Nelson speaks to us about Beast, says 'script of Beast is influenced by Pokkiri'

Nelson speaks about his upcoming film Beast starring Vijay in this conversation with Cinema Express

The humour in director Nelson's films are derived from his own persona. In this media interaction, surrounded by journalists who looked to break the ice by saying, “Sollunga”, Nelson began by quipping, “Neenga dhaan sollanum". He went on to talk about the song titled 'Jolly O Gymkhana' and revealed that it’s pretty much a summary of who he is as a person. “On the sets, Vijay sir would sometimes wonder what was going on. One day, he called to say, ‘Unga kooda irukkaravanga ellarum oru mathiri irukanga’,” says Nelson, laughing. "I like to have fun while working. After carefully observing us for the first ten days, Vijay sir joined us in all the fun and work."


The hype around Beast is quite something...

Vijay sir is a mass hero with a huge fan base and this film was made keeping that in mind. And yet, we wanted it to be something different as well. Usually, his films have many songs but in Beast, it's just the two we released and the theme song. Unlike in his other films, much of this film happens within a single location, and he will be seen in just one costume for a long time. There's no intro song for him either. Some worried that he may have reservations, but he didn’t. 

He plays a RAW officer in this film, and we have thought of it as a sort of James Bond film. The script was written keeping Vijay sir in mind and he agreed to do the film halfway through the narration. He has seen the rough cut of the film and he likes it.

Did you have to find common ground between your style of filmmaking and the Vijay brand of cinema?

I think this film will be more in tune with his work. We have only tweaked it a bit. In that recent interview I did with him, he said that he was able to connect personally with the film’s protagonist. I think the character is an extension of his real persona. Unlike in my previous film, Doctor, Beast has quite a few action sequences, including one involving a fighter jet. The punch lines will be subtle and different. There will be lots of comedy as well. I’d say the film is 60 percent action and 40 percent humour. While Doctor was about the escapades of a team, Beast revolves around Vijay’s character, who’s somewhat like John Wick.

Did you have any concerns about the film’s events largely happening in a single location?

Those around us were sceptical about how we would pull it all off. What was seen as a limitation actually allowed us to come up with an intriguing story. The real tough task was finding a mall to shoot with Vijay sir. We tried many in Delhi but realised that crowd control was a logistical nightmare. We decided to go with a set and wanted it to be close to reality in size and dimension. The atrium and the shops had to look real, and the construction took almost six months. From an architectural standpoint, we have done everything to replicate an actual mall. It helps to have the backing of an entity like Sun Pictures.

You seem quite taken by heist films…

I like those stories. When things go awry for them, it ends up feeling like humour for us. This is also a genre that we haven't seen a lot of in Tamil cinema. All my films might have an act of crime at the centre, but the impact I like to leave on you will be different each time.

Your protagonists barely smile and are often stoic-looking.

I guess it’s because I like them to be that way. Romba alapparai pannama irundha enakku pidikkum. You will see that the supporting characters are quite the opposite. That’s because they are inspired by friends I have known for a long time.

The film marks Selvaraghavan’s acting debut and the return of Pooja Hegde to Tamil...

Selva sir's character demanded someone who can pull off strong dialogues. He had already done Saani Kaayidham and was keen to continue acting. Pooja also enjoyed the story a lot. There are a host of comedians in the film as well, and we found it interesting to offer them space to perform in such a serious story.

Your friendship with Anirudh is well-known. How did you two go about creating the film’s songs?

Vijay sir has already sung twice for Anirudh in previous films; this time too, it was Anirudh who got Vijay sir to sing. Moreover, the 'Jolly O Gymkhana' track was right up his alley. 'Arabic Kuthu' happens as a part of the story.

As for our friendship, sometimes, it feels like I stay at Ani’s studio. He knows I won’t leave if he doesn’t give me a song. I don’t give him any inputs; I stop with telling him the mood of the song and he would respond with a rough draft. I would ask, 'Unga manasatchiku eppadi irukku intha paatu?' (laughs). He would sometimes respond by sending a different version; some other times, we are happy with what we have. I do think he puts in more effort for me, like he does for Sivakarthikeyan. 

You have got Sivakarthikeyan to write a song again…

I got him to do that for Kolamaavu Kokila as a promotional idea. After the success of ‘Kalyana Vayasu’, I asked him once again for Doctor. This time, we needed someone who could give us lines that feel like a regular conversation, and we could only think of SK for such a track. He is sincere with his work and would get back to us without us having to follow up with him. He's open to suggestions and has a passion for lyric-writing. 

Even before you could soak in the praise for Doctor, you began work on Beast. And now, you are set to direct Rajinikanth in his 169th film. Does a lot seem to be happening too fast?

New films keep coming up and yes, the timelines do overlap. Beast came by when Doctor was happening; so even before I could enjoy the film’s success, the pressure of the next film kept me busy. I wondered what people would say about Beast if Doctor had not done well. As for Thalaivar 169, thankfully, there's some time. I don't have specific goals when I set out to work with stars. I just want to do a good job. I like commercial cinema, and I aim to do something different with that canvas. 

Social media is abuzz with various takes about Beast, including that it seems inspired by Gurkha… 

The first shows happen at 4 am and there are premieres in other countries too. People will soon see what the film is about. The events begin unfolding ten minutes into the film. There were speculations about the story happening inside a mall even before the trailer came out. A vast portion of the film happens inside the mall anyway; so, we didn’t care about keeping that a secret. 

And yes, people did tell me that audiences might be reminded of Gurkha. I had seen that film as Redin Kingsley is part of it and its director Sam Anton is also a friend. That said, just like flight hijacks, mall sieges are a sub-genre and there have been many films on it. What we do with it determines how different it is. 

As for the 'kuriyeedugal', we had nothing to do with all that. The flex banner we got that day was orange in colour. That’s all that means. There is nothing in the film to hurt any sentiments. It's made only for entertainment; no hidden messages are intended. All we wanted was to make a good film that wouldn’t offend anyone. If something were offensive, there’s a censor board to take care of that.

Star vehicles get scrutinised a lot and there’s just so much expectation around them. Valimai director Vinoth spoke about how the pressure to provide updates was a burden unto itself.

The 'Chellama' track did really well to promote Doctor. We did something similar with Beast as well. But yes, with such a film, we do have to break our heads to try and be involved in other promotional activities like lyric videos. I think it is unfair when films get judged on the basis of such updates. Idhu thalai vali dhaan.

Young filmmakers who have had a chance to work with stars make callbacks to earlier work. 

There's a small Pokkiri moment in this film. It won't be a long scene but there's something, yes. I am a huge fan of that film. Truth be told, it served as inspiration for the script of Beast

How did the Rajinikanth project materialise?

Rajini sir called to wish me well after the release of Kolamaavu Kokila. I met him in person, and he encouraged me a lot with his words. After Doctor, I was talking with Vijay sir and learned that Rajini sir was looking out for new scripts. I didn't have a story for Rajini sir then and I wasn't sure if I could even come up with one for him. Vijay sir motivated me, and then, a story came up. I narrated it to Rajini sir and he asked me to concentrate on Beast until its release. I have seen speculations about cast members for the Rajini sir film, but the truth is, work is yet to begin. The film should go on the floors after July.

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