Director Kamalakannan: Kurangu Pedal was supposed to be my directorial debut

In this conversation, director Kamalakannan discusses his upcoming film Kurangu Pedal, the challenges that come with working with children, how the bicycle is a universally relatable topic, and more
Director Kamalakannan: Kurangu Pedal was supposed to be my directorial debut

What does a hiatus of a decade mean for a filmmaker? For some, it may mean more maturity and life experience and, consequently, a better shot at building a career. For director Kamalakannan, however, 10 years away from cinema gave him the confidence to finally make a film with children. "Kurangu Pedal was supposed to be my directorial debut," says the director, who ended up making his debut with 2012's Madhubaanakadai instead and followed it up with 2022's Vattam. "Back then, I chose some children and carried out a basic shoot with them for three days. The shoot was enough for me to realise that my career would come to an end even before it began because it was quite a challenging task to work with children. It took me 10 years to come back and make Kurangu Pedal."

The film is based on a short story titled Cycle, written by Rasi Azhagappan, which Kamalakannan read 15 years ago. "Kurangu Pedal is about a young boy's dream to ride a bicycle and his father's opposition to it," says the director, who further adds that the film is set in a 1980s village called Katheri. "I wish to take my audience down the nostalgia lane through this film. It will never be outdated because the film will remind a particular generation of their childhood, even as the young generation learns about their past," he shares.

Speaking about nostalgia and memories, Kamalakannan says that the nostalgia begins right from the film's title. "Back in the day, the only available bicycles were the tall adult cycles with a bar in between. Young kids were hardly half the cycle's height, so they couldn't get on it and throw their legs on either side, let alone pedal it. So we, as kids, used to put our legs in between the bar and pedal in a way that looked like a monkey pedalling haphazardly. Hence, the whole act was termed 'Kurangu Pedal' or 'Ara Pedal'," he explains as he confidently asserts that the film's idea is universally relatable. "If you ask the older generation what ‘Kurangu Pedal’ means, they will have a cycle-related story of their own to tell you."

Most filmmakers who focus on village life often end up romanticising it or preaching about what city dwellers are missing out on. Kamalakannan says that Kurangu Pedal will surely not romanticise or bat for life in a village. "I believe in the saying, “Pazhaiyana kazhithalum, pudhuvena pugudhalum” (the passing of the old and the dawn of the new). We tend to retain past memories, nostalgia, and historical lessons. But we cannot deny or do away with development for the sake of such memories. My film tries to portray the development that came with the invention of the cycle. It does not aim at asking the audience to go back to those simpler times," the director explains.

Kamalakannan says Kaali Venkat's character is the most important one that ties all the loose ends in a film that focuses on children for the majority of its runtime. "The father's character has an arc and is the anchor of the film, although Kaali's screen time is considerably lesser." On Kaali's casting choice for the role, the director adds, "I have known him for a long time, even before I made my first film and when he was just doing small roles in films. Back then, I used to observe him and always believed that he had a great future in acting. I tried to cast him in Vattam itself, but somehow it didn’t materialise. When it came to the role of the father in Kurangu Pedal, my first and only choice was Kaali Venkat." Further attributing the actor's versatility, he mentions, "Kaali is from the Madurai side of Tamil Nadu, not the Kongu region. But his accent for this film was so apt that some locals even asked him which region of Namakkal he was from."

Although ten years gave the director confidence, it was still a demanding task for him to work with children. To give an example of how challenging it was to give instructions to the kids and make them perform, Kamalakannan narrates, "In a scene, one of the boys had to cherish eating an idli and get excited about it. Idli was a rarity back in the 80s because making the batter was not machine-assisted. But for the kid, idli is not such a rare item, which explains why he said, “Sir, I would be amazed if it was Biryani. Why would I be excited for idli?” I then had to sit him down for 30 minutes and explain the reason behind it, which would not be the case when I work with adults." He adds that explaining the period and setting to these children was the most difficult aspect of working with them.

Nonetheless, the director finds the children talented, cooperative, and very energetic. "While casting, we were looking at children with a lot of energy and stamina because the film needed them to work in peak heat and ride cycles in tough terrain. So we were looking at young dance troupes or children pursuing martial arts. We finalised a group of Silambam-learning children and shortlisted 10 kids from the group who were provided workshops before the shoot began," the director reveals. Further, he shares that lack of energy was never an issue with the young ones, as they faced other problems. "The relationship dynamics within the gang of kids would change every day. So we had to ensure that they were on good terms with each other so their enmity or petty squabbles didn’t reflect on screen," he says with a smile.

Although a film with a very small production value, the director agrees that Kurangu Pedal received visibility even before its release because it is backed by a star like Sivakarthikeyan. "I wish for Kurangu Pedal to be such a trendsetter that more stars come forward to produce such small-budget films," the director shares. 

With Kurangu Pedal up for release, Kamalakannan already has another script. "Next up, I want to do an out-and-out action film," he says, adding that he is not a genre filmmaker. "Every film, irrespective of whether it is a success or failure, gives me a life experience. As a storyteller, I want to tell stories of different varieties and gain different experiences," the director says. However, he is quick to add with a smile, "I'm not entirely sure whether the action film will be my next. After all, it took me 10 years to materialise my first film."

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