'Karthi sir was faster than the fighters in Kaithi'
Identical twin action choreographers, Anbu and Arivu--known as Anbariv--discuss their work on their 100th film, Kaithi, which released to rave reviews
It's hard for an interviewer when you get confused over the identity of your interviewees. With Anbu and Arivu, it is only to be expected, and for their part, they love the confused look on people talking to them. They wear clothes that look the same--even their socks match. "It has always been like this. We get something that both of us like; if there's something that only one of us likes, we don't get it at all."
Arivu: We have been a part of Kaithi ever since the inception of the idea. Director Lokesh Kanagaraj is like a brother to us, and we worked with him on Maanagaram as well. So right of the bat, we knew that our contribution to this film would be vital. Lokesh and we knew that action would get woven into the scenes and we started working on the choreography from day one.
Anbu: Lokesh was particular that we do not take on projects during the shoot of Kaithi as the action sequences would be such an integral part. Out of the 70 days the film took to make, we worked for about 50 days.
Fight for identity
Anbu: Lokesh wanted us to reuse old tropes, but shoot it in a new manner. When he said he wanted a fight in a bamboo forest, we knew the challenges it would come with -- for starters, bamboos are not flexible enough to be used the way we did. But we went ahead by using ropes to pull them one side and sling them. After the location was decided, we did a few rehearsals on how it could be pulled off.
Arivu: Lokesh leaves it to us to improvise the way we want. We would give him multiple options. Even we were surprised to see how he has increased the action factor from his last film. We knew that if we could pull off whatever we had on paper, we would get a good name and we are glad that it paid off.
The 'act' in action
Arivu: Karthi sir is an experienced fighter. He is someone who can do everything and be safe at the same time. He has become faster than what we remember from working on Kaashmora and Madras. The fighters were slow in comparison and we had to go for retakes.
Anbu: Suriya sir understands the scene and asks if a stunt would be in his meter. Karthi sir would want us to show him how to do a scene because he gets the idea of what is required by seeing us do it. He considers that to be the benchmark and strives to do better. The bridge fight sequence was excruciating for Karthi sir. His shirt weighed an extra kilo or two because of the dust, and the fake blood near his mouth would stop him from eating during breaks. We shot till sunrise every day, and even after that, he would stay back to know what he would be doing that night.
R&D for action sequences
Anbu: Fortunately, we don't compare our work with our previous films. Action stems from stories and the abilities of the lead character in those films. An office-going character would have a different meter when compared to that of a gangster.
Arivu: All of this is preplanned even before we go to shoot. Any improvisation happens within this meter. It also helps save time. The police station sequence from Thadam is a good example. Right from taking a pen and stabbing a person, every detail was already written beforehand by visiting the location and taking cues on available props.
Evolution of action
Arivu: It has become easier now to frame an action sequence. Pre-planning with other departments saves us from doing last-minute changes. For example, we would discuss the scene with the cinematographer so he can work on the lighting accordingly.
Anbu: Our USP is making fights look authentic. The audience would often put themselves in the shoes of the film's lead — especially these days when films are of regular people like us — so we know limits and cannot afford people flying around.
Not just a stunt
Anbu: The fact that actors themselves are doing stunts these days is a boon for us. It might take longer than usual to set the scene, but it is all worth it, given the pleasure of watching them do stunts on screen. It gives a sense of satisfaction for the fans as well.
Arivu: It's far easier than having a body double, and shooting scenes in such a way that their face isn't seen. Technically, it works out easier.
Leaping beyond borders
Arivu: Stunts have no language (smiles).
Anbu: It's an interesting experience to work in industries such as Telugu. When working with stars who are known for larger-than-life action sequences, we have to understand that necessity and try to infuse realism and logic as much as possible. Bollywood is astonished by our action sequences. The way action is perceived changes from one industry to another.
Veterans and freshers
Anbu: We started doing this six years back, and our time has been spent on sleepless nights, and travelling most of the time.
Arivu: Even after 100 films, we walk into a set like it's our first film with the fear of writing an examination. It keeps us running.
Anbu: Thanks to our experience, the makers would not question us for framing a scene in a certain way, but until the scene is shot and the team is happy with the outcome, we would hold our breath. When they give us a smile of satisfaction, that's when we know that we have done it right.