M Manikandan: Kadaisi Vivasayi’s sync sound cost more than Kaaka Muttai's budget
The director-cinematographer talks about his recent film that has come out to rave reviews
Two Triumph Bonneville bikes stand outside Vijay Sethupathi’s office, one that belongs to the actor and the other, to director M Manikandan who has collaborated with the actor for Aandavan Kattalai, and now, once again for Kadaisi Vivasayi that got released last Friday. "He got his a long ago while I got mine recently. I ride often. After my first film, everyone asked me to get a car, but after getting it, I realised I don’t quite use it. Tea kadai naalum, Usilampatti naalum, bike dhaan," says Manikandan, whose upcoming film is set in the villages around his hometown, Usilampatti.
Last man standing
"The story of Kadaisi Vivasayi is about an aged farmer who gets into a legal tussle; this is based on a true incident. Villages have this practice where the farmers give off a small portion of the grains as an offering to the temple and that's how crop rotation happened. In this story, a solitary old man is the only one farming as he doesn't know anything else. If you liked Aandavan Kattalai, you will like Kadaisi Vivasayi too. Everything that worked in that film is here and in a more refined way. Just as Kaaka Muttai reminded you of the streets in that slum, Kadaisi Vivasayi too will leave a mark. It's about people who don't know anything apart from agriculture. It also sheds light on their needs, and why they are struggling, despite having so many resources."
All the research
"We saw the plight of farmers who have lands and yet, are unable to farm. There are so many layers within their story. A clan living in deep interiors that can be accessed only through a small road is termed as a village, but then, so is a place that you will reach after taking a diversion from a town highway. A farmer is not a term for just those who work on the farm all day but also those who employ other farmers to work in their own lands. The plight of those working for others' farms is even worse because, at the end of the day, they are akin to daily labourers. Those who had landed earlier were thought to be settled in life, but that's not the case today. Meeting them all gave us an idea of the topics that would be relevant to the film."
The importance of sync sound
"We have employed sync-sound technology because it changes the film-watching experience. It increases shoot days by about 20 per cent but the positive difference it brings is obvious. Capturing live sound adds so much to the end product, and it makes all the effort worth it, as it reduces the distance between the actors and the audience. We cannot get this with dubbing. Getting the dubbing right for a thirty-second video might sometimes take an hour. With sync sound, even if there are different patches in editing, the audio file stays the same size as the video. This helps in establishing the characters as it feels like they are talking to you in person. Usually, in sync sound, the voice of the characters are captured, but we have covered the surrounding sounds too. It makes the film more dynamic."
Making dreams happen for debutants
"The story decides its lead actor(s). Kaaka Muttai gave me the space to work with debutants, but Kuttrame Thandanai and Aandavan Kattalai didn't. Stories like Kadaisi Vivasayi can be done by a combination of debutants and actors. For some stories, it’s important that the audience watch without preconceived notions. We did no acting workshops. It's rather ironic because those who starred in this film were those who didn't want to act. Those eager to act did not quite have the face or attitude for this film. It took two months for the cast to get used to the team, and only after that were they able to behave naturally in front of the camera. As they took so long to get used to us, we couldn't rehearse or make them sign agreements. We shot for 95 days; so, it was important to get a sense of commitment from them. Vijay Sethupathi and Yogi Babu play important characters; it is they who introduce the audience to the village and its people."
One man, many jobs
"I don’t just narrate those scripts I write. It all depends on the producer. Kuttrame Thandanai happened because the producer wanted a crime-thriller. I didn't have such a story but a friend of mine did. Kaaka Muttai happened because I wanted to start my career with a cast focused on children. Also, I enjoy writing stories for other directors too (Kirumi). Earlier, we had a team of senior writers in the industry. Today, there isn't such a team but there are many individual writers who haven't been able to meet the right team. Even we weren't able to pay our earlier writers well, but I believe that we can hereafter. We should pay them as much as they are paid in Kerala or Mumbai. I don't think there's a dearth of writers in our industry; I think there’s just a lack of sync between them and filmmakers.
And yes, I’m also the cinematographer in this film, and it really comes down to how much time the story requires me to spend with the actors. Aandavan Kattalai had as many as six artists in each scene; so, I couldn't handle the cinematography. But that's not the case with Kuttrame Thandanai where the dialogues were not very many, and I could concentrate on lighting and camera work. If I made stars wait while I fixed the lighting, I would lose many lakhs per day."
The cost of quality
"Vijay Sethupathi is a pillar of support for this film. When the release was getting delayed, I was worried about interest rates. We got OTT offers but he wanted this to be a theatre release. ‘Selavu pannitom, theatre-ku kondu vanthuduvom,’ he said. The story is made on a wide canvas and seeing it on the big screen makes for a grand experience. Thanks to him, we were able to bring in aspects like sync sound. The cost of sync sound for this film is the budget of Kaaka Muttai. Such a producer is hard to find, and this was possible because of the camaraderie we share. Moreover, it would have been impractical to bring the cast of this film to dubbing studios. Wherever these people went to socialise, we shot there. I can't even take them to Madurai; how was I going to bring them to Chennai? My earlier films didn't have the standard I expected, due to financial issues. When we changed to the digital format, only the format of filmmaking changed, but only in today's world have films started evolving. This is due to the growth of the audience. I expect these films to increase in number."
The long delay
“Yes, Kadaisi Vivasayi has come out five years after my last film. I don’t see such a gap happening again. I assure you that my next film will be out sooner.”