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"Ketta Payyan sir indha Kabali" - Director Pa. Ranjith
(Sunday, 4th October 2015)

With just two films — Attakathi and Madras — director Pa Ranjith has carved a niche for himself in the industry. The intensity with which he approached both the films, their successes and his handling the subject are perhaps what earned him this chance to direct Rajinikanth in Kabali. But though it is a dream-come-true chance for a director to get a Rajini project, Ranjith is quite grounded. He is someone who takes life as it comes, he says, and avers he wants everything in his life to be simple and realistic. In this interview with Times of India, Ranjith shares the fears that plagued him after he netted Rajini for Kabali, and more...

Directing Rajinikanth is something that any filmmaker would die for — what do you think made him sign your project?
After Madras, I committed to a project with producer Gnanavel Raja. Meanwhile, I got a call from Soundarya Rajnikanth, with whom I was initially supposed to do my debut film, Attakathi. She asked whether I can do a film for her, but I couldn't due to prior commitments. After few days, she again called me and said that Rajini sir is listening to scripts, and that he has mentioned my name to her. To recall an incident, Rajini sir had called me after watching my second film, Madras, and appreciated me for the way I had handled the subject. Later, I narrated two scripts, which I had earlier written, to Soundarya. She loved one, and that is now Kabali.

Your first meeting with Rajinikanth...
When I stepped out from Rajini sirs home — more than being excited, I was afraid. A man of his stature believed in my abilities and gave me this opportunity to direct him. All I thought of was how to do justice to that belief, and nothing else. I did lot of homework, as I need to be true to my style of filmmaking, while at the same time ensuring it gelled with Rajini sir's image as an actor. I also analysed the mistakes that I had made in my previous films, and kept thinking about how to avoid them. 

Madras was all about life as it is in north Madras, and it also had a social message. What about Kabali?
Kabali, too, has a social message. In fact, every film of mine will definitely have one. I don't want to preach, but I definitely want my films to open up discussions among the audience on a given issue, and about the way I have perceived and portrayed it. I have a purpose to being here — it's the one reason I wanted to be a filmmaker in the first place. Cinema is a popular medium, we can communicate a lot of things to the masses, and I want to do that.

Your family's reaction after you signed Rajini's film...
My parents are very down-to-earth, light-hearted people. They too were little afraid, initially. My appa came to me and said, There are many expectations riding on this film, and so, put all your efforts into making it your best.

Is it true that you have retained 90% of your cast and crew from your previous film, Madras, for Kabali?
Yes. For any filmmaker, a workplace comfort zone is important, and that's why I have roped in most of the cast from Madras. Moreover, I always want my actors to lose their 'star'ness and live the character in the film, only then will the audience easily relate them when they see them on screen. They must be purely an artiste and not a star. And that's what my story demands, too. And every member of Madras was like that.

What's Rajini's character in Kabali like?
Back then in those days, the guys called 'rowdies' — say those in north Madras — were actually not bad guys at all. Rowdies then used to do good things for the people and society. Rajini sir's character in the film is on those lines. Also, I am an ardent fan of director Mahendran; I think he is one of the best directors in Tamil Cinema. Rajini sir's characterisation in Mahendran's film, Mullum Malarum, has always been a 'lesson' of sorts for me. His character in that film, Kaali, is so strong... the anger he carries within him throughout the film is something else altogether — it burns the screen. And, though he loses one hand in that film, that egoistic anger within him remains the same. His punchline, 'Rendu kai rendu kaalu pona kooda indha Kaali Pozhachikuvan sir, Ketta payyan sir, avan. Kabali is such a character, and that Kaali influence will be there in my film.

Any punch dialogues in Kabali?
There are no punch dialogues in the film, as the name Kabali itself is like a punch dialogue. Plus, the script doesn't demand it.

The story behind the Superstar's white beard, or the Kabali-look...
I wanted Rajini sir to be in his original look, without undergoing much of a makeover. I asked him whether he can sport a white beard for the role, and he immediately agreed. In fact, it's one of the reasons, according to him, why he confirmed this project. He wanted to do a role which shows off his real age, and his real self, and look. What's amazing is, he has further reduced his weight for the role. In fact, he often asks me whether I want him to reduce more.

About Radhika Apte...
Radhika is yet to join the set. Her scenes will be shot in the coming days. She plays Kabali's wife in the film.

How is the shoot progressing?
Everyone is happy about the progress till now. We are currently shooting in Chennai, and will be leaving for Malaysia next month. The first look of the film was also received well, and that gave us a lot of positive energy. Rajini sir comes to the set in the morning, and sits throughout the shoot, even when he is done with his scenes. It amazes me to see such dedication at this age.

Life after Kabali — have you thought about it?
Directing Kabali itself is something unexpected. I don't plan anything in my life. There is nothing called a 'big film' or a 'small film' according to me. I will just be true to my art. For my debut film, Attakathi, I went to my location every day at 6.30am, and took the first shot at 7.00am. That's what I do for Kabali too, and I will continue doing the same for all my films. Artistes and location might change, but my work and dedication will remain the same.

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