Along came a Spyder
AR Murugadoss discusses his upcoming bilingual, Spyder, and how he’s inspired by Rajinikanth films in shaping his heroes
It’s hard to imagine that the unassuming, friendly person talking to us is one who’s made blockbusters like Ghajini, Kaththi and Thuppaki. While many directors would rather that such conversations happen over the phone, Murugadoss isn’t one for it. “I feel uneasy about telephone interviews,” he says. “It’s odd not being able to see how the other person is reacting. I prefer meeting in person.”
Two of your last three films were made in Hindi. Is there a sense of homecoming when you make a film in Tamil?
Absolutely. I'm more comfortable in Tamil. Everyone prefers their mother tongue, right? Having said that, Spyder felt like I was making two films simultaneously. I approached it as different films given that they cater to audiences with contrasting sensibilities. Telugu films, for instance, are mostly masala stories driven by star power. Filmmaking there is more business than art. That's not the case in Tamil. It was a challenge.
Among your biggest hits are the ones you made with Vijay. Was Spyder too written for him?
(Laughs) No. I started writing this only after Mahesh came on board. I've been wanting to work with him for long.
Your films generally explode with social anger with the protagonist usually seem fighting the system.
I hail from Kallakurichi and studied in a government school that had few facilities. I struggled for basic amenities. Naturally, that anger reflects in my films which are products of my experiences and perspectives.
But the social impact aside, it’s emotion that creates a story and Spyder is about the importance of being humane. I think we've become insensitive in general and less empathetic. When we witness an accident, we simply move on, or wait to see if someone else helps. We don’t seem ready to offer assistance to anyone. Some in fact take pictures and upload on social media. True empathy is in realising that other people are like you, and they too aspire for security, safety, comfort, and happiness. Spyder is a bit about all this.
The films you produce feel differently conceived.
Naturally. I produce films like Engeyum Eppodhum that I know I can't direct. When I am a director, I have to fulfill some responsibilities. Say, the incorporation of certain elements if I’m doing a film with a mass hero. I can't try something different and disappoint the hero’s fans. People are already fed up and have enough problems in their lives. My films seek to entertain them. I find direction more gratifying as it’s the highest point of creativity in cinema. When a film becomes a hit, the credit goes to the director… not the producer.
You're directing a Telugu film after a decade. Between Stalin in 2006 and Spyder in 2017, what differences have you noticed?
Telugu cinema has grown tremendously over the last decade. On one side, you see a Baahubali. On the other, you have full-on action dramas. I think the standard of Telugu cinema has gone up after Baahubali. Even Bollywood stars look up to the industry now.
I can almost hear my heart pounding, as the release date of Spyder approaches. I think it is important to retain the interest of Telugu audiences by constantly keeping them guessing about what’s coming next. There should be something in the film to keep them from checking their phones. While making a film, I constantly ask myself how interested I am with each scene, and what I can do to make it riveting.
I'd love to do a woman-centric film like Akira in Tamil, but it shouldn't be a comeback film for a heroine.
What’s your take on masala films?
Our films are full of tropes that have been rehashed many times -- starting from the hero introduction scene, the general placement of songs, the interval block and so on. The challenge is to make it different. Most of the action films are unrealistic. It’s not possible for us to do a James Bond film or something along the lines of True Lies. What I do think is terrible about some of the masala films is their mediocrity, the artificiality.
Will Murugadoss direct a film with new actors?
Mahesh Babu is actually a newcomer to Tamil cinema. (Laughs) The advantage of working with stars is how I don't have to worry about bringing the crowd to theatres. I just have to worry about the quality of the film. Now that you've asked this, maybe, I'll rethink. While a star is a big attraction, ultimately, it is all about the story.
All your three Hindi films so far have been remakes.
The reach and visibility when you do a Hindi film is high. I am looking for the right script to make an original film. After Ghajini, I decided I wouldn’t do a remake again. In fact, I turned down an offer to direct the Hindi remake of Kaththi.
While people like Mysskin have lobbied against the incorporation of songs, you seem to like having them.
I'd love to do a film with no songs, but I am not sure how the audiences will react. I think two songs in a film are acceptable. Anything more gets annoying. But audience songs vecha dhane paakraanga?
I am teaming up with Vijay once again. We'll start working on the film early January next year.
You were SJ Suryah’s assistant once, and now you’ve cast him as villain in your film.
We're good friends. I didn't even meet him to tell the story. I’m sure he will become a bankable name in the Telugu film industry after this film.
Any unfulfilled dreams?
A film with Rajinikanth. I grew up watching his films and all my protagonists usually have qualities inspired by characters he played. We've discussed scripts too. Let's see.