Films are my way of doing something for the underprivileged: Mohan Raja
The director on the value of wholesome entertainers and why good content is the need of the hour
Mohan Raja is functioning on about three hours of sleep every day, thanks to the post-production work of Velaikkaran. "Oditte iruken. Nikka kooda neram illa," he laughs. After the success of Thani Oruvan, the filmmaker talks about the challenges of meeting the audience expectations with the Sivakarthikeyan-starrer, which is getting released this week.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Surely, Velaikkaran, like Thani Oruvan, is a serious film?
Of course, yes. I don't like to do films just for entertainment. I am a serious person myself. In Velaikkaran, I've dealt with class divide. When a ‘velaikkaran’ is my main subject, naturally, ideas like capitalism come in.
Why are your films message-driven?
I thought you'd appreciate me for that. (smiles) ‘Message’ has become almost an unspeakable word in the industry, but it’s not. I grew up watching films with strong messages. I was exposed to wholesome entertainers which were also strong in content. As a director, I don't stop with highlighting the problems. I don't want my stories to simply bring out the negatives about society. So, how am I looking at such a film? Message oorga maari iruka koodadhu. Saadham-a irukanum. So, my focus is always on how I portray a problem, not on the problem itself. News channels, for instance, have become entertaining. Do you see the irony?
What’s the message in Velaikkaran?
It's about this guy who believes in himself and wants to be different. Family, friends, money, luck and moral support -- edhuvume illadha oruthan epdi uzhaikkaran? And if even that isn’t enough, what will he do? I've asked these questions to myself at various times. (Smiles) When I write a film, I set out to achieve great things. Thani Oruvan took me to places I didn’t realise I’d go to. And now, the same thing happened with Velaikkaran. I discovered how hard it is to be different.
Given that you come from a privileged background, is it hard for you to do justice to writing a character like Arivu, a nobody?
(Grins) I know what you mean. I've had everything, yes. But what if I were to lose everything all of a sudden? You may never know. Problems are common for everyone. Idhula rich enna poor enna? When I think about others, the less-privileged, I feel bad. I wanted to do something for them. I do films, in the hope of creating an impact, which will likely lead to change. This film will reinforce the view that both the lower class and middle class fight for the same objectives. Lower class mudiyadhu nu soluvaanga, middle class mudiyum nu nambi emararaanga.
It’s almost hard to remember that you were once doing only remakes.
I owe it to the audience, who accepted Thani Oruvan and made it a massive success. The youth are open to intense films. I was amazed by the involvement they showed during the time of floods and jallikattu. It shows they care about society.
My dad (editor Mohan) has taught me that a good film will appeal to all sections of the audience. That's what I've attempted with Velaikkaran. It's a film about us and for us. Nothing is more commercial than being universal. Thappu seiyaravan thothu pona, paavam try panninaan-u solluvaanga. Nalladhu panni thotha, ivanukku romba avasiyama-nu solluvaanga. It's a big, bad world.
Sivakarthikeyan approached you for a film after Thani Oruvan. How did you make him fit into your serious universe?
When we got him on board, I thought he was just a good actor. But Siva gave a different dimension altogether for my protagonist. Arivu became Arivu only because of Siva. It's hard to get a young, promising hero, who already has a mass-commercial image. I am lucky to have him as my hero.
When there's an actor like Siva, the film will reach many. It's a welcome change that commercial heroes are also open to doing content-oriented cinema. Velaikkaran needed him, just like it needed Nayanthara, Fahadh Faasil, and others.
I heard the film also talks about food adulteration.
That's not the whole story-- like how Thani Oruvan wasn't just about medicine or Mithran (the police officer).
Did you develop the script specifically for Sivakarthikeyan?
Yes. The script was on my mind 20 years ago, but as a newcomer, I knew I wasn't ready for such an experimental venture. I was happy doing remakes, and was waiting for the right time. In fact, this film is a culmination of two different stories.
Is Thani Oruvan 2 on the cards?
Absolutely! The film deserves a sequel. Initially, the plan was to make the sequel as (Jayam) Ravi's 25th film. But right now, he's occupied with his 24th project. Let's see. Also, a Hindi remake of the film is on the cards as well.
Any ideas for a dream project?
A film about me.
Jayam Ravi: I don't mind doing all my films with him. We aren’t meeting each other as often as we used to. Adhukkagave, I need to direct him often. I miss him.
Nayanthara: We've had healthy discussions on the sets, and I have great respect for her. She came on board without even listening to the story.
Anirudh Ravichander: I am addicted to his music. And it's soulful too.
Fahadh Faasil: It's a delight to see him onscreen. His character will be appreciated like Arvind Swami's in Thani Oruvan.
Vijay: We're still in touch. Velayudham days were so much fun. I'd love to collaborate with him again. Is there a filmmaker who doesn't want to?