How to write screenplay for a big star: Lessons from AR Murugadoss

The trick is to balance the "mass" moments with good content.
How to write screenplay for a big star: Lessons from AR Murugadoss
How to write screenplay for a big star: Lessons from AR Murugadoss
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In Tamil cinema, writing a good screenplay for a huge star is a herculean task. On one side, you have to play to the gallery to please the actor’s ardent fans. At the same time, you need to have enough going to keep other viewers engaged. But unfortunately, most times, the makers end up giving us the “been there, seen it umpteen times” feeling.

Let’s take some of the movies of such stars in recent times. Movies like Theri and Vedalam still carry the “predictable” Baasha hangover in which the hero has a past that many are not aware of. Kabali brought out the actor in Rajnikanth after a while but failed to give the thrills you expect from his movies. Singam 2 and 3 didn’t have anything new to offer like the first film did.

A lot of movies do not even try.

In the last five years of Tamil cinema, two instances that come to mind when a superstar movie offered immense repeat value would be Thuppakki and Kaththi. Both were Vijay movies. Both had A.R Murugadoss at the helm of screenplay and dialogues along with direction.

Kaththi completed 3 years on October 22nd. Thuppakki would complete 5 years this November 13th. Here is a look at various nuances in the screenwriting of A.R Murugadoss that make these two movies great entertainers:

Be imaginative: In Thuppakki, when Jagadish (Vijay) finds out that the sleeper cell has planned to detonate bombs at 12 places in Mumbai at the same time, he gets the help of his eleven army friends, gives directions to them over phone and kills all the sleeper agents.

In Kaththi, when Chirag (Neil Nitin Mukesh) sends 50 men to get rid of Kathiresan (Vijay), he asks his friend to quickly switch off and switch on the mains whenever he flips a coin – a trick that lets him attack the men when they cannot see him.

There is a good chance that this is not how you expected these heroes to handle the situations. The central theme of these movies doesn’t deviate from the protagonist who is a saviour of the community. But Murugadoss’s success lies in writing sequences like these that viewers haven’t seen before. It keeps them guessing.

Consistent one-upmanship between Villain and Hero: A villain who thinks one step ahead of the hero – that is as rare a sight as could be in a Tamil superstar movie. In Thuppakki, until the short brain freeze in the climax where he decides to take Vijay one-on-one, the sleeper cell leader (played by Vidyut Jammwal) gave us one of the cleverest bad guys Tamil cinema has ever produced.

The character interestingly didn’t even have a name in the movie.

In a sequence that showcases the villain’s skills, he gets pretty close to narrowing down the group of people who killed his men just from the dress they were wearing that day. When the hero hacks into his kidnap plan and sends his sister as one of the hostages, the cat and mouse game between them gets really exciting.

Kaththi might not have had a villain as well etched out as Thuppakki. But even he could give the hero some serious headaches when he faked the signatures of 2300 villagers in support of the factory- those who couldn't come to India and deny the claim.

Dialogues that resonate with viewers: In Thuppakki, when his friend asks Jagadish why he needed to give up his life to kill the villain, he replies –“If those who want to kill thousands of people are ready to sacrifice their lives, why can’t we sacrifice ours too to protect people”.

In Kaththi, during the press conference, Kathiresan asks –“When we are hungry thrice a day, we remember food. But have we thought about the farmers who give us that food any day?”

Entertainment was obviously the first priority of these movies. But both Thuppakki and Kaththi could also make us think about our soldiers and farmers respectively while our eyes were on the screen. What helped the cause were such well written dialogues.

Well placed whistle worthy moments: Now regardless of all other factors, Murugadoss doesn’t forget the most important thing in a superstar movie – produce the whistle worthy moments. He doesn't mind waiting to create these moments.

Kaththi saw a deviation from the usual routine of having a hero perform a fight immediately after he is introduced. The first fight doesn’t happen until the two foreign ladies arrive in disguise to attack Kathiresan and we were treated to one of Vijay’s finest choreographed stunt sequences.

In Thuppakki, when Jagadish finally reaches the location where his sister is kidnapped, you first see the dog and then hear a gunshot. Vijay then slowly emerges out of the smoke with Harris Jayaraj’s thumping score in the background.

In Kaththi, Chirag who is watching the live news on TV thinks he has won the battle after he had ties up Jeevanandam in his room. But then, Kathiresan comes out of the water pipeline, this time against Anirudh’s BGM.

To write these two sequences in this exact same way is what matters. In Thuppakki, when the sleeper cell leader speaks to Jagadish the first time over phone, the latter listens patiently to all the threats on the other side, nods his head and just says –“I am waiting”. Then "interval" appears on the screen.

The same set of words, which is used once again for Kaththi’s interval, has today grown into an iconic one-liner.

In Kaththi, another smart technique used is to establish Kathiresan’s expertise with blueprints at the beginning itself in jail. Which meant that when he asks for the blueprint of Chennai city later to shut down the source of the water, the moment has already earned its right to be "mass".

A.R Murugadoss might not have been able to enjoy the same success that he had with Thuppakki and Kaththi in his new Telugu film – Spyder. But his next project, in which he teams up with Vijay again, carries huge expectations. Because one is a superstar whose energy levels has still seen no dent. Another is a writer-director who knows how to use this star to his full advantage. This is a lethal combination any day.

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