plunge into direction yourself. Was it difficult to start out on your own like that?

I always believe that one can learn the craft quickly. I kept watching a lot of interviews given by directors and two of them inspired me greatly.

In one interview, Thyagarajan Kumararaja had casually remarked that it was not necessary to have prior experience before making a film.

In another, director Hari had said that to learn the craft of filmmaking, it might take 10-15 days but after that it had no relation to writing a story and making a film. No one can teach you creative essence. Craft is just the basic skeleton and can be learnt. When I’m confident of telling a story, making was not at all difficult.

Coming back to the film, we heard you used a real rat for filming Monster. How was it working with a real rat?

You can extract the expression that you want from an artist but how to do that with an animal? I was sure that I wanted a real rat and not some CG rat. We, therefore, tried our best to shoot it. It was a very big project and very challenging. Would I do this again? Surely no!

We got all due process done, with respect to the rat. We took the rat from license holders and also received Animal Welfare Board permission. We also got pre-shoot approval and then NOC after. We had on-site supervisors, pet trainers, pet consultants, doctor… It is quite a big process if you want to make a film with an animal.

So the filming sets must have been very exciting!

For the first three days people kept running around. Soon they started treating it like an artist. Sometimes it would run around and go into hiding and the entire set had to call out for the rat. It was quite an experience. We plan on releasing the making video so audience will know what went into filming it.

Have you grown closer to the rat?

Basically, I am not a pet lover. Although I had pets when I was younger, I considered them a burden. But my perspective towards pets has changed after this film. I think I have a little more patience now.

The teaser calls the rat “the most intelligent animal”. Why have you named it a monster?

I feel a rat is more powerful than human beings. If it wants, it can find us easily but we can’t do the same. It may be small in size but it’s got the power of a monster. Sometimes people post photos of their child on Instagram and call them a monster. I think the rat too can be called the same – a monster.

We heard SJ Suryah has a very interesting name in the film. How does that fit into the story?

SJ Suryah plays Anjanam Azhagiya Pillai, a TNEB employee and a devout Vallalar bakthan. His philosophy in life is to not hurt any living being.