There isn't anyone who respects women like Vijay sir: Archana Kalpathi
Archana, who has worked as the creative producer on Atlee-Vijay's Diwali release, Bigil, talks about her experiences working in the movie, online trolling, and more
When you walk into Archana Kalpathi's airy and tastefully done office, it is hard to miss the Vijay poster that hangs majestically on the wall. A while ago, it was the poster of Kaththi. But now, it has been replaced with the first look from Bigil, AGS's latest production starring Vijay. Archana is quite open about her admiration for Vijay. And while the saying goes, 'Don't meet your heroes', Archana's stories are all happy. "I had that apprehension, but Vijay sir is such a friendly person." She shares a story about how Vijay would not let anyone carry his umbrella during shoots that happened at forty-degree temperatures.
"These are the gestures that surprised me. Also whenever we used to approach him with anything, he never said no." She further adds that she was surprised by how informed he was on sets. "He knew everything that was happening on the set. I don't know where he gets his information from, but whenever I went to tell him something, he already knew," says Archana.
Excerpts from a chat:
Bigil is your first project as a creative producer. A lot of Tamil projects don't even feature this designation. What does your work entail?
Good question. Not a lot of people know the role a producer plays in the first place. The general audience thinks of producers just as the person who writes the cheque. While a producer funds the film, the executive producer implements the plan on the floor. A creative producer acts as a bridge between the direction team and the production. We discuss budgets, viability and things like that. Bigil isn't just a song-dance-action film; there is sport, and other aspects involved. Considering the scale of Bigil, it needed a creative producer. Several people think that being a creative producer means I give inputs to the script or screenplay. That's not the case. My job is to justify the money being spent to ensure the production value is warranted.
What's your biggest takeaway from Bigil?
That pre-production is important for a project. Planning, as well. If pre-production isn't efficient, then there will be issues when the project goes to shoot and in post-production as well. I think we did it pretty well. And that's my biggest takeaway.
Both Atlee and you have spoken about the several creative arguments you both had for Bigil. Which one was the toughest to resolve?
The toughest I guess would be the number of extras we used. If he asked for 3,000, I would suggest 1,500. He would say that we won't be able to fill the screen space. This was something we argued about throughout the making of this film.
Where do you find the sweet spot between sticking stringently to a plan and spending what the project demands? Talking about Bigil, you had said that Atlee has exceeded the budget, but given a good film.
Making a movie is like building a house. Pre-production is like getting the layout ready with an architect. So, if we change the entire story later, that's something one can never overcome. At any cost, that should be avoided and we did it very well. We didn't have reshoots and were able to finish what we had planned in the respective schedules. If we hadn't pulled that off, we wouldn't have been able to release the film for Diwali.
As far as spending is concerned, as I said earlier, we are going to live in this house for the rest of our lives. So, certain things can't be compromised on, just like with the film. My father (Kalpathi Aghoram), is a master at financial planning. It isn't as if he told us outright that there is so much that we could spend. It was more of a piecemeal approach. Everything had to be justified, and if he wasn't convinced, he wouldn't release the funds. As Atlee would have mentioned, we used to break our heads and go to him only for the final decision. Bigil is our dream project and our biggest film so far. We don't want to feel that we compromised on anything.
Vijay's films have usually been criticised by certain people for not having strong women characters. Bigil, on the other hand, has been dedicated to women, and is said to be about their empowerment. Was this on your mind when you picked this script?
No, I wouldn't be honest if I said otherwise. We wanted a film that had several elements in it; not just a regular masala movie. AGS doesn't do that; we want something different. The sport aspect of Bigil interested us. It so happened that it was a girls' team. The writing is Atlee's. It won't be a message film though with lectures and what not. Atlee has characterised those girls in such a manner that as women, when you watch Bigil, you will tear up. In all our lives, irrespective of class, caste, background, and education, we would have faced these issues. It won't be in the face but you will be able to empathise with it. That's the beauty of Atlee's writing.
It's ironic that in the lead up to a film that is centered around women, several women have faced trolling and abuses from self-proclaimed fans of Vijay, despite him speaking strongly against it.
If you idolise someone, you have to follow their value systems. Only then you can call yourself a fan. There isn't anyone who respects women like Vijay sir does. That's why everyone calls him anna, that's the vibe he radiates in the manner he treats everyone. There's so much respect. When few people, not everyone, do this on social media, I don't consider them to be fans. You aren't embodying the value systems of the hero you are claiming to follow. Even I have faced it on occasions, where I ignored them and blocked them. Even that was made into an issue saying Archana is blocking a few fans. But I will not put up with such behaviour. Nobody has to.
We do have to talk about the pressure you faced. I remember a hashtag that kept popping up, 'Update vidu Archu'. I don't think even your family would have asked you anything with such authority.
Half the time, I don't even know there was such a trend going on (laughs). Work was crazy. I knew about the trend only when someone brought my notice to it. I had no clue this was even happening. But I can't pressurise my director or the team for it. Honestly, if we say everything beforehand, there won't be any interest when you watch the film. It is my duty to take that pressure and I am happy to do it. And of course, when they call me 'Archu', I think it is out of affection. It is okay!