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Nalan Kumarasamy Interview: A Man Without A Plan

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There is a character in Nalan Kumarasamy’s debut feature film Soodhu Kavvum, who is banished from his conservative village. Why? Because he built a temple devoted to actress Nayanthara. Another character is a kidnapper. He treats his ‘job’ like any other legitimate profession. After all, it has its own rules and regulations. In all his films, short or feature length, everyone has characteristic quirks. They take impromptu decisions, are tempted by easy money, and can be evil without feeling guilty. None of them make long-term plans about serious things like life.

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When Nalan Kumarasamy says “I am a man without a plan,” I’m reminded of the three-toed sloth in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, whose life is in “perfect harmony with his environment.” An engineering graduate, Nalan tried his hand at event management, worked in a friend’s mechanical company, and even dabbled in real-estate. Then he tried his luck with Naalaya Iyakkunar, a private TV reality show which uncovers filmmaking talents.

“Did you enjoy all those jobs?” I ask. “Oh Yes, I did,” he says, “If Nalaaya Iyakkunar hadn’t happened, I might have become an industrialist.”

But he never lost sight of cinema, “I was always interested in films. Even while doing these jobs, I used to write screenplays. I had plans to meet directors and pitch my story ideas. I used to write stage plays at school,” he reminisces.

Watch: Nalan Kumarasamy’s short film for the Nalaaya Iyakkunar finals.

Nalan’s second film, Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum, is gearing up for release. The film is a romantic comedy, Nalan’s first ever attempt in this genre. “In most romantic movies, the couple meet in the beginning or somewhere in the middle of the storyline, and their struggle to reunite forms the rest of the story,” he says. “In KaKaPo, the lead man is a gangster. An innocent gangster, I would say. He meets a middle-class girl with a modern outlook. The film ends when they fall in love. It narrates their long journey towards love. It’s not an easy route. KaKaPo tracks them as they go through the various stages of their relationship.”

The film was named Eskimo Kadhal before. “The producers thought the name felt slightly alien. So we settled for Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum.” I remark that the name sounds poetic. “Our producer (CV Kumar) suggested the name,” he says. “It’s an abstract title. I thought it looked at love like it’s a phase of life. The way we say, ‘This too shall pass’.”

Watch: The trailer of Kadhalum Kadandhu Pogum.

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KaKaPo was originally Nalan’s back-up plan for Soodhu Kavvum. He planned to make the film only if a producer couldn’t be found for Soodhu Kavvum, which was an unconventional dark-comedy. Now, two years later, it’s KaKaPo‘s turn.

Why did you wait this long to announce your next film?

(laughs) “It’s part laziness and part carelessness. I am not an ambitious person. This movie is an official remake of a Korean film (My Dear Desperado). We had the script two years ago and it was ready to go. But producers and well-wishers said this genre would be too much of a jump for me, from where I was in my career. They asked me to begin with something that was more my own style. I started working on another script. But subsequently, I dropped it because I felt it wasn’t working out.”

Isn’t it worrying? When you work on a script for so long and then find out that it isn’t worth doing?

I didn’t worry about the time I lost working on that script. I never worry about lost time. I am good at losing time. (laughs) I was happy that I could find out it wasn’t working. I felt it was starting to resemble Soodhu Kavvum and I didn’t want to repeat a genre. Despite my efforts, it was becoming a film in my ‘typical’ style – dark humour. I didn’t want that to happen. My producer asked me for a solo-hero script, and I mentioned this Korean movie that I had watched in 2008. I said if he could get me the rights, I would make the movie.

What made you want to remake that particular film?

I decided to remake that film because I liked the way the relationship progressed in it. It’s an out-of-the box story. There is romance, but it’s subtle. No sappiness and candyfloss lines. I like such romantic films. When Harry Met Sally, 500 Days of SummerUnnaale Unnaale, Aliapayuthe, Idhayathe Thirudaathethese are some of my favourite romantic dramas.

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Nalan was one of the 11 directors who worked on X: Past is Present, a 2015 Indian collaborative feature film. Gautham Vasudev Menon was supposed to direct the portion Nalan directed, which had been penned by Thiyagarajan Kumararaja of Aaranya Kaandam fame.

I expected it to be very different film. But the experience wasn’t unusual. I had many apprehensions in the beginning, but I was comfortable with it. Like, I thought it would be difficult to work on someone else’ script. But it was easy. Kumararaja and I belong to almost the same school of filmmaking. We don’t do the same things, but there is a connect between our styles.

