Sundar C: Anbe Sivam is my visiting card when I go abroad
The director, who’s back with Kalakalappu 2, discusses his love for commercial cinema, and why he never wants to make a sequel to Anbe Sivam
Sundar C says he’s an introvert and not comfortable giving interviews. “I hope you don’t ask me questions like how Khushbu and I fell in love with each other. Moreover, a director will tell only good things about his films. If it’s otherwise, we will land in trouble,” he laughs.
Excerpts from a conversation follow:
After one sequel (Aranmanai 2), it’s now another (Kalakalappu 2).
That’s not intentional. I’ve been here since 1995, and I am not one to capitalise on a franchise. Stories decide sequels. Usually, they say my films don’t have a story. Kadhaiye illama kadha panradhu kashtam dhane? (Smiles) In general, for a sequel to work, it has to connect with the original story and also include characters from the earlier ones. Kalakalappu and its sequel have many aspects in common. For instance, it’s a cafe there; here, it’s a mansion. I had to change the actors because the script demanded that. Kalakalappu was made on a limited budget, whereas part 2 was made on a lavish scale. Anyhow, in Tamil, a franchise works only when audiences like it. When I did Aranmanai (2014), I never thought I’d direct a sequel to it.
But Aranmanai 2 didn’t really get received too well, did it?
Who said that? In fact, Aranmanai 2 made more money than the original. There were expectations because Aranmanai was a hit. To me, only the box-office collection matters. I am not saying I don’t respect critics. They have the right to say whatever they want to. In fact, would you believe if I say they want me to make Aranmanai 3 already?
Most of your regular actors seem fond of you.
Irrespective of my direction, script work and screenplay, it’s the actors who present a film to the audience. I need to keep them happy and satisfied. Believe it or not, it is that which reflects on the screen. As an actor, I have acted in a few films, where I was unhappy on the sets. Those films turned out to be flops.
You seem to have cut down on your acting assignments?
Yes. Initially, when I ventured into acting, I enjoyed the process because I was relieved of my directorial responsibilities. Once it became monotonous, I started feeling irrelevant. After Muthina Kathirikai (2016), I got a few offers again. I had to return the advances because I committed to Sangamithra. Now I’ve decided not to act in films I direct.
You started your career as an assistant to Manivannan. Would you say his style of filmmaking hass influenced yours?
I assisted him in 12 films, and I mainly learned how to survive in the industry. Nowadays, assistant directors hardly stay as long with their directors. They want to assist us for two years and then begin doing films. That’s where they go wrong. The more you assist, the more you learn. Achieving success in cinema is easy; sustenance is difficult. Manivannan used to treat everyone equally -- be it his heroes or the lightmen. What I am today, I owe to him.
Would you say your success rate as a director was higher, say, a decade or two ago?
No. I think it’s the same. Oru padam, adhuvum average-a kuduthutu mic kedacha pesite pora indha kaalathula, success na enna? This is why I avoid attending functions. It’s frustrating when someone talks as if they understand cinema. Who truly knows how much a film collects? On what basis does someone declare a film successful? I am an actor, producer, distributor and a director. I know how the market works.
What does success mean to you actually?
It means nothing. I simply move on to my next project. I have been here for the past 22 years, and I’ve watched only one film of mine (Ullathai Allitha) on the opening day with the audience. I am not one to revisit the past. Naanum mathavanga maadhiri society-a thiruthanum-nu dhaan vandhen… but films don’t work that way.
It’s been a wonderful learning process. I never sleep without watching at least one film a day. I know nothing except films. I depend on my wife for everything. Say, there’s some problem with my phone, I call my kids. They fix it for me. When I compare my journey with that of my contemporaries, I feel grateful. Innum en padangal odudhu theatre-la. (Smiles)
A film like Anbe Sivam didn’t quite happen again for you.
That’s the beauty of it. Such films happen only once. Anbe Sivam is my visiting card when I go abroad, and I am proud of the film even today. Appo padam odala. I remember Kamal Haasan sir assuring me that after 15 years, people would talk about it. He’s right. I cannot even think of doing a sequel to it. It’s best not to touch it.