Sundar C: Good comedy is not always well appreciated

Ahead of Aranmanai 4’s release, Sundar C speaks about his attachment to the horror franchise, his approach to writing comedy, his 30-year-long filmmaking career, and more
Sundar C: Good comedy is not always well appreciated

Director-actor Sundar C is a simple man. Despite being in the industry for almost 30 years, he still uses his letter pad to write scripts, prefers staying at home to heading out, and likes to stay in the present. On the contrary, his films have often been anything unlike him—larger than life and commercially entertaining. Then came along the Aranmanai franchise. The horror-comedy films spanned over a decade and hold a special place in the filmmaker’s heart. “I see this franchise as my career’s foundation now. I am never tense before any other film’s release as I believe that I have given my 100 per cent and placed the rest in the audience's hands. When it comes to Aranmanai, the film’s success matters to me a lot as I know that I have this franchise to fall back on,” he says.

The filmmaker, who started the franchise with the first film in 2014, admits that the biggest difficulty in making such films is that the basic formula can’t be tampered with. “Just like how our staple food consists of rice, kootuporiyal and other elements, this too has a certain basic formula. It needs to have a palace setting, many interesting characters, and a careful balance of horror, humour, and emotional depth, along with a touch of divine intervention. If you look closely, each film unfolds over a span of three to four days, so there needs to be a gripping and engaging screenplay within it too,” he elaborates. With Aranmanai 4, which is scheduled to be released on May 3, the film does have a significant shift in its story. Sundar reveals, “The first three instalments would have a story where the vengeance would be from a personal angle, but this wouldn’t have that, as an external dark spirit comes in. Rest assured, both technically and visually, this film will surpass its predecessors.”

The success of the franchise, Sundar C believes, lies with its target audience. “Everywhere I go, families ask me when I would make the next part of the Aranmanai franchise and I think it is a mix of nostalgic and entertainment value that forms the films’ selling point,” he says. But that is not the sole decision maker of whether an Aranmanai franchise would get another instalment or not. "I can't confirm if Aranmanai 5 will be produced. That hinges entirely on the success of this current film," he explains. “While it is simple to introduce characters who could potentially return in future instalments, it adds to the promotional value. I’m not inclined towards leaving cliffhangers and prolonging the storyline. Each part features a distinct narrative and characters.”

As a commercial filmmaker, Sundar C admits that he has prepared himself for negative reviews and that he doesn’t take them to heart. “I view life through a half-glass-full perspective, focusing on being positive and spreading positivity,” he reflects. “I understand the pulse of the audience and give them what they want. I look at my films as entertainers where the audience can come to theatres, enjoy a film for two hours and then forget about it,” he says and quotes examples of his favourite films, which include It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldAnbe VaaBama Vijayam.

Sundar C's films are known for their comedies. The filmmaker attributes this to his early influences, including reading Madhan’s cartoons and watching Crazy Mohan and S Ve Shekher’s dramas while growing up. “This appreciation for and enjoyment of comedy inspired me to incorporate quality humour into my films,” he recalls. “I’ve refrained from using double-meaning dialogues or body-shaming jokes or using derogatory jokes about women. I also tried my best to integrate humour seamlessly into the narrative rather than treating it as separate tracks,” he adds.

Despite years of writing comedy, Sundar C confesses that it is this genre that is most difficult to crack and isn’t always appreciated. “When it comes to comedy, you can only bring out 20 per cent of what you write on paper. Rest lies in improvising everything from location, property, timing of the artist to adding sound effects in re-recording.” Ruminating about comedy in recent films, he says, “Most filmmakers are now running behind top heroes. If that gets cleared, we need to cater to their needs and show them in a different light. But even then, we get films like Vadakkupatti Ramasamy which had good humour, but weren't well-received.”

Notwithstanding public validation and support, Sundar C continues to write comedy, solely driven by his self-interest. “It is easy to make a commercial film, but it takes ten times more effort to write humour. I am planning to make Kalakalappu 3 which will again be an entertainer. With other films, you might not get instant reactions from the audience, but when they laugh at comedy, all the pain you have undergone to make this vanishes in a moment. This is what all of us yearn for.”

Thinking like an audience while working on his script helped Sundar C to strike the right balance between an invigorating storyline and quirky comedy. But how does he start writing his story? “It can be a spark of an idea or an inspiration from something. Sometimes the start of an idea and the end of it will never make sense. That one line can come from anywhere. Another important detail is writing an interesting interval moment. If both work, then the script comes automatically,” he explains.

Sundar C was in his late 20s when he directed his first film Murai Maman in 1995 and is one of the youngest to direct Rajinikanth in Arunachalam. Fast forwarding 30 years, the veteran says he says he didn’t have any responsibilities or fear at that time. “I worked with my set of friends in my first film. It was a fun journey, but we were sincere and hardworking. We were constantly hustling and didn't have time to think or process about the challenges,” he says. It was those early experiences that shaped him as a versatile filmmaker. “Maybe not having those fears was seen in my films. When heroism and sentiment-loaded films were at their peak, my hero characters would be irresponsible. In Ullathai Allitha, there was little story value. I saw actor Rambha for the first time on the shooting spot. She was finalised as the female lead just two days before the first day of the shoot. I would also reject big films with popular heroes. When I look back, I was surprised at how I pulled it off.”

Reflecting back on his career has always evoked a sense of nostalgia for the filmmaker, but given an opportunity, he says he would not change anything from his films. “Once I complete a film, I would take it out of my system. I get detached from it. Otherwise, we cannot concentrate on the next film. When I come across the film or any scene, I would only watch it as an audience,” he says.

On films that have been in the cans for some time now, Sundar C gets candid. He says, “With criticisms, there is a small sadness that resides for a few days, but when films don’t see the light of day, it brings out even more sadness. Vishal’s Madha Gaja Raja is a huge entertainer. A scene that I enjoyed and cherished the most is in that film. I can release it even tomorrow, but I don’t know why the producers are holding it back. My dream project Sangamithra getting delayed is also saddening, but we are all trying to start the project. Hopefully, by the end of this year, the process for it will begin.”

When Sundar is not immersed in writing, acting or directing, he prefers the comforts of home, close to his family. “I am a 100 per cent family person. My wife likes to travel, but after work, I would like to head back home to my sofa and watch something on TV. I have a very small group of friends with whom I catch up every fortnight or so,” he says. For a person whose films and persona are entertaining and full of life, Sundar confesses that he is quite the opposite. “I like my personal space and truth be told, I am a very boring person,” he chuckles.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Cinema Express