Aaranya Kaandam was a failure for me: Thiagarajan Kumararaja

Thiagaraja Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam (2010) was a game changer in many ways. Touted to be the first neo-noir Tamil film, the film was critically acclaimed and made headlines for its run-in with the censor board. It also fetched a National Award for Kumararaja, who is now set to make a comeback with his second film, Super Deluxe.

Excerpts from a conversation:

We heard that Super Deluxe is an homage to Visu’s Samsaram Adhu Minsaram?

It is an homage in the sense that there are multiple characters and each one has their own objective. They have their resolutions, personal conflicts. All those happen in one place, taking the complication to another level.

While Aaranya Kaandam was critically acclaimed, it didn’t perform well at the box office. There is an opinion that such cult status isn’t really helpful to the producer or the director. Your thoughts?

I agree. The objective of making films is for people to watch it. If Aaranya Kaandam didn’t make money, it means that several people didn’t watch it. So it was a failure for the producer and me as well, as a writer and director.

While Aaranya Kaandam didn’t have a star cast, Super Deluxe has Vijay Sethupathi, Fahadh Faasil, Samantha and Ramya Krishnan.

I had wanted stars for all characters in Aaranya Kaandam as well. But stars were not too keen, maybe because I was a debutant. With Super Deluxe, it happened that Vijay Sethupathi agreed to do it, followed by Fahadh and Samantha. All of them had at some point liked Aaranya Kaandam. It just worked out this way.

There were reports that Fahadh Faasil got the confidence to do Chaapa Kurishu after watching Aaranya Kaandam. Is that true?

You have to ask him. (laughs) But I had met him earlier for a different project, so I knew him before Super Deluxe. When I approached him for a narration, he liked the role and came on board.

Did you have Vijay Sethupathi in mind when writing Shilpa (his role in Super Deluxe)? How did he react on hearing that had to play a trans woman?

I didn’t have anyone specific in mind while writing the script. After Vijay heard the story and his character, he asked for two days to give his decision. But within a few hours, he called back and said that he would do it.

Aaranya Kaandam broke several conventions when it came to content and form. Was the choice to take on a transgender character in Super Deluxe a conscious one?

According to me, Super Deluxe is a mainstream film. I don’t think it is an offbeat film. The conflict and the characters in the story are relatable. It is exciting as a story and as a film. If I say anything more, it would reveal the plot. I want the audience to come to the theatre with a fresh mind.

Your script for Aaranya Kaandam had several minute details such as how the wallpaper of the room should look.

Whenever I imagine characters, they don’t exist in a void. If a woman is walking, where she is walking and how that place looks comes along with it. But not all such details are planned. For example, I knew the wallpaper needed to be patterned but hadn’t decided on the eye-like pattern.

You have collaborated with Mysskin, Nalan Kumaraswamy and Neelan for Super Deluxe. What did this add to the project?

When I collaborate with other writers, they bring in a different perspective. I retain whatever fits the film’s ethos, and also take into account what I can show on screen. When I read what Neelan had written, I was scared if I would be able to justify his degree of humour; same with Mysskin’s intensity. I had approached Dhanush, SJ Suryah and Anurag Kashyap for writing as well. But they couldn’t do it for several other reasons.

Your production company is interestingly titled Tyler Durden and Kino Fist.

Durden (from Fight Club) was an alter ego and since I am a writer-director, producing is my alter ego. Chumma vetti a oru thought. (smiles)

You have said that you are someone who does things only if it excites you. What excited you about Super Deluxe?

The audience’s reaction. It was about putting something out there and seeing how people react to it. It starts from the beginning as well. How am I going to write this, stage it, sound effects, edit, etc? It’s also about how the audience will respond to it. Essentially, I love challenges.
This was originally written for The New Indian Express. You can find it here.

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