‘Rocky and Saani Kaayidham are part of a revenge trilogy’: director Arun Matheswaran


Director Arun Matheswaran talks to TNM about his second directorial venture Saani Kaayidham, the casting of Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan, the decision to go for an OTT release, and more.

Actor Keerthy Suresh, who won the national award for his performance as the charismatic, elegant and graceful Savitri in the 2018 film mahanati (biopic of veteran actor Savitri), is a police officer who commits 24 murders in Saani Kayidham. Filmmaker Selvaraghavan also appears in a new role, having made his acting debut with The beast (2022). Director Arun Matheswaran, who had his OTT premiere on Amazon Prime Video on May 6, is lopsided in his portrayal of two ruthless killers – Sangaiah (Selvaraghavan) and Ponni (Keerthy Suresh). Gripping footage in the trailer – Sangaiah lighting a cigarette with her hands covered in blood, Ponni holding an aruval (machete) with her face twisted in rage; or the monochrome shot in which Ponni dubs the phrase “I want to tear your spine and kill you” – had already aroused the interest of moviegoers.

Saani Kayidham marks the second directorial venture for Arun, who debuted with the film Rocky. The film hit the big screens last year after suffering several delays, nearly 15 years since Arun entered the film industry. It received critical acclaim and won praise for its unique and intriguing directing style. Arun had previously worked with Thiagarajan Kumararaja in his first film Aranya Kaandam (2010) as an assistant, an experience that steers him towards directing. Currently, a film with actor Dhanush is also being prepared for him. Director Arun Matheswaran talks to TNM about the decision to cast Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan for his second film, the decision to go for an OTT release, and more.

Saani Kaayidham’s trailer had already piqued fans’ interest. What can we expect from the film?

Saani Kaayidham is a simple and straightforward revenge story. It is also an emotional drama. This will be the second film in a revenge trilogy that I have planned. Rocky was the first. I would like to direct the third film much later.

There were some similarities between Rocky and Saani Kayidham. Monochrome frames, single-shot sequences…

Since both films are part of the trilogy, one would find similarities. I felt the black and white footage added a layer to the narrative, and the single shot images were part of that style of filmmaking. But you will also find aspects that are specific to this film. All the technicians who worked on it knew my style of directing after seeing Rocky, but I also had separate discussions with the art and stunt directors, the cinematographer, the editor, etc., to discuss the style that we are looking for to make this film. Also, there are no songs in the movie. We only use a background score. Sam CS (the music composer) has done a phenomenal job improving this score. We also used a lot of techniques of silence and ambience, which becomes very effective in this kind of film.

Watch the trailer for Saani Kayidham:

Do you expect the actors to collaborate or submit to your vision? Given that director Selvaraghavan also has a distinctive cinematic style, were you worried about the clash of sensibilities?

Not at all. It was very clear from day one that when he comes on set, he just wants to come in as an actor. Each director has his own style and his own signature. Selvaraghavan, as a director, understood my style. He was very cooperative.

About the actors being collaborative, I’m a director who doesn’t play the scenes while discussing them with the actors. When I told Keerthy the sequence and told her about the vibe of the scene, she gave me options showing how she can act. I’m not very rigid in that sense. I like to have the opinion of the actors. Ultimately, they are the ones who carry and deliver the performance. So there is a collaboration, but not to the point of making changes to the scene. If they give their opinions and they are feasible, we retain them.

Keerthy Suresh and Selvaraghavan at Saani Kaayidham. Source: Amazon Prime Video

Raw, hard-hitting films that depict violence have often sparked discussions about “the glorification of violence versus sensitive portrayal.” As a filmmaker, how do you see this debate?

I’m not a big fan of the idea that movies can influence people. Cinema as an art has only been around for about 120 years, while violence as an emotion is part of the universe. Even filmmakers depict violence in their films only after seeing examples and stories of such acts in real life.

If someone has a weak mind, he can be influenced not only by watching movies, but also by everything around him. Even a photograph can create a lasting impression. The people who watched Rocky or other violent movies aren’t about killing people, are they? Also, I think only adult audiences with a certain level of maturity would choose to watch such movies.

I understand that audiences can be influenced by how actors look on screen. Fans would imitate their looks or the way they dance in a song, but I’m not sure about the same when it comes to depicting violence.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you had an alternate version of Rocky’s script with a female lead in mind. Is Keerthy Suresh’s character in Saani Kaayidham also an extension of this idea?

For Rocky, I had two other versions – one with a woman and another with an old man playing the lead role. We haven’t seen many female figures on screen. I still think we need more female action characters on screen, and more actors taking on such roles. This is how the character of Keerthy Suresh in Saani Kayidham also happened. But for her, he was a character with a lot of performance possibilities. She didn’t look at the aspect of violence.

How did you decide to cast Keerthy? Did you have other options in mind? How did she prepare for the role?

I haven’t looked at other options. Keerthy asked me the same question. She asked “why me”. I looked at it as a USP (unique selling proposition) of the character. You’ve never seen Keerthy play a role like this before. It brings an extra layer to the character. Audiences are now thrilled to know what Keerthy Suresh or Selvaraghavan look like in such roles.

Keerthy thought mastering accent, body language and mannerisms was a challenge. But she is a phenomenal actress who acts spontaneously. We had reading sessions and she referred to videos to fully understand certain aspects. But she didn’t have to do much homework or anything.

Photos of actor Keerthy Suresh by Saani Kaayidham. Source: Amazon Prime Video

Why did you decide to release the film on OTT? Would it be fair to say that it acts as a platform for movies that don’t fit the business model?

With OTT, the film was able to reach a wider audience. Rocky didn’t have that, and it was a pain that I must have felt. Same Saani Kayidham was originally written for the big screen. But that was the producer’s call to release it on OTT after the lockdown and other pandemic-induced restrictions.

The way I see OTT platforms is like a supermarket. The public has the choice between many products. It also broke the A, B, C classification that existed before. This makes it difficult for filmmakers to separate audiences based on center or demographics. Everyone watches all kinds of movies.

When filmmakers don’t know their audience, is it difficult for them to know what kind of film would appeal to the viewer’s sensibilities?

When filmmakers no longer cater to a specific demographic, they will need to be very aware. There is a pressure to ensure that our films are well made, appreciated and aware. It influences the filmmakers a bit. Lately, we are also witnessing a “pan-Indian” trend. But I don’t believe in the word pan-Indian. If we look at it at the most basic level, filmmakers write and make films hoping that audiences will find them appealing. If they like the movie, they succeed in different places.

But a director doesn’t need to genericize his movies or water them down to make sure they reach more people. For example, they don’t need to shoot overseas or have English dialogue to attract international audiences. As long as the story is authentic and rooted, we can spread it on international platforms.

What can you tell us about your new project with actor Dhanush?

It won’t be like my first two films. At this point, I can only say that it will be a full-scale action-adventure movie.


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