After almost five years since her debut with Vanakkam Chennai in 2013, director Kiruthiga Udhayanidhi’s second film Kaali is ready for release this Friday, the 18th of May. TNM caught up with the director soon after her return from Hyderabad, where she was promoting the Telugu version of the same film titled Kaasi.
In the period after Vanakkam Chennai, Kiruthiga had penned two scripts – one, a crime thriller and the other, a commercial family entertainer which has taken shape as Kaali today.
The timeline of Kaali dates back to 2015, when the director had pitched the script to actor Dhanush, a good friend of hers.
“Dhanush had just completed Anegan, and was not ready to do another film which had multiple roles immediately. But, he was the first to encourage me and also agreed to produce the project under his banner. For various reasons, that didn’t take off. At the same time, I was also in talks with Simbu to do a particular role in the film, and things were progressing. But after a few days, everything collapsed,” says the director.
Vijay Antony came in as a blessing in disguise. He hopped on board the film as a producer, actor and music composer.
“I’m so glad it took off with Vijay Antony. With him bringing all his skills to the fore, I just saw the perks of a single person doing it all for my script. In every department, it is as much as his product as it is mine," says Kiruthiga.
However, initially, Kiruthiga pitched the thriller script to him and not that of Kaali.
“I narrated the crime thriller to him first, but he strayed away from it. Believe me, I was on the verge of changing my career, because of getting so disappointed and tired of trying. In the film industry, it is very tough as a relatively new director to find a producer, actor, and set the wheels in motion. We have to play the waiting game for long. It was only when I asked him for another chance, trying to break the shackles of the dark thrillers that he usually does, and met him with the script of Kaali that good things finally started to happen,” narrates Kiruthiga.
Talking about the design of the film and the genre it belongs to, she says, “Kaali is a commercial entertainer. A mix of everything. It has its lighter moments, emotions, action blocks and so on. When I write a story, I don’t particularly stick to a single genre or hero. In that way, I get rid of any creative limitations and widen my canvas.”
Asked whether Vijay Antony has done justice to her vision, Kiruthiga is quick to give an affirmation: “I don’t know if it’s just me or whether I’m being biased, but he has really put up a terrific performance in Kaali, though he won’t admit to it. There are some scenes which require high levels of positive temperament to pull off, but as a director and a scriptwriter, I’m very happy. I didn’t see even the slightest of inhibitions in him.”
The trailer and sneak peek of Kaali showcase Vijay Antony as a rich NRI doctor returning to India, in an attempt to trace his roots and dig out details about his blood relations. On the face of it, the film does share some similarities with Garth Davis’ 2016 biographical drama Lion which starred Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. However, Kiruthiga denies the fact that it is a remake, stating that she had written the script of Kaali 4 years ago.
“I had pitched the script of Kaali to Dhanush long back. I saw Lion out of curiosity, but that film is completely different. Except for the first ten minutes, nothing will look the same," she asserts.
Kiruthiga also shares her appreciation for her producer and actor Vijay Antony for completing the shoot of the film in 58 days, when it was initially planned at 73.
Commenting on this, she says “An extensive and detailed pre-production process is the only thing that can help you finish a film in a short span of time. Vanakkam Chennai, being a home production, I was able to think from a producer’s shoes, and the speed with which we shot the first schedule of Kaali was breakneck. We also did a few double and triple callsheets to try and stick to the budget.”
In an industry dominated by men, it is not easy for a woman director to establish herself. Even though it has taken her a lot of time to get a project moving, Kiruthiga seems to have truly arrived now.
“We are still in a male chauvinistic society. It is a little bit tougher when you’re a woman to exhibit and convince people with your talent. They still have doubts about how we will pull off the hardcore stuff and the action sequences. In other industries, women are on top of their game, but in Tamil we are still regressive. It is only when quality directors like Sudha Kongara come up and prove everybody wrong, tables turn. Women coming into writing will only better the woman roles in cinema. For instance, the four female characters in my film are definitely deeper than the shallow and squashy roles that a male counterpart would write. There’s a huge difference there.” she concludes.