Sense of A Scene: The moves of Mankatha
In this week's column, Mankatha-director Venkat Prabhu elaborates on the famous pre-interval chess scene in the film
"The chess scene in Mankatha has become iconic over the years and though it was conceived at the scripting stage itself, we didn't expect it would become this popular. We were just trying to tell the audience about Vinayak Mahadev's negative side. Also, we wanted the interval block to be a bang. We shot that particular scene in the first schedule and it was only after it that Ajith sir himself got confident about the script.
Before that, the team would have carried out a heist and the money is safe, but what he does with the money is his concern. This scene is about his mindset on how he's planning the rest of the story. The second half is about what happens when his plan goes for a toss. It also keeps the audience guessing as what he says doesn't happen later. Also, performance-wise I wanted more to be shown in Mankatha (which is also Ajith's 50th film); so in this scene and the other one after intermission in which he loses the money, I showed the psychotic side of his character. That's when he starts using bad words and there's a transformation.
Even in that chess set, the pawns which he uses for Prem (Premji) and Mahat (Mahat) are smaller than those used for Ganesh (Ashwin Kakumanu) and Sumanth (Vaibhav). That was to establish that Vinayak underestimates Prem and Mahat, who end up swindling the money. That's why later he says, 'Mokka pasanga kitta emandhuttene.' This is when he calls himself a kingmaker. When he shoots others in his imaginary sequence, the blood is green in colour. That's because of the censor issues (laughs). If it was red, we would have had to blur it out. We thought about it and considering it's just his imagination, we decided it could be any colour.
The scene where he gets shot by Ganesh is to establish that he is also prone to making mistakes. And since he's thinking about all the mistakes he could make, we show him as a smart person who is considering all the possible outcomes. And finally, when he tries to kill Prem, he's saved by the 786 coolie license badge, which is an homage to Rajini sir's Thee. We're all huge Rajinikanth fans; so we had to have something related to him in our films.
Technically speaking, that scene was a 360 degree round trolley shot. All the 150 people in the crew who were at the spot obviously couldn't appear in it. Ajith sir was in the middle and the camera goes completely around him. Hence, we all had to hide. About 40 people hid in the balcony (laughs). There were some behind the bed, the one who captures the sound was below the table, and I was right behind a staircase. It was actually planned as a single shot and we shot with film roll -- not digital. About 400 ft of roll got over during the scene and we had to cut the shot because of that. Since it was going to be cut, we had the liberty to shoot the film with different lens. So there will be close-ups, mid, as well as wide angle shots. The whole sequence took less than three hours. Ajith sir knew that this was a scene he could score in as every other scene in the film would have him alongside someone. So he gave it his all and even brought in a bit of humour when it came to killing Prem. Those bits were actually improvised.
The character Vinayak isn't a good guy; so he naturally smokes as well as drinks. Thankfully, social media was in its infancy when the film came out and it didn't lead to any issues. These days people find faults with everything and don't see a film as a film. If that was the case then, actors would have been forced to do roles where they're very calm, composed and help everyone around (laughs)."
As told to Gopinath Rajendran