I watched Asmaa only after the tweets started: Aruvi director Arun Prabhu Purushothaman

Like it or hate it, it is definitely not possible to ignore Aruvi. The film has opened to a phenomenal response, wowing critics and audience alike. Several have anointed it as the movie of the year. Amid all the celebration, there are also several questions that the movie has raised. Excerpts from a conversation with the man of the moment, Arun Prabhu Purushothaman as we break down several elements from Aruvi.

Q. Did you expect the movie to get such as a massive welcome?

The magnitude was a pleasant surprise. While we thought the movie would be appreciated, the audience are treating it as their own film. Several people have told me that they watched the movie multiple times and have taken their closed ones along as well. Honestly, I don’t know how to respond to all the love.

Q. This is a story that was written in 2012-13. How did Aruvi’s story germinate?

I generally don’t start writing with a character or an event. I penned down thoughts and ideas that are related to the society, a sort of a thesis. Aruvi’s story began when I contemplated as to how I can take these ideas to the audience. It has to be relatable to everyone. I realised that we need multiple characters to bring in all the perspectives. I wanted my first film to talk about ‘Anbu’ (affection). So, the story and the characters had to bring that emotion to the forefront.

Q. Aditi Balan’s performance is one of the highlights of the film and you auditioned around 500 women for the role. Why Aditi and when did you know that she was your heroine?

We didn’t decide immediately after seeing the audition clips. There were a few others who had done a better job. We shortlisted 5-6 people and arranged a trial shoot for a day. In that shoot, we gave them several normal scenarios to react to, rather than make them act out scenes. At the end of that, the entire team unanimously decided Aditi was our girl. The main reason is that Aruvi and Aditi share a few traits — they have an innate innocence and are also quick to express what they feel. We were sure that we could transform her into Aruvi.

Q. Aruvi’s characters are gloriously complex and it is not just the lead role. Something that a lot of us failed to comprehend, including myself, was how she was able to make peace with her rapists. Your thoughts?

Right from my first screenwriting class at college, I have been taught to not treat my characters as coriander leaves. They are something we create — we should treat each of our characters with love and concern. The writer should feel the pain of the character he is killing. I wasn’t interested in making my characters one-dimensional. It is the same way in reality. ‘Villains’ don’t stay that way their entire life. They do have a different side; they yearn for love as well. That’s why my film doesn’t have an antagonist.

Q. However, rape is a serious crime. Don’t you think they were let off a bit too easily?

When someone commits a crime, the law imprisons them. Why? So that they realise their crime. The goal is to make them understand humanity or realise their mistake. That’s what the movie tries to convey. More than punishing someone, the need is to reform their emotional system.

Q. The satirical version of a reality show in Aruvi hasn’t gone down well with the host of a similar show, Lakshmi Ramakrishnan. She has tweeted her thoughts as well. What would you say about it?

It was written in August 2013. That was a time when reality shows were picking up pace; normal people who watched serials had started watching reality shows. There are multiple such shows running across the country. There was a similar, very successful show in Shanghai as well, one of the reasons why we got a standing ovation at all three screenings there.

I have been part of the Television industry since my childhood. I have several friends who work for  media companies as well. While we are all taught media theories with values, the demands are different when you enter the industry. TRP targets. We need to have something interesting in the first ten minutes. If the artist is only available for a certain time, you have to deliver within that time frame. There are several places where our human values take a hit when we start working for an institution or in the industry. The idea was to reflect that and not target any particular show or person.

Q. Also, there are allegations that the storyline of an Egyptian film named Asmaa is the same as Aruvi.

I watched the movie only recently after the tweets started. If someone who knows film language to a certain extent watches both movies, they will know if it is copied. All they have to do is just see both movies.

Q. Humour in Aruvi comes at unexpected places and in the direst situations. Was this organic?

If you visit a shooting set, it is impossible to not find humour. We live in a world where we can find funny moments where ever we go. I don’t think it is necessary to isolate the humour to convey something serious. People live with that sense of humour, they understand it very well. I don’t believe in ‘creating comedy’.

Q. Aruvi has a detached tone for most of its running time. However, the climax becomes quite emotional.

I could say that it is because of the way I learnt scriptwriting. I was taught by Professor Raja Nayakam at Loyola College. He told us that we shouldn’t aim to construct or pigeonhole anything. An idea should be deconstructed; the form has to be broken. During our first class, he asked us to go check the notice board and come back in two minutes. After coming back, he asked us to write the things we noticed apart from the board. ‘You had two minutes time. If you had noticed 15 things, you are creative’, he said. After looking at our notebooks, he asked us why we have written it in order. Why did we write it in our notebooks? Why weren’t we wild? I was taught this way. So, I don’t restrict myself, even when I am writing, to streamline the story in one genre.

If you look at Tamil cinema history, works of KS Gopalakrishnan sir, APN sir or Ramanarayanan sir have always been inspiring. They can cut from any point to any point and yet it will have its own logic. That logic has been received properly by the audience which is why they still work. Rather than try to fit into the three-act play grammar, we have always broken forms. It is the same with me.

This was first originally published on https://indianexpress.com/. You can find it here.

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