Arun Rajagopalan: Directors scarcely provide credit to writers
The debut screenwriter Arun Rajagopalan speaks about how the Amala Paul-starrer Adho Andha Paravai Pola got made
It's always fun for an interviewer when the interviewee goes on a monologue that answers almost all the prepared questions. An hour-long interaction with the screenwriter of Amala Paul-starrer Adho Andha Paravai Pola, was a bit like that. Arun had written this film, which is yet to hit the screens, way back in 2016. “I wanted to work on an exclusive writer-director model that is uncommon in Tamil cinema. I don't have directorial skills which, I think, is a demanding process. The conventional route is to work as an assistant to another director or take the route of doing short films like Karthik Subbaraj, Lokesh Kanagaraj and Nalan Kumarasamy did. Even then, the producer has to trust that one can do a film. I had neither.”
Options in hand
“I was given the option to work with a senior co-director who is yet to make their mark in the industry. But I didn’t want someone to ghost-direct the film. I would rather give credit to them. Why would I want to steal their thunder? I connected with my executive producer who was looking out for small films to be made. He listened to my film and we decided to go ahead. I told him I just wanted to stick to screenwriting and he agreed.”
When the idea took flight
“Back then, female-centric films weren't a trend. Only Maya had released. We considered Nayanathara for the role, but considering how demanding and action-oriented the role was, we wanted actors, not superstars. Also, the film isn't based on just one person. We thought about a return-on-investment model, and knew it would be easier with a hero because his market value could be calculated based on his previous films. We can also do it for a genre, but here, we decided to go with an action-adventure spear-headed by a woman.
The inspiration was classics such as Kill Bill. For action films, Vijayshanthi films are the last regional reference. I didn’t want the action to look like in Indonesian and Thai films, which have long action sequences. Also, in Hollywood, they resort to body doubles and other tricks. We didn't want to do that either.”
Scouting for talent
“After Irudhi Suttru, many asked us to rope in Ritika Singh. The role would have been a cakewalk for her, but I felt that to be an issue. We wanted someone who has never done action before. Some actresses quoted a salary they would get by playing the female lead in a star vehicle. I also learned then that most filmmakers were not keen on directing somebody else's script. Even my close friends wanted to do their own script as their first film. I began thinking I would have to pitch the script in Bollywood or Tollywood.
That's when Vinoth KR approached the production house who showed interest in my project. His film was of a larger scale and the producers wanted a contained one, and he showed interest in my script. I explained how the film could work out. He felt he could explore it as a director too. We discussed ideas for a couple of months on it could be built on screen despite having a bound script. The story is written in a subjective narration style, where the audience knows only as much as the characters do. An example of such a film would be The Revenant. The idea is to give an immersive experience. For example, for the first ten minutes of the film, we show how it feels to be lost in a jungle -- the loneliness, the claustrophobia, and the fright.”
Better call Amala Paul
“By this time, female-centric films like Aramm and Aruvi had started coming out. February 2017 is when we knew that Amala Paul was getting back to acting. She was one of my initial choices but was not available for work due to personal reasons. We sent her the synopsis and she liked it. Thankfully, she was into trekking at that point and after knowing that the story, similar to Bear Grylls: Man Vs Wild, is about how a person should adapt to situations, she felt it was an interesting project. We told her about the action sequences, how realistic we wanted them to be and how the character knows krav maga... Unlike karate, kung fu or even kalari, there's beauty in how krav maga is performed. It is a fighting technique built only to serve the purpose of your survival. We had to justify a woman performing stunts, and so, we picked up a martial art form that can be done by anyone. We got Krav Maga instructor Sriram (who acted in Sillu Karupatti) on board. Action choreographer Supreme Sundar is known for his realistic fight scenes and his 11-minute single-shot fight in Goli Soda and Malayalam film Jallikattu are examples of his work.”
Making every rupee count
“Shooting of the film started at the end of 2017, and as a screenwriter, I did not walk out after pre-production. I was a part of workshops with cast members Amala Paul, Ashish Vidyarthi and Samir Kochhar. The story happens in 48 hours but even then, they needed to know everything about their character. We made sure they understood each line. So much planning went into the film that we completed shooting in 41 days, which is just a day more than what we initially planned. We also worked on a tight economic model. It was not easy; shooting in terrains such as jungles meant that sometimes, we had to wait for rains to stop. There was also the Producer’s Council strike in between. Six to eight months was also spent on CG. With this budget, bringing in vfx was not easy.
Do right by the writer
“Most directors work with writers who they never credit, and simply offer monetary compensation. However, some directors these days understand that they should not steal the credit. If everyone in the industry realises this, we may have more screenwriters.”