Nayanthara is almost a director now: 'Airaa' filmmaker Sarjun to TNM

The director tells TNM that he's quite confident that no other horror film has handled flashback like 'Airaa'.
Nayanthara is almost a director now: 'Airaa' filmmaker Sarjun to TNM
Nayanthara is almost a director now: 'Airaa' filmmaker Sarjun to TNM
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Director Sarjun might just be one feature film old but the young filmmaker gained quite a name for himself even before he made his directorial debut on the big screen. His second film is Airaa, a horror film with none other than Lady Superstar Nayanthara herself and the film is scheduled to release later this month.

The film’s posters and teaser with Nayanthara appearing in distinctly different dual roles, and a back story which appears to revolve on female infanticide, have set up intrigue and expectation for the film’s release.

If you’ve been paying attention to the director’s tweets from his Twitter handle or if you analysed the teaser a bit, the butterfly that flits in and out of the screen is quite unmissable. So what does the butterfly represent? A soft laugh and a pause later, Sarjun only says this much - “The butterfly is a major thing in the film but I can’t reveal too much on it, sorry”.

We then prod him further on Nayanthara’s looks in this film, his experience in having worked with her and his take on equality in the industry. Excerpts from a quick phone interview.

We heard you’re more of a drama guy and your short films like Lakshmi and Maa, are indicative of that. But your feature films are of other genres. The first one was a thriller, now horror. Would you have chosen differently if you had the freedom to do so?

Airaa is more of a drama than a horror film. It is a supernatural thriller but you’ll remember the drama parts of it when you leave the theatres. I have tried to balance both. It is still very much in my zone (drama).

We also heard you had to write a horror script specifically for Nayanthara. What are some of the elements you think that Nayanthara has cultivated for herself?

Of the dual roles that she plays, there’s the actual Nayanthara whom we are familiar with and then there’s a completely different version of her, one that she’s never done before. I also made sure that the message we convey in this film is socially responsible, given the kind of star she is.

Her star factor, we have used in some places. I know the audience too will want it. Now this might not be the same for any other actor.

Let’s talk about Nayanthara’s looks in this film. Both are very distinct. Have you stuck to simple looking-timid girl and modern looking-strong woman stereotypes?

There is a strong reason for why she is timid or bold. I don’t think it falls under stereotypes because I have justified the characters for what they are.

Nayanthara has done supernatural thrillers in the past (Maya, Dora), she has also played the meek-looking woman (Kolamaavu Kokila). How will Airaa be different?

True, I am aware of that and I wanted the film to be different from the very beginning. Every horror film template has a flashback. I have made sure that in Airaa, it (flashback) is very strong. I think I’ve handled the ‘why it happens and what are the repercussions’ part very differently. I am sure no other horror film has handled flashback like mine.

All your stories so far have strong women characters. Tell us about the women you look up to in real life.

I look up to my mother, who is a retired teacher. From whatever background she came from, to being the headmistress of a school, to having brought up two boys, I know what she went through. I don’t have to look anywhere outside.

Why do you think female centric films are being sought after more, especially now? Do you think filmmakers are driven by the need to do something "different”?

We’ve always had female-centric films. KB sir (K Balachander) did it but there was a lull after him. Then Mani sir (Mani Ratnam) did it. There is one particular part of filmmaking that was left out. Hero-centric films were commonly done, and that’s perfectly okay.

But people are coming to realise that this side of it has been underexplored so far. It is encouraging that new directors are coming out with such scripts. We should only appreciate it rather than question it.

Tell us about working with Nayanthara. How involved was she in the creative process?

I’ll admit, I was nervous before starting to work with her. But she is an extremely professional actor. I also think when the director has a clear agenda, there’s no scope for problems. Only when there’s a lack of communication, it begins.

When I first narrated the script to Nayanthara, I took in a lot of inputs from her. She is almost a director now, not just an actor. She has done 63 films and knows what works and what doesn’t.

Even while selecting scripts, she’s very particular. This is why she is where she is. I blindly went with some of her suggestions while filming. Even during shoots, she’d give me her opinions in certain places but she never insisted on anything. I also think, it is always okay for a director to take good opinions from an actor.

If you had the opportunity to work with Nayanthara on any other genre what would it be?

Sci-fi! That is one place we’ve not explored with a female star. I would’ve definitely convinced her with a sci-fi subject!

You found recognition first not through the big screen but on the internet. Do you think film industry is changing?

It is hugely changing now. We have social media, YouTube, OTT… Content is not just restricted to theatres. We are seeing good content everywhere and so young filmmakers need not feel dejected after one try.

We just have to know where to approach. But the flipside of it is that there’s too much of content everywhere. You are not worried about the content that you’re putting. I think people paid more attention to what they did earlier. But this will also slowly change and we’ll find more better content everywhere.

So many people from the film industry are outraging about the Pollachi case but barely any of them spoke up when Me Too happened in the Tamil industry. As an upcoming filmmaker who has addressed gender issues in your short films, what do you think can be done to make the industry more equal and safe?

It takes time. Right now there can be no immediate solution. It comes from within, in that way you’ve been brought up and things cannot change overnight. Awareness has to happen, yes, and it will take time. But I’m sure it will come. 

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