One thing I learned from the sets of X was improvisation. I had never improvised on the sets of Soodhu Kavvum because it was done on a tight schedule. I didn’t get time to deal with actors. In X, we improvised a lot, and it helped me with  KaKaPo as well. This film is centered around Vijay and Madonna, and they take up most of the screen time. I had to be patient with the actors, give them my inputs, and let them improvise while shooting. That was a different kind of process. That worked well.

Which do you enjoy the most – writing or directing?

I would say, both. If you ask me what I enjoy the most, I would say ‘doing nothing’ (laughs). I like writing and directing. Since I trained in making short films, I don’t write anything that I can’t bring on screen. There is very little fat in my writing. Short films taught me to be time conscious – about the screen-time of a particular scene as well the time spent on writing and executing it. I never write ‘casual scenes’. There is a disadvantage to that. I tend to get very impatient when a scene isn’t working out. In Soodhu Kavvum, that happened.

Why did you repeat the crew?

There was no need to try different people. I am comfortable working with the people I am familiar with. I roped in music director Santhosh Narayanan for this one, and it worked. Both of us are freaks of a kind. We challenge ourselves to try new things. For KaKaPo, we decided not to repeat the Soodhu Kavvum style of music. It’s intense and romantic.

How did you handle the casting for KaKaPo?

We tried a lot of actors to fit the faces we had in mind. I struggled to find an actress for the female lead. Madonna Sebastian doesn’t resemble the heroines we see in films. She is like the girl next door. She has a very pleasant face. It has universal appeal. There won’t be a single person who dislikes her. And she can act brilliantly too.

Vijay Sethupathy was a gangster in my first film. In this film, again, he is a gangster. That’s why I say, this is a regular cliché movie (laughs).

He wasn’t my first choice. I pitched the story to a number of actors, including Sashikumar and Suriya. They all thought the role was tailor-made for Vijay. Not that I didn’t know it already. And Vijay knew it too. But I wanted someone else to do this role, to break the typecast. Finally, I went back to Vijay. He laughed and said, “I knew you would come to me.”

Vijay isn’t working towards being a star. He is an actor, first and last. His stardom is accidental. He is doing what he likes. I hope he doesn’t succumb to typical stardom. I want him to act and be great at that.

Was it hard to find a producer?

For KaKaPo, not so much. But for Soodhu Kavvum, yes. Because it was a film about kidnappers and evil-doers. That I could find a producer for the movie was sheer luck. I don’t think even CV Kumar knew the full scope of the movie. I think he assumed it would the usual fun movie.

I believe that people without long-term plans can never harm society. That’s what the characters in the film are like. They are careless, lazy dreamers who do nothing. Even when they kidnap people, they are nice and humble towards them. They are not bad people. The real evil-doer in the movie is the Minister, who has a plan in mind. The lazy people are good, not evil.

Who are your inspirations? 

I used to read a lot. These days, I don’t. I go on binges. Sometimes I go on a reading binge that lasts for a year or more. Then, I start watching movies.

One of my favourite directors is Mani Ratnam. If you are from Tamil Nadu, you can’t help but be a Mani Ratnam fan. I like films made by Bala and Gautham Menon. I started watching foreign movies only after 2000. After the internet became popular. I admire the Coen brothers and Guy Ritchie. Their movies are really inspiring. They are my school. Like them, I want to make movies in different genres.

There are two ways of jumping genres. One, the way the Coen brothers do it. All their movies, in spite of generic differences, have the Coen Brothers’ signature all over them. There is another way, the way director Tom Tykwer did it. His films, Run Lola Run, International and Perfume, are so different from each other. It’s hard to believe that these movies were made by the same director. I still don’t know what I want to be.

What is your idea of a good film?

I think if it’s told well, it’s a good film. It’s not the story or ideology that makes a film good. It’s the way it is narrated.

I didn’t assist anyone before doing a feature film. I learned everything from my short filmmaking experience. I always ensure that I do a proper recce for my film. That’s the key to good direction. Even a good cameraman can’t work well if the location and art production aren’t proper.

You are friends with a lot of your fellow film-makers…

Yes. Karthik Subbaraj, Alphonse Putheren, Manikandan and so on. We are the industry now. We bonded at the Naalaya Iyakkunar show. I competed against them, but we were all friends. Even now, I discuss ideas with them. We help each other out. They are sensible and genuine people. I think every filmmaker should consult trusted people before venturing out with a script.

Do you have a dream project?

I don’t know yet. I might make a big budget film in the future. I can’t say when. I want to direct Vadi Velu sometime. I want to make a musical. A dance movie. A Kung Fu movie. A proper action movie. A good satire like Burn After Reading. I am open to everything.

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