Interview
In this interview with TNM, Ashwin speaks about his upcoming film ‘Game Over’, why he chose Taapsee to play the lead and more.

The trailer of Ashwin Saravanan’s Game Over released a few days ago, making cinema fans sit up and take notice. In Tamil Nadu, Ashwin is a familiar name despite the director having only one film out since 2015. That film was Maya, which starred Nayanthara in the lead; it went on to become a hit, establishing the actor as someone who could carry a film entirely on her shoulders.

Nayanthara has since acted in several movies that are centred around her character and Ashwin has made another film, Iravaakaalam, which has been long delayed.

But with Game Over, a thriller which will release simultaneously in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, Ashwin is back in the game with a bang. The film has Taapsee playing a character who supposedly deals with 'anniversary reaction', a condition which triggers unsettling feelings around the anniversary of a traumatic event. 

The filmmaker chats with TNM about the film, why he chose Taapsee Pannu in the lead, and his own fears.

The horror genre is quite popular with young filmmakers and you made your debut with Maya. Why so? Is it to do with the budget?

It’s the fear of the unknown. Game Over is a thriller unlike Maya which was a horror film. We’re always fascinated with death and after-life. We’ll always be scared of the unknown and that primal aspect of our existence, this fascination, extends to what we create on screen too.

For a filmmaker, I don’t think the budget is a big deal. For us, the story comes first. But in terms of production, we can argue that it’s much easier to mount. A producer will feel safer and think they can go easy on a film like this because the content and scare value will hold the film together even if it’s not lavishly mounted.

How did you decide on Taapsee for this film?

I spoke to her after Pink, which I really loved. I wanted to work with her in Iravaakaalam which didn’t happen because she was busy doing another film. After that, we kept in touch and for this film, I told her the story. We wanted to make a pan-Indian film and not only a south Indian film, something we could screen anywhere in the country and have people respond to it. The script was suited to that and Y Not Studios, the producers, also felt that it could be mounted in any language in the country. We were looking for a face that could represent the length and breadth of the country. And Taapsee is a very good actor too.

We don’t have too many south Indian films that are simultaneously released in Hindi. Did you always think about Game Over in this scale?

Films have been made simultaneously in Hindi before but they didn’t cross over so smoothly. For example, Raavanan was made in Hindi as Raavan simultaneously. We have experimented before but I must tell you that a thriller is much easier to mount across languages because the setting is generic. What really matters is the character and not the cultural grounding.

For example, a film like Aadukalam has to be set in Madurai for those cultural elements to lead into the story. But a thriller can happen anywhere in the world. A film like Manoj Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense can be set anywhere and it will still work. The film is region-free. The genre gives you space to actually go beyond geography and make a film that resonates with everyone. From the start of the writing process, we had the idea that we’re going to do it as a bilingual or trilingual.

There are tonnes of thrillers coming out these days but most tend to look imitative. Are there any Indian shows or films that you think have been truly original?

I still feel Vidadhu Karuppu from Marmadesam is still the best TV thriller show ever made in Tamil and nothing has come close to it.

From the trailer of Game Over, we see that the premise is a character who’s at home and senses the presence of someone else. What spooks you?

I’m very scared of darkness. I used to be anyway, not so much anymore. As a teenager, I used to be scared of getting up at night and going to get a glass of water because the lights were off. I always have this brooding feeling when I enter a dark region. I don’t know the reason for it but it is always there. I’ve tried exploring that in all my films.

How did the association with Anurag Kashyap happen?

We finished the film and Taapsee suggested that we show it to Anurag and see if we can mount it in Hindi. That’s how it started. About 60-70% of the mixing was done and it was still a rough film. I was sceptical about putting out a version that wasn’t completely there. The first day I met him was at the screening. He didn’t have any expectations about the film and he absolutely loved it. He said let’s do it in Hindi and that’s how it happened.

Of your three films, two have had a woman lead. How do you write from a woman’s perspective?

For Maya, I never really thought of it as a woman-centric film because it deals with a character who just happens to be a woman. It was a genre film which had a woman in the lead. For Game Over, I co-wrote the film with a writer called Kavya Ramkumar and definitely, a woman’s perspective inside the script made a big difference to the story. And it’s not a conscious process where you decide – oh this is a woman and she will feel this way. It’s a very instinctive thing – you write and you pick up on things. It evolves as you move along. I had no plans of characterising her in a way that she represents all women or something like that. I just write from my own experiences and hope that it resonates with everybody else.

This is the first time I was writing with someone else and that was very enjoyable. You have two worlds colliding. You have two ideas and it’s quite challenging to work with another writer on board. I didn’t believe that I could work with a writer before but having done so, I think I really prefer this. It’s good to have someone with whom you can thrash things around. You can write a version, go out, do some prep work, meet people and come back and see what the other writer has done. You can discuss things and rewrite it. It frees you up. It’s a luxury that a filmmaker would definitely want.

How did you get into cinema in the first place?

I’ve always been interested in reading and writing short stories. I used to write from the time I was in college. In my second or third year, Nalaya Iyakkunar started on Kalaignar TV and they’d screen short films. I remember the first season had Balaji Mohan, Karthik Subbaraj, Nalan, Alphonse and all those people. It was very inspiring. I thought what if I take one of my short stories and turn it into a film? That’s how my interest started. It was a mild, harmless interest and once I started doing it, it became addictive and at some point I couldn’t step back from it. I had to quit my software job – I was training there for three months – to pursue my interest. It’s that creative bug which bites you.

Will Iravaakaalam come out soon?

We’ve resumed conversations with the production company and it will definitely come out this year. There’s around 20 to 30% post-production left, so once that’s done, we should be on our way to a release.