In this interview to TNM, the director talks about the importance of the game carrom in 'Vada Chennai', its women and his thoughts on the Me Too movement.

Women in Vada Chennai play powerful roles Director Vetrimaaran to TNM
Flix Kollywood Tuesday, October 16, 2018 - 15:36

Of the several promos that the makers of Vada Chennai have released so far, one of it has Anbu (played by Dhanush) saying, “If defending oneself is called rowdyism, then we’ll do it.” This probably sets the tone for Vetrimaaran’s upcoming film that aspires to tell the story of a few characters from Chennai’s oldest neighbourhood.

Director Vetrimaaran’s most ambitious project has been set in motion. With the first part of his gangster trilogy, Vada Chennai, hitting the screens on Wednesday, TNM caught up with the director for a quick chat. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Vada Chennai has been in the making for close to a decade now. Did the story evolve from what it was at first?

(Chuckles) I am not sure if the story has evolved, but it has definitely changed from what it was at first. Vada Chennai follows a lot of characters and the plot point is based on their lives.

We have had a good number of films set in North Madras. Films like Pudupettai, Polladhavan and Madras, spoke about life in the area. How is Vada Chennai going to be different?

I am not claiming it is going to be different. I have tried to tell the story of a group of people, which spans over a period of 18 to 20 years. This will be the first part of the trilogy.

We heard Dhanush is a carrom player in this film. Tell us about the cultural reference of this game in Vada Chennai.

I am not sure how many of them know this but World Carrom Federation is in North Madras. People there also claim that carrom originated from North Madras. I am not sure to what extent it is true. There are five world champions in North Madras and several national champions. It is an essential and integral part to my story. This game was a way for people to escape from that world. We brought in professionals to train our actors for this film.

Since Vada Chennai is a trilogy, will there be a cliff-hanger at the end of this film?

No, cliffhanger! The first part of the film ends with it, but promises for a next.

You have worked with Dhanush in four films so far and both of you have grown tremendously since your first film Polladhavan in 2007. How do you handle creative differences, is it always smooth sailing?

Creative differences happen only if there is a clash of ideas. Dhanush gets on board if he likes my idea. After that, there is no scope for creative differences because he does not question or interfere with my process.

Tell us about the women in Vada Chennai

There are three to four women characters in this film and two of them are important. One is Padma, played by Aishwarya Rajesh, and the other is Chandra, played by Andrea. Chandra is an important character; in fact, she takes the script forward. The film revolves around her needs. This is the first time women play an important role in my film and I believe it is better than what I have shown in my previous films.

Was there a specific reason that inspired you to write stronger, more powerful women characters in this film?

The story entails stronger women in this film. The characters in my film are based on real people. I have scripted a story around them. Naturally, this leads to strong character sketches of my women protagonists.

As a filmmaker, you carry certain responsibilities on what is being portrayed in your films. For instance, stalking in films is something that is being discussed more sensitively these days. How have you addressed these issues in Vada Chennai

Pursuing a woman is seen as stalking today. Twenty years ago, it was the only way to get a woman’s attention. I grew up in a small town where it took almost a year for a boy to approach and talk to a woman. When your film is set in the 80s and 90s, it is difficult to not show this. I am not advocating or supporting stalking but one has to consider in which circumstances it is shown. In my film, the woman also shows equal interest in the man and so it is not problematic in that sense.

Do you think Vada Chennai would be compared to films like Gangs of Wasseypur?

I don’t know.

A good number of politically vocal, caste-based films are being made in Tamil Cinema now. How do you see this?

Political films were always being made in Tamil cinema. It is just that they have majorly been based on the upper or the oppressive castes for long. Films like Thevar Magan, Chinna Gounder and Ejamaan, have glorified certain castes and have always laid bare their politics. Now that the voice of a Dalit is being heard in films, people are getting agitated. It is high time we start making such films. Filmmakers like Ram, Pa Ranjith and Mari Selvaraj are aggressively talking about it through their films and this a much-needed change.

Tell us about the politics in Vada Chennai

I will leave that for the audience to tell.

What are your thoughts on the ‘MeToo’ movement happening in the entertainment and media industry? 

Me Too is present in every sector, not just in cinema. Because both the parties involved in such allegations are famous, we are discussing more on it. It is easy for us to blame someone for speaking up. People and the media have a responsibility in not letting them down or trolling them; instead, they must support their voice and listen to their story.

If we were to stop or intimidate someone from opening up, we are putting our own sisters and daughters at risk. The questions should not be about when it happened. If they have remained silent about it for a while, it does not mean they have accepted it. Putting up with something is different from accepting it. ‘Accept’ is a tricky word. We should create a safe environment for our boys and girls. The accused should be questioned and asked to clarify. There is no point in hushing up the person speaking up.

Tell us about your upcoming project

My next will be based on the novel ‘Vetkai’ by Poomani. We are starting work on it soon after Vada Chennai. 

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