Don, the upcoming Tamil film led by actor Sivakarthikeyan, marks the directorial debut of Cibi Chakaravarthi. Scheduled to release in theatres on Friday, Don is produced by Lyca Productions in association with Sivakarthikeyan Productions.
Cibi, who previously assisted filmmaker Atlee on Theri (2016) and Mersal (2017), says Don will be an “entertaining and emotional” coming-of-age drama. “Don follows the life journey of a person named Chakaravarthi (Sivakarthikeyan) from his youth up to his 30s. The film has many themes like adventure, love, friendship, teacher-student equations, and bonding with a father figure.”
Don’s antagonist will be the decisions that the lead character makes, according to the director.
“Although major portions of the film will be set against a college backdrop, it is not just a college drama but a coming-of-age story. The title Don derives from a nickname that is playfully attributed to someone who is mischievous and thrives on light-hearted practical jokes,” says Cibi.
The filmmaker, who has also penned the script, drew from his own background in engineering for the college portions of Don, using references from his own life and those of others around him.
Cibi says he wrote the lead role with Sivakarthikeyan in mind from the beginning as the actor’s real-life persona matches that of the character. “I had used the name Chakaravarthi for the male lead on one of the film’s early drafts and it stuck.”
“I had this story in mind for many years and I just wanted to make a heart-warming, feel-good movie on life,” says Cibi, who wrote the initial draft of Don in 2013 with the intention of making a feature film. But first, he helmed a pilot project named Bit, centred around a student-teacher bond taken from the story. Then, he went on to assist Atlee on Mersal. “I was determined to make my the debut with Don. I kept working on it as and when I got the time, and eventually, the film took off in 2021.”
From the pilot to the full-length feature, Cibi says he created over 20 versions of the script, experimenting with the screenplay, but keeping the core story intact.
Aside from Sivakarthikeyan, Don features several known faces like Priyanka Arul Mohan, SJ Suryah, Samuthirakani, Soori, Sivaangi, and Bala Saravanan. “As I was writing the different versions of the script, I could picturise the actors taking on these roles. Luckily, I managed to rope in the actors who were my first choices for each role,” says Cibi.
Don marks the second collaboration of Priyanka and Sivakarthikeyan, after the black comedy film Doctor (2021). However, she had signed Don before Doctor’s release. Speaking about her casting, the filmmaker says, “I saw a photo of Priyanka from Nani’s Gang Leader and then we initiated talks with her. At the time, I think Doctor’s shooting had not started yet and we only found out later that she had been cast in Doctor. Her character in this film is in contrast to what she did in Doctor, and hence, we chose to go ahead with her.”
On directing seasoned filmmakers like Samuthirakani, Suryah, and Gautham Menon (in a cameo) in Don, Cibi notes that they were all “completely actors” on the sets. “Samuthirakani sir is a method actor and he always stays in character while on set. SJ Suryah sir would always be ready to go for an additional take, if needed. All of them supported me as the director and delivered their performances efficiently.”
Cibi notes that his earlier experience assisting Atlee aided him immensely when it came to directing such a star-studded cast in his debut. Both Theri and Mersal starred actor Vijay, along with a host of well-known actors such as Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Amy Jackson, SJ Suryah, Vadivelu, Kajal Aggarwal and Sathyaraj. “They were both big-budget projects with popular stars and many junior artists. My experience of working on them, especially collaborating with such big stars closely, gave me a lot of confidence going into my own debut,” he says.
Don went on floors in February 2021, and was wrapped up in January 2022. It was shot across several locations, including Pollachi, Chennai, Coimbatore, and Kerala. “It was a challenge to shoot at live locations in the midst of the pandemic. Most of the crew are my friends. KM Bhaskaran (cinematographer) has produced some great visuals. Editor Nagooran has been an associate of mine for years; he earlier co-edited a short film of mine. Anu Parthasarathy, the costume designer, is one of the senior-most members of our team, in terms of experience, and I got a lot of great inputs from her,” says Cibi.
Referring to Anirudh Ravichander, who has composed the music, as the “pillar” of the film, Cibi says the songs and background score are some of the most significant elements of Don. The music director has composed five songs for the film.
Despite multiple delays, the team stayed firm on releasing the film in theatres, says Cibi. “It is my debut film and Don is meant to be watched in theatres. All of us were in strong agreement that the film had to be seen on the big screen.”
On what the future holds, the director says, “Working with such big names has given me the motivation and confidence to keep pursuing my dreams. This will serve as the base for all my future films. I am currently working on a few scripts, one of them is an action drama, which will be completely different from Don.”