CS Amudhan: Journalists aren’t sold out; their owners are

Director CS Amudhan, known for his comedy films, ventures into ‘serious film’ territory with his upcoming Vijay Antony film, Raththam. Here’s the filmmaker talking about the what and the why
CS Amudhan: Journalists aren’t sold out; their owners are

They say you can’t know much about a person based on their social media activity. But when you are as forthcoming as director CS Amudhan is in these spaces, it can give you a fair indication of his persona, including that of an artist. For one, we know he likes to give us the unexpected. You think he’s praising someone? Are you sure? Are you really, really sure? So, it’s no surprise when he admits that he likes to ‘shock people’ as a filmmaker. “When a viewer sits up, their mouths open in shock, I think that’s a fantastic reaction to evoke in a theatre,” he says, warming up to discuss his upcoming project, his ‘first serious film’ Raththam, featuring Vijay Antony. The origins of his tendency to look for a ‘novel concept’ can be traced back to his advertisement days. “A campaign we did for a real estate project comes to mind. We sold the idea of ‘your home, your rules’ by shooting outrageous images, like a woman cooking while sitting on a horse,” he says, laughing. He realised then that these wild ideas, these radical concepts, came naturally to him. His film, Raththam, has one such radical idea too, but he can’t discuss it yet.

Amudhan’s social media activity suggests that he has a strong social consciousness. With Raththam being his first film outside of the comedy genre, it allowed him to channel this facet of himself. “Spotlight is my most favourite film ever,” he says, referring to the Academy Award-winning 2015 film. “You can consider Raththam to be a sort of homage to that film.” He’s quick to clarify that while his film is a media procedural too—like Spotlight—the structure of Raththam has been designed, keeping in mind our cinema sensibilities. “I can’t make it as a meditative film. Spotlight might get an Oscar, but will such a film run here? As viewers, I don’t think we really embrace genre storytelling too much. We prefer to get everything in a film.”

What both films share though is the intent to remind the media of its power and ethics. Faith in the fourth estate seems to be at an all-time low, but Amudhan disagrees with those who think the integrity of journalists has been compromised. “Even today, you have good, young journalists who are eager to do good. I believe that journalists aren’t sold out; their owners are.” This film, Amudhan hopes, will reinforce the power of good journalism, as practised by Raththam’s protagonist. In the film, Vijay Antony plays a former journalist who is forced to return to his profession when a spate of killings occur. “It’s the usual trope of a former specialist returning to show he hasn’t lost his abilities one bit. This is a trope I really like. One of my favourite scenes in Tamil cinema is that scene in Salangai Oli, when a drunk Kamal Haasan shows everyone who’s boss.”

Perhaps because Kamal Haasan is mentioned, the topic veers to performance excellence. I ask what Amudhan makes of the notion that Vijay Antony is a limited actor. “I don’t think that is true,” he flat-out disagrees. “The perception is because the films he does demand only so much of him—and he is careful to choose such projects. Raththam too is a procedural and so, it doesn’t demand any showboating. In any case, in these times, we can’t get away with making a Vasantha Maaligai.” However, Amudhan remains convinced that Vijay Antony has great range as an actor. “He can pull off a one-minute shot of him crying. That’s one of the tests of an actor, is it not?” More specifically, he brings gravitas to a film, says Amudhan. “Raththam deals with a pretty outlandish concept, one that will have you wondering if such things really happen in the real world. Another actor would suffer trying to make you believe in such an idea. But Vijay Antony had me convinced.”

The outspoken Amudhan comes through on social media as an individual who pays ‘holy cows’ no heed. There’s no topic so pious, so divine that he is frightened to make a point about. He believes Raththam to contain some of these qualities. “We tear down some traditional structures without coming across as preachy. This isn’t a film that I think will cause instant social change,” he says. “However, within the structure of a procedural, we present a radical concept to you—and some unique cinematic moments. Also, it’s a film that really plays to Vijay Antony’s strengths.” And that’s perhaps why the actor was the first to show faith in Amudhan, when the latter decided to do a film outside of the comedy genre he has operated in so far. “When I showed him my unreleased film called Rendaavadhu Padam, he particularly liked one specific sequence in which an assassin gets ready. He felt it established my merits in a zone beyond comedy as well.”

Ultimately, the reason Amudhan, at this point in his career, is venturing away from comedy is on account of a reason that applies to many people’s social media activity too. “To gain more credibility, prestige, and respect,” as he puts it. “I’m proud of all my films, but to grow in the industry and work with the best actors and make all the films I want to, I need to establish myself as a ‘serious’ filmmaker as well.” Each time Amudhan posts a tweet, a few always make it a point to ask him when he plans to make the third film in the Tamil Padam franchise—and so, I channel some of that energy at the end of the conversation. “I’m sure all of us want to make another Tamil Padam sequel… Y NOT Studios, RJ Shiva, all of us. There’s enough material out there to make another ten sequels, in fact. But right now, I’m thinking I’ll make this film, and follow through on this momentum to make another ‘serious’ film. The heart wants what it wants.”

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