Director Prasanth Pandiyaraj: Vilangu will definitely get a sequel
Prasanth Pandiyaraj talks about the research behind his hit web-series, and all the positive reception and takeaways
Young filmmaker Prasanth Pandiyaraj is in the spotlight, thanks to the success of his latest web series, Vilangu. He’s been giving interviews non-stop and opens this conversation by sharing that he hasn’t even had time to have lunch yet. While his debut film, Bruce Lee, a comedy, was born from the director's sense of humour, Vilangu is at the other extreme. “We wanted to name the series, Handcuffs, but as the story is rooted, we sought a Tamil title. My friend Doss (Director of Dora), recommended this, and we felt it was apt."
Vilangu, currently streaming on ZEE5, is said to be based on true stories. "Instead of sticking to one real incident, we have blended a number of true stories we got from meeting police officials. For example, if I narrate a story in which a police station has an induction stove in it, it might sound a tad fictitious. But I have been to stations where I was served tea made over such a stove. I was keen on bringing such elements into the script," says Prasanth.
Interestingly, his research for Vilangu began while working on a gangster story. "When I shared some interesting cases I got from police officers, producer Madan sir (Escape Artists Motion Pictures) suggested that I make a story out of them. The story demanded that we know the details of how a police station functioned through day and night." While Tamil cinema isn't new to cop stories, Vilangu is among a handful of them set in the backdrop of a village. "We wanted to differentiate the procedural from what happens in a city. For example, in rural places, a station has the same SI handling both crime and law and order. This came in handy as I could show the character even without his uniform in some scenes."
Prasanth was apparently keen on getting someone who wouldn’t look like a typical cop. "I wanted someone who would look like us. When I was hanging out with Muthukumaran anna (who directed Vemal's Kanni Raasi), he took me to Vemal anna's house. My script became a topic of discussion and though Vemal liked it, he was hesitant about pulling off the role of a cop, but when I showed him photos of how I expected my lead to be, he got convinced," says Prasanth, who credits Vemal for understanding the character’s limitations. "He had to grasp the background and history of his character, Paridhi, even though we don’t really get into it in the series. There were even instances when he would recommend that a certain line be said by Bala Saravanan for better effect. He gave me a lot of freedom during the shooting."
The series also stars Bala in an important role, poles apart from jovial characters he is generally known for doing. "He is a close friend who knows all my stories. So is Munishkanth... They both understand my working style. I knew Bala would trust me with such a serious role as we both wanted to show him in a different light. It might have jeopardised his career as a comedian, but thankfully, it worked," says Prasanth.
Though the series shows custodial violence, Prasanth clarifies that he was careful not to glorify it. "The police characters resort to different means to get what they want. Interestingly, the antagonist opens up to sympathy rather than violence. I have seen cases where an accused who knows he is being chased by a cop, has slashed his own wrist to escape. The same cop would have to get him medical aid, feed him, and then, take him in. How would you handle such elements? That's when cops turn to an alternate method of action. But when it goes overboard, it's definitely wrong, and as a creator, I am against it," says the director who acknowledges that the reviews, despite being positive, have criticised the violence. "I just wanted to show what happens in real life. I didn’t want to necessarily condemn it or glorify it. I am glad that the masses have understood that such things are still happening and that they are wrong."
Another criticism the series faced is the lack of strong women characters though there are a few women constables and Ineya is featured as the female lead. Prasanth doesn't buy this criticism. "The story itself is centred around women. A DSP who visits to pass on invitations for his daughter's wedding, an inspector who is busy with the ear-piercing ceremony of his granddaughter, Paridhi, who has a daughter, and so wants to give her the best of everything, a villain who also has a daughter and wants to make sure she leads a good life... you get the drift. I don't believe that women have to be given many dialogues to establish their importance. I wrote all the characters keeping my mother and wife in mind. If you still think we have not done enough, we will work on it the next time," says Prasanth, smiling.
Vilangu has several throwaway lines regarding caste, even though Prasanth shows a reluctance to dig any deeper. "I wanted to establish how caste plays a major role in investigations. I didn't want to ignore it, but at the same time, it was not my main topic of interest." Ask him if his original plan to make a gangster script is still on, and Prasanth replies in the affirmative. “The gangster story will be made into a film soon and Vilangu will also get a sequel. I have many stories to tell; so, I don’t know if it will happen immediately though." As we wrap up the conversation, Bala Saravanan walks in and reminds Prasanth of the lunch plan. Turning to me, he goes, "I hope you have seen the series, brother. I went to this interview where the host went gaga over the series only to later tell me that he is yet to watch it." It was hard not to laugh out loud at this passing line, and served to emphasise once again that it was a brave choice by the filmmaker not to cast Bala Saravanan as a comedian in his admirable web-series.