Karthick Naren: Naragasooran was not a smart move for a second film

The filmmaker talks about his upcoming release, Mafia, and his love for easter eggs
Karthick Naren: Naragasooran was not a smart move for a second film

When his first film, Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru, came out in 2016, director Karthick Naren who was only 22 back then, said producers were apprehensive of working with him due to his age. As we sit down to talk about his upcoming film Mafia, he says that it's all changed now. "The struggle was there initially but thankfully, D16 has changed it. Once you have proved yourself, the journey gets easier," says the young director.

Excerpts from the conversation:

Be it Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru or your yet-to-be-released Naragasooran, you had previously mentioned that they all belong to the same universe. Mafia though seems to be the beginning of a new chapter.

After Naragasooran, I wanted to start another film which would belong to the same universe. In fact, we wanted to cast the same characters from D16 to star in Naragasooran, but because of some reasons, it didn't work out. Mafia, hence, belongs to a completely different universe.

D16, despite being a thriller, broke the usual trope of characters running around in a hurry. Considering Mafia also looks like a cat and mouse game, how has it been treated?

Mafia is a clash between two people with conflicting ideologies and moral values. Regarding the pacing, I believe that the more characters are calm, the more the plot thickens. We should convey the thrill through events instead of through characters. I believe in letting the scene do the talking.

We have four songs in the film but they were not commercial compromises. They were all necessary for the film. In D16, there was only one song in the end and Naragasooran doesn't have any song. But in Mafia, to flesh out certain characters, the songs came in handy. A song tells a story that would otherwise have taken 5-6 scenes. In fact, the track between Arun Vijay sir and Priya ma'am hints at a lot, and what's brewing between them is something we have left open.

The teasers of all your three films have its characters breaking the fourth wall and you had said earlier that it helps the audience get into this world that you are creating.

The job of teasers is to entice the audience and not reveal too much of the plot. This format was an idea we got when we almost wrapped shooting D16. The film is about two guys talking over a cup of coffee, so we kept the shot of Rahman sir speaking to the audience as a sort of an easter egg. In Naragasooran, we made all the characters be in front of the camera as the film has an open ending and it teases people to be the judge. Since Mafia is made to look like a fight between a lion and a fox, we wanted it to be like a battle of the jungle.

Speaking of easter eggs, even the Mafia teaser had elements such as Prasanna's character wearing a ring in his chain. You seem to enjoy teasing the audience.

(Smiles) As a film buff, we like to notice intricacies in a film hoping that the director is trying to communicate something with it. Doing something like that makes me feel like a kid in a toy store. It's all about trying to say a little extra than what the film is conceived to say.

Despite D16 revolving around a woman's story, I found the timespan of female characters to be less. Mafia's promotional materials too seem to focus only on the two male leads.

Female characters should stand out on their own instead of merely complementing the male characters. They have to bring something to the story. If you ask me, Priya ma'am's character is equal to what Arun sir's character is in Mafia. She drives the story at a couple of places and she even has action scenes. We didn't want her to come under the usual heroine template or use her for just the songs. We have conveyed how they don't need men for certain things.

The star value seems to be increasing with each of your films. Is that intentional? And considering your next film is with Dhanush, do you have to bend your stand on commercial compromises?

It's not a conscious decision. After Naragasooran, I wanted to start a film called Naadaga Medai with new faces as it's a story about a 12th standard kid and a final year college student. It's a personal story but for certain reasons, it didn't take off.

Talking about commercial compromises -- let it be a comical sequence or a song -- as long as it doesn't tamper the screenplay or holdback the progress of the film, I am totally up for it.

Does the success of your first film put pressure on what you do next?

The pressure didn't get to me after D16 and that's why I went to a film like Naragasooran because it's a quieter film comparatively. Naragasooran has very few characters and is an intimate film between five people. I actually don't think it was a smart move for a second film.

What was the idea behind giving the synopsis of your upcoming film with Dhanush in its first look?

More than calling it a synopsis, I'll call it a tease -- maybe about the character or that world. I wanted it to be unique for the audience to take note of it. Dhanush sir, as a writer, gave a lot of feedback for the film. Obviously, him being a writer-director, he had the mind for it. What he added really boosted the film. At no point did he want me to change anything.

You worked with Lyca Productions for Mafia and your Dhanush film is with Sathya Jyothi Films. Considering what happened with Naragasooran, is this you playing safe? And while we are at it, when we thought it was all over, even in November last year, you had asked Gautham Menon the status of your film.

(Laughs) Actually, things just fell into place for these two films. I think 'playing it wiser' is a better term. Talking about Naragasooran, it was censored last year. We went for shoot around September 2017 and it was supposed to release in February 2018 but for certain reasons, it didn't. During November last year, we were hoping that the film would get released in a couple of months but that didn't happen either. For mez it was difficult to go from Naragasooran to Mafia because of the delay. For a filmmaker, only when a film hits the theatres, do the characters leave his mind. When I sat down to write Mafia or when I was in the sets, the memories kept flashing. I won't call it a negative thing but I kept wondering if Mafia would also end up like Naragasooran. That thought was holding me back and I wanted to know what the status is, just like everybody else.

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