My story is universal: Arun Vaidyanathan
Cinematographer Arvind Krishna shot one important scene in Nibunan with lighting just from a car's headlights
Arun Vaidyanathan made his debut with a psychological thriller (Achchamundu! Achchamundu!). He then produced a rom-com (Kalyana Samayal Saadham). He went on to direct a spoof comedy (Peruchazhi starring Mohanlal). And now, he turns to neo-noir with the Kannada-Tamil bilingual, Nibunan, starring Arjun in his 150th film. This was a script the director had well before he made his debut film. "But such serious stories aren't easy to handle. So I was waiting for the right time."
The film, he says, is a cop thriller. "It is about Ranjith Kalidoss, a stylish and composed cop. It won't be like a typical Arjun film, which is usually dominated by the stunt sequences," he says, and goes on to make a comparison with David Fincher. "The film will be along the lines of his cinema, and delve a lot into the cop's family. Most crime thrillers aren't family-centric. The protagonist is usually a loner, or in a complicated relationship."
Arun is a big fan of Hollywood films and an ardent admirer of Martin Scorsese. "Not even one scene has been lifted from an English film." Apart from writing the story and directing the film, he has also co-written the screenplay with short story writer Anand Raghav. "It's not the director's job to do that, but I guess it helps because only the director knows the specifics sometimes."
He wasn't keen on making it a bilingual, but he's now convinced that it's among the best decisions he's taken. "It was draining to shoot each scene twice. Slowly, we got used to it. We could use closeup shots for both versions. And so, there were fewer takes for Vismaya (the Kannada version) than Nibunan. Any story that can happen in Chennai, can usually happen in Bengaluru too. Unless you're making a Subramaniapuram," he laughs. The choice to make it a bilingual means that he now has two different markets. "And two audiences. Also, I have to admit that Kannada industry is making groundbreaking films these days," he says. In a sense, it's a bit like when Arun did Peruchazhi with Mohanlal even though he didn't know the language. "But a cop story is universal; it will sell even in China. Not knowing Kannada wasn’t really an issue. I ran every dialogue by Arjun, who speaks fluent Kannada." He is almost in awe of Arjun. "He is a gentleman. Hope you get my pun? I don’t know if Shankar named his film after seeing Arjun, or if Arjun became so after he did the film!" laughs Arun. "Some people told me that since Arjun is a director himself, he would likely interfere with my work. But that wasn’t the case at all."
The female lead is played by Varalaxmi, who Arun thinks is perfect for the role of a tomboyish cop. "I really liked her in Poda Podi," he adds. He's also all praise for Prasanna, a regular in his films. "In Nibunan, he is part of a lot of comic portions."
Being a cop story, the film needed extensive research. "I learned that investigators usually don't wear uniforms. They try to slip in among us, even though they have licenses to carry guns. I met two of them, and got a lot of inputs," he says. "Arjun plays a chief investigative officer and a loyal husband to Sruthi Hariharan’s character. Cops are sometimes shown as porukkis in Tamil cinema, or to be overly strict with little middle ground. That's not the case in Nibunan. The story and the stunt sequences are very close to reality."
Arun, who says he has as many as eight scripts ready, is co-producing Seethakathi that stars Vijay Sethupathi. He may have worked on a variety of genres, but still has one unrealised dream: "To direct Kamal Haasan."