'No hero except Vaibhav would have agreed to Lock Up'
...says Lock Up director SG Charles as he talks about his directorial debut, starring Venkat Prabhu, Vaibhav, Easwari Rao and Vani Bhojan, which is currently streaming on Zee5
This lockdown, there has been a consistent stream of Tamil content in the digital sphere. While most haven’t exactly set our screens on fire, SG Charles’ Lock Up, which began streaming on Zee5 recently, has found praise for its smart premise. “I have always been fascinated with non-linear narratives. Lock Up is a combination of this and linear narrative. One can experiment when it is a small-budget production. I am happy that a few of these experiments worked out,” says the debutant director.
What has worked to Lock Up’s advantage is its ensemble cast comprising Vaibhav, Easwari Rao, Poorna and director Venkat Prabhu, who has been receiving praise for his performance. But did you know director Myskkin was one of the first choices for the role of the shrewd cop? “For Moorthy's character, I had only two choices. It was Mysskin sir or Venkat Prabhu sir. Before Nithin Sathya and Venkat Prabhu sir came into the picture, the film was supposed to be produced by another company. At that point, I was told Venkat Prabhu sir was busy with Maanadu and I approached Mysskin sir. But he had just done Suttu Pidikka Utharavu, and so, he couldn’t do this.”
But luck was in Charles’ corner as Venkat Prabhu liked the script, and in fact, asked him to narrate it to Nithin Sathya, who was looking for scripts to produce. “But when I asked Venkat Prabhu sir to act, he was reluctant. I was confident though that his combination with Vaibhav would work to our advantage.” With both Nithin and Vaibhav being friends of Venkat Prabhu, things fell in place. “He had his doubts even on the shooting spot,” says Charles with a laugh. “As Vaibhav and VP sir are great friends, they would often double up in laughter. It was a bit tough to create an air of seriousness. But we made the film work. I was very sure of their performance graphs and ensured we didn't go beyond that.”
Once Venkat Prabhu and Vaibhav were roped in, Charles needed a formidable female actor. “I wanted a female cop, so there could be a distinct variation between the narratives. I wanted a performer who could maintain that thin line of balance between realism and cinematic drama.” He says Easwari Rao was his only choice. “It is her first role as a cop, but she pulled it off well.”
While our heroes aren’t always open to playing grey characters, it is refreshing to see a grey protagonist in Lock Up. Charles admits that he owes it to Vaibhav, the first person to say yes to the script. “Our cinema tends to be hero-centric, but in this script, there is equal importance to every character. No other hero would have agreed to this script,” he says. “At first Vaibhav didn’t buy it, ‘Enna vechu police-a, yenga comedy panreenga nu sonnaru’. But once he heard the screenplay, he was convinced.”
Charles also discloses that Lock Up wasn’t his first script. “They typically expect a horror or thriller script, for marketing purposes. I knew this but also wanted it to be rooted. So I began by identifying characters, keeping the budget in mind, and started fleshing out scenarios and sequences. I took six-seven months to get the screenplay right.”
Lock up might be Charles’ feature debut, but the director has been working for around 13 years in the industry as an AD with filmmakers such as Saravanan and Mohan Raja. As an associate who used to wait to see his name on the big, black screen, Charles was a bit disappointed with a digital release. “But the situation here is unprecedented. It is a matter of life and death, so one just needs to move on.” The major drawback he says is that one can’t directly gauge the audience's response. “As ADs, we used to go to ten theatres to observe how people react. I miss the theatres because we would be at these shows, watching the people react live to the film.” But he admits there are pros as well. “A digital release has ensured that the film reaches more people. I see Malayalam and Hindi portals review Lock Up, and it felt good. I will take the criticism as well, and do better in my next film.”