Director Suseenthiran, who is known for films such as Naan Maahan Alla, Pandiya Naadu, Azhagarsamyin Kuthirai, is back under the spotlight. His film Nenjil Thunivirunthal featuring Sundeep Kishan and Mehreen Pirzaada released on Friday. The director talks to indianexpress.com about the nativity of his characters and commercial success.
You have consistently delivered at least one movie every year with just one exception. How do you manage it?
At the start, I struggled for three years to become an assistant director. I worked for just two movies as an assistant director. But I used to attend plenty of discussions at that time. I must have discussed at least 200 scripts during these sessions. I used to feel bad back then that I couldn’t work much on sets because that was the more interesting part. But that helped me to write a script swiftly.
To generally finish a script, it takes about six months or one year if it’s a big one. And while one is writing it, they are bound to get sidetracked here and there. While it generally takes several days to realise this, I manage to find my way back within a day; thanks to the experience. Thus, I save time that way. I don’t take a lot of time to shoot a script as well. It takes about 50-60 days for a normal movie and 70-80 days if it is a character based story. When you have the clarity about what you need, any script can be completed quickly. I think that is the reason why I have been able to complete 10 movies in about 8 years.
How did the script of Nenjil Thunivirunthal germinate?
There are two ways in which I approach writing. One is where I start off with a vague idea. ‘People expect a film like Naan Mahan Alla, so let’s write a revenge story’ that was the initial thought behind Pandiya Naadu. Second is where I fix the story and then start writing. Jeeva happened like that. Nenjil Thunivirundhal is from the former category. I started with an extension of Karthi’s character from Naan Mahan Alla; a fun, light script that revolved around friends. Then I started to think as what story I can build around then and that’s how I arrived with Nenjil Thunivirunthal.
Your stories have always portrayed characters from a particular sect (middle class), rooted in nativity. Was this a conscious decision?
This is the space I know the best. I moved to Chennai after I finished twelfth grade. I grew up in a village and then around 12 years of life in Chennai. After a while, my family moved to Chennai as well. Sadharna (Normal) middle class. My movies reflect that.
Even after I became a director, I continued living in an apartment. I wanted to travel with the lives of other people. I always believe that the house should be small as that is when faces get registered. If you have five rooms, you won’t even know where everyone is. I have grown up in a way where my brother and I at least eat one meal together. My familiarity with that world led my heroes to germinate and live in the same. I think that is a plus for me. I always hesitate to pick concepts that I don’t know well as I feel one won’t be able to reach beneath the surface.
While your characters might be from a particular class but your movies are across diverse genres. Which genre do you find the most comfortable?
More than comfort, I think sports is the genre I like the most. I like sports. Even writing a dialogue about sports gives me energy. I can just sit behind the monitor. After I wrap up shoot for the day, I feel like playing for a while before heading home. Same way, I get the energy to go early to the spot, play a match before shoot. When I was younger I used to start reading the newspaper from the last. It would be the sports section first and then cinema next. I won’t even feel like going through the headlines.
This film is touted to be about friendship. This is a theme that has always been part of your movies. How are you handling it differently this time?
While this is a story that is based on friendship, that is not the center of the story. There is a social message in the film. There’s a social issue that the film talks about and the effect that it has on this friendship will form the story. Only people who are qualified to be in a position should be in it, irrespective of the industry whether it is films or medicine etc. That is the main theme of the film. Indirectly, it also talks about how hazardous it can be when someone unfit for the role, gets it.
While Azhagarsamy Kuthirai won a national award, it wasn’t received well at the box office. How important is a commercial success for a filmmaker?
‘Thairiyam varathu vera producer varadhu vera’ (Being courageous is different from getting financiers) A film like Naan Maahan Alla made sure that I could do film like Azhagarsamy Kuthirai. Jeeva happened only after Panidya Naadu. The reason I aspire for commercial success is so that I continue making good, healthy cinema. When I take a script like Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer, producers would be skeptical. It is a tough story even for lovers. Even if I have the guts to take a bold story, there are a lot of factors that hinder. So, when I have commercial success, then producers won’t think twice.
One of the reasons behind people opting for bilinguals is that the costs can be covered with income from multiple markets. Was the reason to make Nenjil Thunivirunthal a bilingual?
To be honest, if I am able to release my films in 4-5 languages, I can easily collect the money for these off-beat films that I wish to do. After Vennila Kabadi Kuzhu, films like Azhagarsamyin Kuthirai, Jeeva, Aadhalal Kadhal Seiveer and Maaveran Kittu did not collect a lot of money. These are films that people appreciated and felt were good. They were called ‘good films’ and there is an audience across the country to appreciate such content. I feel that one of the reasons is that I haven’t chosen big stars to power such films. Even now, I continue to work with artistes but also expand my reach. Thus, I want to make straight films in all four southern languages and NT was a launchpad.
Was the casting made with this thought in mind?
Sundeep and I had planned to work parallelly during Jeeva. We tried to make the film into a bilingual with Vishnu in Tamil and Sundeep in Telugu. Two days of shooting had also happened. But I felt that it was tough for me to do a film with two different artistes. So, we decided not to proceed with it and I told Sundeep we will definitely work in the future. After Maveeran Kittu, both of us had the time and hence we decided to collaborate.
What is your definition of a good commercial film?
If a film embeds a good social message in it along with commercial elements, that is a good commercial film for me. Indian, Gentleman, Bombay were examples of good commercial films. Dhool was also a good commercial film.