Director Arun Matheswaran talks to TNM about his second directorial venture Saani Kaayidham, casting Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan, the decision to opt for an OTT release, and more.

Rocky and Saani Kaayidham are part of a revenge trilogy: says Tamil director Arun MatheswaranAmazon Prime Video
Flix Kollywood Friday, May 06, 2022 - 12:19

Actor Keerthy Suresh, who won the national award for her performance as a charismatic, elegant and graceful Savitri in the 2018 film Mahanati (veteran actor Savitri’s biopic), is a police constable who commits 24 murders in Saani Kaayidham. Filmmaker Selvaraghavan too appears in a never-seen-before role, after making his acting debut with Beast (2022). The Arun Matheswaran directorial, which had its OTT premiere on Amazon Prime Video on May 6, is unhinged in its portrayal of two ruthless killers – Sangaiah (Selvaraghavan), and Ponni (Keerthy Suresh). Captivating sequences in the trailer – Sangaiah lighting a cigarette with his hands covered in blood, Ponni holding an aruval (billhook machete) with her face contorted in rage; or the monochrome shot in which Ponni dubs the line “I want to rip your spine apart, and kill you” – had already piqued the interest of movie buffs.

Saani Kaayidham marks the second directorial venture of Arun, who made his debut with the film Rocky. The movie hit the big screens last year after facing several delays, almost 15 years since Arun’s entry into the film industry. It opened to critical acclaim and won praises for its unique and intriguing style of filmmaking. Arun had previously worked with Thiagarajan Kumararaja in his first film Aaranya Kaandam (2010) as an assistant, an experience that steered him towards becoming a director. Currently, a film with actor Dhanush is also in the works for him. Director Arun Matheswaran talks to TNM about the decision to cast Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan for his second film, the decision to opt for an OTT release, and more.

The trailer of Saani Kaayidham had already piqued the interest of fans. What can we expect from the film?

Saani Kaayidham is a simple and direct revenge story. It is also an emotional drama. It will be the second film in a revenge trilogy that I have planned. Rocky was the first one. I would like to direct the third film much later.

There were some similarities between Rocky and Saani Kaayidham. The monochrome frames, single-shot sequences…

Since both the films are part of the trilogy, one would find similarities. I felt that black-and-white sequences added a layer to the narrative, and single-shot frames are a part of this filmmaking style. But you will also find aspects that are unique to this film. All the technicians who worked on this were familiar with my style of filmmaking after watching Rocky, but I also had separate discussions with the art and stunt directors, cinematographer, editor etc., to discuss the style we are going for while making this film. Besides, there are no songs in the film. We are only using a background score. Sam CS (the music composer) has done a phenomenal job in enhancing that score. We have also used a lot of silence and ambience techniques, which becomes very effective in this kind of a film.

Watch the trailer of Saani Kaayidham:

Do you expect actors to be collaborative or submit to your vision? Since director Selvaraghavan also has a distinctive style of filmmaking, were you worried about clash of sensibilities?

Not at all. He was very clear from day one that when he comes to the set, he just wants to come in as an actor. Every director has his own style and signature. Selvaraghavan, being a director, understood my style. He was very cooperative.

About actors being collaborative, I am a director who does not act out the scenes while discussing them with actors. When I told Keerthy the sequence and told her about the mood of the scene, she would give me options showing how she can act. I am not very rigid in this sense. I like getting input from the actors. At the end of the day, they are the ones who are carrying the and delivering the performance. So there is a collaboration, but not to the extent of making changes to the scene. If they give their opinions and they are workable, we retain them.

Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan in Saani Kaayidham. Source: Amazon Prime Video

Raw and hard-hitting films that portray violence have often sparked discussions on ‘glorification of violence versus sensitive depiction’. As a filmmaker, how do you view this debate?

I am not a huge believer in the idea that films can influence people. Filmmaking as an art has only existed for the past 120 years or so, while violence as an emotion has been part of the universe. Even filmmakers portray violence in their films only after seeing instances and stories of such acts in real life.

If someone has a weak mind, they might get influenced not just by watching films, but by everything else around them too. Even a photograph can create a lasting impression. People who have watched Rocky or other violent movies have not gone about killing people, have they? Besides, I think only adult audiences with a certain level of maturity would choose to watch such movies.

I understand that the audiences can be influenced by how actors look on screen. Fans would imitate the way they look or how they dance in a song, but I am not sure about the same as far as depiction of violence is concerned.

You mentioned in earlier interviews that you had another version of Rocky’s script with a female protagonist in mind. Is Keerthy Suresh’s character in Saani Kaayidham also an extension of that idea?

For Rocky, I had two other versions – one with a female lead, and another with an old man playing the lead role. We haven’t seen a lot of female action figures on screen. I keep thinking that we need more women action characters on screen and more actors taking up such roles. That was how Keerthy Suresh’s character in Saani Kaayidham also happened. But for her, this was a character with a lot of scope for performance. She was not looking at the violence aspect of it.

How did you decide to cast Keerthy? Did you have other options in mind? How did she prepare for the role?

I did not look at other options. Keerthy asked me the same question. She asked “why me”. I looked at it as a USP (unique selling proposition) of the character. You have not seen Keerthy do a role like that before. It brings an additional layer to the character. Audiences are now excited to know how Keerthy Suresh or Selvaraghavan look in such roles.

Keerthy thought that getting the accent, body language and mannerisms right was a challenge. But she is a phenomenal actor who acts spontaneously. We had reading sessions and she referred to some videos to get certain aspects right. But she did not have to do a lot of homework or anything.

Actor Keerthy Suresh's stills from Saani Kaayidham. Source: Amazon Prime Video

Why did you decide to release the film on OTT? Would it be fair to say that it is acting as a platform for films that don’t fall in line with the commercial template?

With OTT, the film was able to get a wider audience. Rocky did not have that, and that was a pain I had to experience. Even Saani Kaayidham was written for the big screen initially. But it was the producer’s call to release it on OTT after the lockdown and other pandemic-induced restrictions.

The way I see OTT platforms, it is like a supermarket. Audiences have many products that they get to choose from. It has also broken the A, B, C classification that existed earlier. So, it is difficult for filmmakers to segregate audiences based on the centre or the demographic. Everyone is watching all kinds of films.

When filmmakers don’t know their audience, is it difficult for them to ascertain what kind of film would appeal to the sensibilities of the viewer?

When filmmakers no longer cater to a specific demographic, they will have to be extra conscious. There is a pressure to ensure that our films are well-made, well-liked, and conscious. This influences filmmakers a little. Of late, we are also witnessing a ‘pan-Indian’ trend. But I don’t believe in the word pan-Indian. If we look at it at the most basic level, filmmakers write and make films hoping that the audiences would find it appealing. If they like the film, they become successful in different places.

But a director need not make their films generic or dilute it to ensure that it reaches more people. For example, they don’t have to shoot in foreign locations or have dialogues in English to appeal to an international audience. As long as the story is authentic and rooted, we can take it to international platforms.

What can you tell us about your new project with actor Dhanush?

It is not going to be like my first two films. At this point, I can just say that it is going to be a big-scale, action adventure movie.

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