Sense of a scene: Battle royale- Discussing the 'jaadhi sandai' scene from Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikecei
In this conversation, director Chimbudevan talks about the rib-tickling ‘jaadhi sandai’ sequence in his film, Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikecei
“Even the most rational among us cling on to some superstitions. Divisions based on many factors has always been a part of human society, and of all things that separate us, caste is foremost among them. It is so powerful that it determines the vote bank of the country. I wanted to place a scene in Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikecei to show that the ones in power benefit from keeping casteism alive. That’s how I came up with the idea of 'jaadhi sandai maidhanam'.
Shankar sir got really excited after reading this scene and insisted that I visualise it in the best possible way. We created a ground for this scene and shot it there. I designed the name of the castes to sound similar (like, Naaga padhani and Naagappadhani) to denote that we are all the same but keep looking for opportunities to establish superiority. The jaadhi sandai maidhanam is just a metaphor. You could replace caste with aspects like language and religion, and it would still feel the same.
This is why, during his introductory speech, Pulikecei says, "You need not fight on the streets and cause damage to public properties. If this is successful, we will introduce fights based on religion in the future." I added many contemporary elements to make the audience have a personal connect with the scene.
Whenever I see cricket matches, I see spectators carrying banners with strange text. Namba aalunga Tendulkar ke advice pannuvanga. I found this to be hilarious and used an exaggerated version of this with people holding signs like, "Sirumoolaiyai pithuvidu". I went a step ahead and mentioned that the tournament is sponsored by Akkamala and Kapsi, which are rehashed names of famous soft drink brands.
A good satire should make the person being caricatured on screen to laugh along with the audience. That’s a lesson I learned from watching Chaplin and NS Krishnan. I always ensure that this balance is maintained. This is why my films haven't faced backlash, despite the many references to real issues and people.
It also helps to have someone like Vadivelu sir who adds something special to the script and elevates the scene. As he has a theatre background, the role was a cakewalk for him. In fact, I wrote the script with him in mind. Traditionally, period films feature kings as alpha males, with a muscular physique. However, evidence from museums shows that they were, in fact, very normal-looking, with some even having a pot belly. I don't think any other actor could have played this role as Vadivelu did. The downside of working with such a brilliant comedian is that the other actors keep bursting into laughter during the shoot, and the number of retakes keeps increasing.
I was a political cartoonist with a famous Tamil magazine before I became a filmmaker. During my time there, I learnt that people will celebrate any art form that addresses current issues in an interesting manner. My films talk about relatable issues that are intertwined with our daily life. I don't place these elements in my films expecting them to create sensation and be the talk of the town. I just want these to be reminders of problems we conveniently forget in our busy lives. If my films somehow helps people find a solution to these issues, there’s nothing more I can ask for.
(As told to Navein Darshan)