Was careful not to turn it into a spoof: Director Anand Shankar on ‘NOTA’

In an interview with TNM, the director talks about his recent film, directing Vijay Deverakonda and his connection with theatre.
Was careful not to turn it into a spoof: Director Anand Shankar on ‘NOTA’
Was careful not to turn it into a spoof: Director Anand Shankar on ‘NOTA’
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“Are we too late for this interview?” asks NOTA director Anand Shankar. I tell him I want to discuss the film. “Sure,” comes the reply. The recently-released Vijay Deverakonda starrer is the filmmaker’s third venture after Arima Nambi and Iru Mugan. “I’m quite clear about the kind of cinema I want to make. My producers need to be content and happy,” he smiles.

Some excerpts from the director’s interview with TNM:

Towards the end Varun (Vijay Deverakonda) says, “Pudhiyavan aana ennai aasaiyodu anaithu konda Thamizh makkale…” Was the story written for him?

Once Vijay got on board, we made improvisations here and there according to his image. NOTA is adapted from the Tamil novel Vettattam, written by Shan Karuppusamy. I developed the screenplay along with the writer. I loved the book and thought it would be a nice idea to present it as a film. Though I didn’t have to tweak the story much for the big screen, it was fun collaborating with Shan. I was both the writer and director for my previous films – Arima Nambi and Iru Mugan. NOTA was a different experience.

Post Iru Mugan what kept you occupied?

I was working on my own script and I realised it would take a few more years for the project to materialise. I wanted to direct a quick drama in the meanwhile.

Vijay Deverakonda was an unconventional choice though.

The idea was to make the film only in Tamil in the beginning. Later, we opted for a Tamil-Telugu bilingual considering Deverakonda’s fan base in his state. The NOTA script is controversial by nature, so we felt it would be better if Tamil actors weren’t cast in it.

Why did you pick a plotline we’ve already seen in Mudhalvan and Bharat Ane Nenu?

First of all, I’d like to clarify NOTA is not similar to the above mentioned films in any way. If it were the same, nobody would have watched my film. Singam, Saamy and Saamy Square are not the same cop films. They’re different from each other. We started NOTA shooting much ahead of Bharat Ane Nenu’s release. As a filmmaker, I try to give my audience what I like. I liked Mudhalvan. And I wanted to explore a political thriller. People are happy to watch a genre that hasn’t been touched in recent times.

Is NOTA a successful film?

Pretty much, yes. We had put in approximately Rs 7 crore and what we’ve got back is much more than the investment. All three films of mine had been profitable so far. Vijay Deverakonda is a bankable star in the Telugu industry and I’m happy to have introduced him here. Despite the mixed reviews from Telugu media, the film is doing well.

Though NOTA seems a record of Tamil Nadu politics over the last few years, I felt there were too many subplots.

Without subplots or back stories, the audience may not understand the past life of Sathyaraj sir and Nasser sir. That’s the reason I kept them. Moreover, subplots aren’t really my thing. And that’s what got me interested when I sat down to write.

But were you attempting to make a satire with NOTA?

Not really. I was careful not to turn the film into a spoof.

Again, NOTA falls into the grammar of other political thrillers in Tamil cinema. There’s this popular Shankar template of filmmaking and Murugadoss template of filmmaking.

(Laughs) A political thriller naturally falls into the template of other political thrillers. As a creator, I’m aware of this. Apdi specific template-la en padam irukka koodadhunaa, I need more experience. If you had noticed, I clearly stayed away from commercialising the film. In the second half, you don’t see Vijay mouthing punch dialogues. In fact, he’s not your normal, diplomatic Chief Minister. He gets emotional and also uses swear words in front of the press. These things are away from the formula.

Why did you say NOTA had garnered mixed reviews with Telugu audiences?

The Tamil audience can relate to the film because of obvious reasons. I understand it’s different with the Telugu audience. There was a sense of disconnect because not everybody would have been familiar with the specifics. But I still thought they’d clap for scenes like any other fiction-based film. Maybe we shouldn’t have promoted the film as a bilingual. (Sighs) Anyway, no regrets.

What did AR Murugadoss say… Did he appreciate you?

He’s too busy with Sarkar. We shot his cameo portions for an hour. That’s it. After that, I never got to speak to him. Hopefully, he’ll watch the film soon.

How was your experience of directing Vijay Deverakonda?

He’s extremely determined and hardworking. Without knowing one word in Tamil, he dubbed for his character.

Do you have any plans to venture into theatre eventually? (Anand is the grandson of the National Award winning playwright Komal Swaminathan)

My mom is into it and I read scripts with her. A couple of days ago, we (Komal Theatre) staged our debut production, a theatrical adaptation of short stories by five legendary Tamil writers. Iru Mugan had many theatre artistes on board. (Smiles) Theatre runs in the family, and of course, I’ll make sure I keep the connection intact.

Future plans?

I’m a diehard fan of Superstar and I’d love to direct him someday.

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