Sasi: If I forget the business aspect of a film, I will disappear
Director Sasi discusses his recently released Sivappu Manjal Pachai which has been well-received for its focus on human emotions
Director Sasi is a seasoned professional who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, but you can see his excitement about the positive reception to his latest release, Sivappu Manjal Pachai (SMP). “The film picked up steam from the second day, and over the last week, shows have been houseful in the city," says Sasi.
Excerpts from the conversation:
Let's start with how you went about the casting.
I prefer working with newbies as they don’t have image trappings. After the success of Pichaikkaran though, my producer asked me to go ahead with experienced actors. For the role of GV Prakash's sister, an actor refused the part because she gets called 'akka' (laughs). I noticed around that time that despite a small role in Maheshinte Prathikaaram, Lijomol Jose was pretty great in the film. She agreed without making any fuss. I needed an actor to play the part of a 19-year-old, and right now, there’s no choice other than GV for such a role. For the cop's role, Siddharth felt perfect. Also, we felt the pair would be fresh.
Siddharth plays a cop while GV Prakash is a bike racer. Can you elaborate on the training they underwent?
Despite hailing from a village, when I did Poo, I spent close to eight months in a small village for field work. So, yes, I take research very seriously. GV and I spent a lot of time with street racers. We went on bikes with them to Ennore through narrow streets. Despite all the training, he fell down from the bike once while shooting.
Meanwhile, Siddharth observed cops in action. There’s a scene when his mother points out a mistake he does, and while other actors might have told me to tweak it because it shows them in bad light, Siddharth shook hands with me, and called it a 'semma scene'.
This is your first dual hero subject. How hard was it to make sure both roles had equal strength?
I find it interesting that both GV and Siddharth are actors who have avoided being trapped by ‘hero worship’. That’s probably why they didn’t have inhibitions of doing characters with grey shades. GV, for example, was initially apprehensive to wear a nighty because we were shooting in a live location and were surrounded by inhabitants of the area. But when he realised that the scene was crucial for the conflict, he went ahead.
Is it hard to secure commercial viability with material that can also be critically acclaimed?
Delivering a successful film is easy; giving a good film is easier. Doing both with a film is hard. For instance, I pitched Pichaikaaran’s story to eight producers. I was told by them never to make films on beggars, sex workers, or trans people. I think whatever is new is also commercial. I take the time to find something new. In the case of SMP, there is no Tamil film about bike races and there is no film in the world that talks about the mama-machan relationship.
As for the cast, I wanted to rope in director Balaji Sakthivel for the antagonist role’s but we went with Madhusudhanan as we knew his familiarity would work in the Telugu circuit. Also, a certain section comes in looking for fight sequences. As Kamal sir once said, this is a business-based art. If I forget the business aspect of it, I will disappear.
I notice that many of your crew members are newbies.
It's not out of goodwill that I introduce new talent (laughs). It's just easier to work with them. Even Vijay Antony was a newbie during Dishyum times. I remember him walked out of an auto carrying a CPU. I’ve introduced Siddhu Kumar for SMP, and with him, I have introduced as many as five music directors so far.
Speaking about composers, the songs in your film -- right from Sollathae in Sollamale to Mayilaanjiye in SMP – have turned out to be chartbusters.
In fact, I came in wanting to make films without songs. The Sollathae track in my first film won an award from the Tamil Nadu Government; it was a song chosen by my co-director Stanley. I knew nothing about music back then. When working with Aascar Films, I got to interact with Ravichandran sir, a musicophile who knows the grammar of songs -- right down to how different the first song should be from the last. It was he who taught me how important songs are to a film's success.
Your protagonists are usually from lower middle-class families and your films touch upon class disparity.
I am from that class and I know that way of life the best. I prefer standing next to those who lose; it helps me understand their mindset. This is why I write so much about fighters and losers. I also like to flesh out my female characters. India pengal-a vida paava patta uyirinam ulagathule yaarume illa. That’s why I speak about their struggles in all my films.
It seems you never run out of ideas for love stories.
I saw a teen couple earlier today when I went for a walk, who were holding each other's hands, but were still yawning (laughs). I got intrigued and began to think of a back story. Later, I saw a garbage pick-up person having withered flowers on the handle of his cart. That told me a love story. When I see love somewhere, I try to convert them into stories. In SMP, Siddharth's character tells two reasons to the girl on why he would like to get married. He talks of bodily needs; he also promises to be hundred percent honest with her. She gets convinced by it. That’s the exact conversation I had with my wife the first time I met her (laughs). Till this minute, I remain honest to her. Honesty is beautiful, and I try to infuse my work with it.