Tamil Interviews

The ‘Fear’ Factor: Interview With Arun Vaidyanathan

Arun Vaidyanathan’s 2010 short film, One Soul, isn’t what you would call scary.


It’s creepy.

A man greets his family at breakfast. He scoops cereal onto a bowl, pours some milk, and tries to make conversation.

He sighs when they don’t respond, leans back, and literally breathes life into his father, who ‘wakes up’. The father picks up the newspaper, does a few things around the house, and settles back in his chair.

It’s now his wife’s turn to be up; the rest of them remain seated at the table – in a zombie-like fashion.


Arun Vaidyanathan loves the thrilling stuff. He admits to being excited by the ‘fear’ element, as he calls it.

In a 2007 short film titled ‘As You Wish’, an old couple reminisce their younger days through music; the wife is on her deathbed, and the husband, after several professions of love, chokes her to death with a pillow.

In yet another, ‘Noose’, a man contemplates a noose in front of him for a long time; you’d think he’s about to hang himself, but he’s just cleaning up a murder.

Arun’s debut in Tamil, the 2009 film, Achchamundu Achchamundu, dealt with fear of a different kind. An Indian immigrant couple in the USA tries to protect their ten-year-old daughter from a suspiciously kind man who arrives to paint their basement. Before that though, Arun establishes a happy family at the film’s centre, the kind that tattoos their child’s name on the number plate.

Kalyana Samayal Sadham (2013) and the Malayalam film Peruchazhi (2014) were perhaps the only ones that did not channel fear – not the in-your-face element of fright, anyway. Arun, who wrote the story for KSS, broke some social structures with his script. About a couple who marries by neatly circumventing ‘tradition’, the movie starred Prasanna and Lekha Washington in lead roles. And, quite like Achamundu, which explored something socially relevant, KSS touched upon erectile dysfunction, and dealt with it sensitively.


Arun’s latest film, Nibunan – releasing today – is a “complete family entertainer”, he says, while at the same time, being the thriller that the filmmaker is so fond of. “Fear drives everyone,” he declares, “not just me.”

One of his short films, ‘The Séance’, was born out of the desire to talk to a friend who had just died; the film is about a man who tries to get in touch with his dead wife.

Arun would love to take ‘The Séance’ to Hollywood someday, and also make a Tamil version of it here.


Having begun his film career by directing short films across themes, Arun Vaidyanathan was, for a while, working for a software firm in the USA. He attributes all his filmmaking skills to influences in the town of Sirkazhi in Tamil Nadu, a place where he grew up. “There was no other means of entertainment in Sirkazhi other than cinema theatres. Even if you want to go to the beach, you’d have to walk 20 kms,” he says, “I used to watch four films a week. Also, my family loved Sivaji Ganesan, we would discuss and analyse every Sivaji film the day it released.”

Arun’s father, a mimicry artiste, was also a stage play actor, who had attended casting calls to some Tamil films including Kaadhalikka Neramillai.


Understanding why a film flops is the challenging part of filmmaking, says Arun. “If a director knows what contributes to a film’s failure, he would never deliver a flop. That’s the thing – none of us know the fate of the film until it hits the screens. You can perhaps realise why a film has failed to work if you watch it as a member of the audience.”

For his latest release, Nibunan, the filmmaker says he’d brought in Arjun for reasons other than his fiery stunt sequences. “Yes, he’s known for his action-packed performances, but I am a fan of Arjun’s acting skills. He has a lot of emotional scenes in Nibunan, and he has done them well. I love the scene in Mudhalvan where Arjun cries and expresses his frustration when his parents die in a bomb blast. I have tried to bring that Arjun back in this film. I wrote the script with him in mind,” explains Arun.


Nibunan is also Arjun Sarja’s 150th film. Do you believe in numbers, I ask Arun “150 movies is a big achievement,” he says, “These days, actors do just one film a year. No contemporary actor can achieve this feat. Back in time, I remember watching five Arjun films a year. Yesteryear actors would even work on close to seven films a year. In Arjun’s time, numbers were not a big thing, but now, they do matter. That is why many actors name their untitled film with the number added to the working title. Even 15 is a big number these days.”

Is Prasanna, with whom Arun has been collaborating since his first film, another favourite, I wonder. Prasanna plays Joseph, a cop, in Nibunan. “Whenever I write something, Prasanna is the first person who comes to mind. He never overacts. We share the same wavelength, and he is also a fun person to work with.”

Nibunan, starring Arjun, Prasanna and Varalaxmi, releases today.


The Arun Vaidyanathan interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.