Balaji Tharaneetharan: Oru Pakka Kathai may be delayed but it's timeless
Ahead of the release of his third and long-delayed film, Oru Pakka Kathai, Balaji Tharaneetharan shares with us his struggles, writing process, and choice of actors
For about six years now, Balaji Tharaneetharan has been facing the same question: When will Oru Pakka Kathai be released? The director admits that it invariably put him off. “To people I know, I can say, ‘Ada therinja solla maatenaada?’ But for strangers, I didn’t have a definitive answer.” He has one now. Oru Pakka Kathai, which was supposed to be the debut of actors Kalidas Jayaram and Megha Akash, and the film’s composer Govind Vasantha, is finally premiering on Zee 5 this Christmas.
“It feels like a burden is off me. When the film’s release became a huge question mark, it wasn’t just about me; it involved many technicians and actors. So, the uncertainty was hitting me hard,” Balaji says.
Oru Pakka Kathai went on floors in 2014, at which time the director decided to put his second venture, Seethakathi, on hold (it was resumed in 2017). It is only natural to wonder if the film will look or feel dated now in 2020. Balaji assures it won’t. “I think this story is timeless. It’s about a normal middle-class family going on with their everyday problems. What happens when they are confronted with an extraordinary problem? How do they react to it? And how does society see them? In fact, this might even be a better time for its release, and I am not making such statements just because it’s my film.”
Both his previous films, Naduvula Konjam Pakkatha Kaanom and Seethakathi, expect a leap of faith from the audience. When asked if this ‘extraordinary problem’ will also demand the same, he says, “I grew up reading Ambuli Mama and Vikramadithyan stories. You have to believe the premise to enjoy the story. If you question the existence of Vedhalam, there is no story for you. I believe people will buy into the conceit if you make it interesting. Having said that, Oru Pakka Kathai is not a fantasy film like Seethakathi. Revealing anything more about the premise would spoil the film.”
Balaji admits his films are products of such one-line premises. “The core of the film should be very exciting for me. Then, I ask myself if I can write a feature-length script that justifies the idea. Sometimes, I do get stuck. For example, with Seethakathi, after the death of Ayya’s soul, I couldn’t move the script forward for a long time. There have been instances where the story hits a wall and you have no choice but to abandon it.”
Another overarching trait in all his films is the candid nature of the people and the natural locations. Ironically, Balaji says a lot of effort and money goes into achieving these modest aesthetics. “I do it because I want people to relate to the place and the setting. I wanted NKPK to be like a video document of the protagonist; so we predominantly used a hand-held camera. When it comes to choosing my actors, I observe the people who I am working with. Each one has a unique character; you just have to cast them in the apt role where they can be themselves.”
For his next film, Balaji is planning to keep things even more down-to-earth. “It is about the kind of ordinary man we see on a day-to-day basis, like our apartment security guard. But I don’t want it to be too simple either, and most importantly, I don’t want to be overconfident.”