Arun Matheswaran is making his debut as a director in Tamil cinema with Rocky. Arun has previously worked with Thiagarajan Kumararaja in his first film Aaranya Kaandam as his assistant, an experience that steered him towards becoming a director. “I studied cinematography and also had an equal passion to direct films. Aaranya Kaandam helped me make that decision,” he says. Arun also worked with director Sudha Kongara in Irudhi Suttru, penning dialogues for the film.
Almost 15 years since his entry into the industry and after several delays in making his film, Arun is ready with his debut feature - Rocky.
The trailer released earlier this month, creating a ripple among film enthusiasts for its interesting visuals and intriguing style. Starring Vasanth Ravi, Bharathiraja, Raveena Ravi and Rohini in pivotal roles, Rocky is a crime thriller that is expected to release in November. Following the expectations Rocky’s trailer has set, TNM reached out to the director to discuss his journey so far and the making of the film.
The response to the trailer has been huge. Did you anticipate it?
The whole idea was to make an edgy film. I thought the chances of the trailer clicking with the audience was 50-50; some might be ticked off by the violence. But we’ve received an overwhelming response so far.
I believe the visuals caught their attention, and then the poem. A lot of them have said that it looks intriguing, exciting, raw and gritty. They have also come up with stories (laughs). A few asked if it's like Old Boy…
Yes, a particular shot from the trailer reminded many of the Korean film Old Boy…
Actually the story has nothing to do with it. There’s a wide hallway shot of an attack which is more like a tribute to Old Boy. We planned for it while shooting, like a tribute. Other than that shot, the film has nothing in common with Old Boy.
Tell us about the poem we heard in the trailer. ‘Kaalam oru drohi…’ - who wrote it?
Kaber, an independent Tamil musician wrote it and the poem is a part of the narrative. It is deeply connected with the story and it reflects the film metaphorically.
There are two women characters in the film. Tell us about their roles.
Rohini plays Vasanth’s mother and Raveena Ravi plays Vasanth Ravi’s sister. They are very important characters in the film and help the story move forward. The absence of women will not be felt in Rocky.
One of the main reasons why the trailer caught everyone’s attention was the visuals. Tell us about the discussions you had while shooting the film with cinematographer Shreyaas.
Even when I wrote the film, I had the shots in mind. Shreyaas and I planned all of it beforehand very meticulously, right from the costumes. We took the Renaissance French paintings for reference. We took inspiration from Van Gogh’s impressionist style and presented it in Indian earthy colours.
I wanted to shoot this film using anamorphic lens for the widescreen cinematic experience. We shot Rocky in different landscapes and so this choice went well with the film’s mood. I think after almost 15 years, the use of anamorphic lens has worked well with a film’s story.
We also heard you had to go through several delays before the film could finally be made. What happened?
I came up with the script in 2014, soon after completing Irudhi Suttru. I narrated the story to many. Almost thrice the film went into production but had to be shelved for reasons unknown. I also had a version with a female protagonist and that didn’t take off either. Finally, when I met Vasanth Ravi, it all fell into place.
What were the reasons for shelving it so many times?
They were all due to production delays. The actors did not have the dates etc. The script was also rejected by quite a few. They found it too violent. There’s no love story or a comedy track in it unlike mainstream cinema.
So, it's a very unconventional story?
No, the story is very conventional. It is your regular gangster drama but the way it is going to be told will be very unconventional. It has a film noir treatment. The whole idea was to present an honest action film.
You also said that you had a female version for Rocky. So you didn’t have any particular star in mind when you wrote the script?
No, when I wrote this story I had no one in mind. This is a revenge story based on a character. I had no gender in mind. It’s just a violent character who goes on revenge mode. That was the basic, primal idea.
As for the antagonist, we heard Mysskin was supposed to play the role before it went to Bharathiraja…
True. Mysskin got busy with his film and we waited for three months. Later we met Bharathiraja but we were not sure if he’ll like it. Fortunately he did and agreed to come on board.
How does it feel to be holding on to a story for so long, despite rejections?
Actually this was my plan B. Around 2011-2012, I had another script in mind and that went on for about three years. We also started pre-production for it but it got shelved. Only then I came up with this. The first one was an edgy love story.
Will you be picking it up later?
Not for now. I think I’m over it now.
But to answer your earlier question, I did not look at it as a challenge. Rejections did not pull me down. I was hopeful of doing it. I don't know anything else apart from filmmaking. I knew that this script would work and I had conviction. Despite producers rejecting it, I was sure of the film working out. I stood firm in my idea and made no compromise.
This isn’t a big hero film. Lately, many small budget Tamil films have been finding it hard to get good release dates and screens. What are your thoughts on this?
I'm not very sure of how the film’s release will work out, the producer will know better. But like you said, the industry functions in a way that it caters to a wider audience. Therefore commercial elements are required. Rocky does not have those elements but I believe that that's the USP of this film. That will work to our advantage, I think.