I felt that the film would have a broader scope if Rajinikanth the lord acted on it: Manikandan

In the three films he has done so far: Kaaka Muttai, Kuttrame Thandanai and Aandavan Kattalai, director M Manikandan has shown that a filmmaker does not have to preach to take a message home. Your next movie, Kadaisi Vivasayi , he revolves around a farmer, but says that the film will not criticize his message, but will entertain them like any conventional movie. Tells us why I would not call it a small movie, why Rajinikanth he could not take on the lead role and the cameos of Vijay Sethupathi & Yogi babu . Extracts:

What is Kadaisi Vivasayi?

When I started writing it, the story was about this farmer for whom there is no life beyond farming. But by the time I finished filming, it had turned into a story about a village as well. The plot revolves around a village that is organising a festival for its deity. They need some rice that was grown in the village to offer the deity, but then realise no one is into farming there. So, they end up at the doors of a small farmer, the lone farmer in the village. What happens after that is what the film is all about. The film doesn’t speak about farmers’ issues, but about farming. You don’t have to talk about the issues farming is facing & urge people to save it. I believe that if I just show what farming actually is, it will influence someone watching it to take it up. I realised how farming & worship were one & the same in the past. It is only recently that we’ve started to look at farming as a job.

What was the origin?

I got this spark after I’d completed Kaaka Muttai... About a hearing-impaired farmer in the deep south who doesn’t know modern stuff like fertilisers, hybrid seeds or even police station. But I couldn’t take it up immediately. After Aandavan Kattalai, I had to take up a bigger project & this one felt right as it touches upon a variety of issues.

So, is not this a small movie?

In fact, among the films I’ve made till date, this has the highest budget. That’s why it has taken a longer time to make. Generally, such village-set films are done in a budget of `3-4 crore. But this took 95 days just to shoot, & involved over 300 artistes, with 30 principal cast members. We shot it with two cameras, & have used sync sound. There was also elaborate set work. We had to put up sets of a sub-jail, a court, & a police station because we were shooting with sync sound & it would not be possible to shoot that way in actual locations.

What was the need to synchronize the sound?

I couldn’t have shot this film any other way. Most of the actors are people who are working in the regions where we shot in. They did not act because they wanted to act. They came to act because they saw it as a means to earn some money as farming doesn’t earn them as much these days. Many of them are above 50 & it wouldn’t have been possible to make everyone come to Chennai to dub. There are people who haven’t even gone to Madurai yet! Also, it would have been very difficult to get them to dub. In Kaaka Muttai, except for the two boys, the rest of the cast were professional artistes. Here, other than Vijay Sethupathi & Yogi babu , no one else had acting experience.

How hard was it to shoot like this? Did this influence your way of directing because your previous films have been filmed in the usual way?

Budget was a challenge. Usually, the camera equipment is the costliest in a shooting spot. We also had to hire the audio equipment here. The director & the cinematographer are the deciding authorities when it comes to okaying a shot. But here, we had eight more people as part of the crew, who formed the sound team, who also were the deciding authorities. We also had to go & stop people in the neighbouring areas from making too much noise or playing music. If you plan to shoot 20 shots in a day, you will be able to complete a maximum of only 15 shots because of all these factors. These things increase your budget. You could shoot a Kaaka Muttai with the budget we’ve spent on live sound. Direction-wise, you need to have patience. The other thing is you have to be totally prepared before going to shoot. Every morning, the sound engineers need to be told how you are planning to shoot… the lensing, framing & composing, because they will have to set up the mikes in the corresponding perspectives. You cannot change these things on a whim, for, that will affect the sound recording. Also, the ambient sounds will change every two hours. That meant you cannot take a shot in the morning & shoot a continuation shot from the same scene in the evening. This is where planning comes in.

According to reports, you auditioned several people before ending the actor who plays the central character. What qualities were you looking for?

I needed someone who was 75 years old or above. The character is a unique one. He is someone who coexists with nature. What is philosophy for us is a way of life for him. I wanted someone who came close to such a character & ultimately found this person, Nallandi, in Perungamanallur, a village near Madurai. Everyone is expressive in their own way, but only a few know how to repeat expressions. Actors need this skill, & Nallandi ayya had it.

When you use a star like Vijay Sethupathi as a supporting actor, does that change things?

To be frank, such a thing happens only because of Vijay Sethupathi . Who else does such a thing? When he plays a supporting character, he doesn’t come into the project as a star. He comes in as a junior artiste. I told him this story, & this character, Ramaiah, a Muruga bhaktan. There is a certain attitude to this character. Even as I was narrating, he told me that he wanted to play this role. I never write characters with actors in mind, for, so many things change as the production takes shape. Take Kaaka Muttai… Vijay Sethupathi was supposed to play the character of the boys’ father, but that didn’t materialise. So, when he said he wanted to do Ramaiah, I didn’t take it seriously. The character involved physical work, like climbing hills, which would take two-and-a-half hours. If it was a lead role, you can force an actor to do such things as he is the hero, but how can you ask a star to do such things when he is playing a supporting character? So, even as Vijay Sethupathi was saying that he’d do these things, I kept telling that he won’t as I knew the hardship involved. But he came! Even if we were shooting just one scene, he’d come & be with us the whole day. He took such an interest in the role. Even if he appears only in three or four scenes, this is a character that both of us love. And I’m sure audiences, too, will love it. The same goes for Yogi babu ’s character.

What role does he play?

He also plays a minor role. He is from the village’s biggest farming family. They would have sold off their 15-acre farm land & bought an elephant in the hope of making some money with it. He will be seen roaming around with the elephant in the film.