“It is tougher to make a biopic of a person who is living,” starts off Director SA Chandrasekar. The senior director has had several identities in his film career — a director, Vijay’s father, a producer and now an actor as well. SA Chandrasekar is headlining the biopic on social activist Traffic Ramaswamy. The film, which hits screens this week, also marks the acting debut of the 72-year old SA Chandrasekar.
Why Traffic Ramaswamy?
“The world only knows one side of Traffic Ramaswamy. There is another side, one that has been hidden. An eccentric image has been created, to ensure that he doesn’t become a hero. If he is recognised as a social activist, people are scared that he would acquire a following as well. Only people who know him well know that he doesn’t aspire for power or authority,” explains Chandrasekar.
And, the initial idea was to not make a biopic on the octogenarian activist. We had a fictional story in hand and felt it would be apt to name it Traffic Ramaswamy, says SAC. But when they met him, they realised his own story is a tale that needs to be told. “During our interaction, we learnt a lot about the pain he had to endure for the society and the political pressure he was subject to. Our story found synergy in his life. So from merely using his name, we incorporated life instances as well. He graciously agreed to both.”
Traffic Ramaswamy’s arduous journey also had several similarities with SAC’s own life, he says. “Ramaswamy began questioning the establishment from the age of 14, which was when he realised that a 3 paisa postcard could bring about change. There are people who can’t merely watch if something isn’t right. Both of us belong to that category.” The similarities SAC found in Traffic Ramaswamy’s tale pushed him harder to use cinema to tell his story. “Cinema is a powerful weapon. Anna (former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Annadurai) has said if I could make three films without a censor board, I can change the fate of our nation. It is absolutely necessary to make films that are socially and politically aware,” he says.
A senior filmmaker with around 70 films in his kitty, SAC has no qualms in admitting that his directorial style is now outdated. “If one isn’t objectively honest about themselves and adapt to the times, they will not have a future. We were filmmakers who relied on emotions. Now the thinking is different, technology is integral. While I can look at younger directors and appreciate their skills, I will not be able to make films like them.”
“Fantasy doesn’t sell these days. It is important to narrate a story in an engaging way but with realism,” he adds.
Was acting his new equation with cinema then? It was initially the director Vikki’s (his former assistant) idea, confesses SAC. “When we decided we are going to make this film, Vikki said it would be right if I play the role myself. The challenge was to imbibe Traffic Ramaswamy, not just act like him. I was very flattered when people told us that they couldn’t differentiate between us. I think I will get pass marks for acting.”
There were several scenes that required high levels of physical exertion including one where Traffic Ramaswamy is hung upside down. And SAC credits the director for coaxing him into not using body doubles for these shots. “At first, we did shoot long shots with the dupe. But Vikki wanted me to do it as well for the close-ups and then do it with more conviction to make sure it looks authentic. Slowly, I began to do it myself as I knew he was going to ask me to do it anyway. Now we have we no shots of the body double in the final film,” he says with a smile. “Traffic Ramaswamy has gone through so much. To bring it on screen, it is only fair that I do at least a tiny part of it, isn’t it?” he says.