From a household name to hero, actor 'RJ Balaji' as he is fondly called, has had a great run in Tamil cinema. TNM catches up with the actor ahead of the release of 'LKG' a film that he has scripted and stars in.
The film's trailer which recreates and refers to questionable actions of our politicians ,from floating thermocol on running water to building Rs.3000 crore statues, has created a buzz even before its release. It follows a slew of other big budget political dramas starring popular actors who have questioned the current dispensation. So how is LKG going to differentiate itself from the rest? Actor Balaji answers this and much more in this interview.
We know the expansion of LKG in the film, but is there more to the title?
I don't want this to be a hardcore political film which has only a few takers. Out of 100, I don't want just 20-30 people to see it. I wanted a very mass-y and catchy title. I wanted the title to attract people and even make someone who is in the interior part of Tamil Nadu go buy a ticket.
The second reason we've chosen this title is also because our knowledge of politics is at the level of kindergartners. I thought it made sense that way too.
There's been a slew of films in the recent past that take on state and central politics. Where does LKG fit in?
When I started writing this film with my friends, I told them there was a season for ghost films, then short filmmakers entered the industry to make small movies and now it is the season for political films. I knew there would be many films that will release while we write this movie and even after it releases. The mood in the country is such that people are angry or have something to say.
When we started writing, we decided it will not be a spoof or a parody of what is happening today. Apart from that, I thought it was to be a proper film with a story and also about the journey of a politician. Through that journey, I wanted to convey the larger message of the film, which is to invest five more minutes before you vote. So, it is not just another film trying to use what is happening right now.
LKG seems to be about a TN politician who is interested to enter national level politics. Any real life inspirations behind the story?
You may have seen two or three parodies in the film's trailer..I don't even call them parodies, it is actually a recreation of what happened. We just showed the same shots in the film. We are not looking to make a spoof, so we had a story which shows the journey of a man travelling from one point to another. We also had 350 real life incidents already written on paper. But if we included too many, it would have become a Tamizh Padam 3. That is a good genre but that is not what I was looking for here. Also, we can find such content on social media, why would I need to make this film for two hours with so much effort?
The actors who've been acting in these films with political overtones are considered to be harbouring political ambitions themselves. How about you?
I actually have a 25-year-old political plan. When I was in eighth standard, we were told to write down our ambition on a piece of paper and I said I want to become a politician. That is because I started reading political magazines from a very young age and had a high interest in politics. But once I grew up, and got into radio and saw what is happening around me, I started distancing myself from electoral politics.
The trend now is - an actor who voices his opinion will support a party three months before the elections, then he'll get a seat. And if he doesn't get it then, he will get one or two lakhs every day, wave and say vote for the person concerned. If this is politics, it is too little for me. Right now, what I am doing is politics. What I have been doing for 4-5 years is politics. My politics is doing things that are possible within your own sphere. I want to be the friendly neighbourhood superhero who can save four people around him. I can't change India or Pakistan but I can help people around me. I have been a politician now and I will be one till I die.
Skeptics say filmmakers never spoke up when Jayalalithaa was alive, so is this a false sense of bravado?
They are two big leaders of all time - Kalaignar and Amma. When they were alive, I'm not sure if many actors were vocal about politics or many people actually started parties. When they were alive and active in parties, I was a nobody. All of us who wrote this film had made a YouTube video about three or four years back. We saw the quality of the film recently and couldn't even sit through it. That was the maturity in our thought process and standard of writing then. Somewhere I evolved as a person and my views evolved. So, I think it the right time now for me to talk or make sense. If they were alive now, I don't know if I would have the same guts but I would have made the same film
Are you saying that it is only now that you have the material to make such a film?
We always had material but we were afraid to speak out. I am amused when people talk like we were very happy until four years back and suddenly our happiness has been taken away. It is not that. For a long time now, we have been going through the same passage - it is either them (one party) or them (another). Nothing drastically changed in the last four years. People are just expressing more but the situation has been the same for many decades.
You take on the AIADMK and BJP in the trailer. But why is there no trace of the DMK or Congress' stunts?
It is a two minute trailer. It was released after one year of silence from my side. I haven't spoken anywhere and I am not seen anywhere. I was not available and was literally forgotten. So after that, I wanted to release a trailer and wanted people to talk about it. Why I haven't kept something targeting the DMK or Congress..well, it is a creative call taken by the editor who edited Pariyerum Perumal. I didn't sit with him when the trailer was being decided, he just saw the film five to six times and made it. I loved the final output. But it is just a glimpse of what is in the film. Maybe in the film I would have spoken about these parties or spoken something strong.
Do you expect any backlash from the political class for the film?
If we screen this film for politicians, they will feel very good or happy about watching it. It is not about the occasional digs we take at them, I think in the long run this is a very important film. When I went to shoot for a film in Sathyamangalam, a couple of boys chased our car for 5-7 kilometres. They were really excited to see me and when I spoke to them they recalled how they follow my advice to read newspapers every day. So, when this can be a seed for growth in them, I hope the message of this movie registers with youngsters at least. You can't change someone who has lived their life, but it can create an impression on young girls and boys.