Pushkar-Gayathri have made only two films in Tamil, and both are distinctive. Oram Po (2007) and Va Quarter Cutting (2010) are characterised by oddball characters who comically explore the underbelly of Chennai. The directing duo shifts gears in Vikram Vedha, a gangster thriller that takes off from the Vikram-Vetal folk story. The movie stars Madhavan, Vijay Sethupathi, Shraddha Srinath, Varalaxmi Sarathkumar and Kathir.
Vikram Vedha was to have been released on July 7, but the release was stalled by the shutdown of movie theatres in Tamil Nadu over the imposition of an entertainment tax over and above the General Sales Tax. In an interview with Scroll.in, Gayathri hoped that the movie would be out by July 14.
The trailer suggests that both the characters in ‘Vikram Vedha’ possess a dark streak.
In a usual cop film, there is the characteristic good cop-bad gangster or a gangster with a heart of gold battling a corrupt cop. There is almost always a clear delineation between the good guy and the bad guy. Apart from exploring the structure, we wanted to base the film out of that fundamental idea of good vs bad, which is a very relative concept. It all depends on how you see things.
How have you interpreted the Vikram Vetal myth?
While we were brainstorming about ideas around morality and different perspectives, the folktale of Vikramadityan and Vetal fascinated us. The children’s tale poses very morally ambiguous questions, which can have different answers. We wanted to toy around with this idea.
From Chandru-Bigil in ‘Oram Po’ and Sura-Marthandan in ‘Va Quarter Cutting’, your films are centred on a duo’s exploits.
We avoid making protagonist or hero-oriented films, which glorifies a single person. To offset that in terms of writing and character development, two people work very well for a script. Vikram Vedha too is like two sides of a coin. But maybe subconsciously, it is so maybe because we are a duo behind the camera too.
Both ‘Oram Po’ and ‘Va Quarter Cutting’ explore Chennai in quirky ways, from its geography to its unique lingo.
Both of us being born and brought up in Chennai, Pushkar and I like the local flavour of the city. Chennai has a lot of colour. We realised this especially when we went abroad to study film. Distancing yourself away from the city, you have very fond memories of the city. That triggered us to do very rooted films about the city.
In Vikram Vedha too, the locations and casting of the film is very Madras. The mood of the film however, is that of a dramatic thriller. The genre of comedy in Oram Po and Va amped up the pop culture traits of the Chennai.
‘Va Quarter Cutting’ was released in 2010. Any reason behind the long gap?
Usually we aren’t bothered by the pressure of churning out films and work with our own space and time. While we did work on a couple of other scripts in the meantime, we didn’t even pitch them to anybody because there was something missing. We were waiting to write a script that thoroughly excited us. And Vikram Vedha being a difficult plot to crack, it took us time to get it just right.
At that point of time, the genre of quirky comedy with non-linear structures was a complete novelty. But over the past five or six years, there have been many such films. The genre has now almost become passe and so we wanted to explore a more complex genre and storyline.
The film is still nothing like any other Tamil film that has been done before. So that is the novelty value to Vikram Vedha.
What was it like to work with Madhavan and Vijay Sethupathi?
Both Madhavan and Vijay are very confident actors who didn’t have any reason to worry about one over-shadowing the other. But the two have a very different approach towards acting. While Madhavan internalises the character and is a more method actor, Vijay is an instinctive actor, who likes to go along with the rhythm.
While their contrasting schools of acting made us a little apprehensive before shooting, it worked out perfectly on the set. They respect each other’s work and give each other their space.
What are your thoughts on the theatre strike in Tamil Nadu?
I hope they sort it out, because no industry can take a 60% tax. And the film industry in particular is a huge gamble because most films don’t make money. As it is, it is a struggle for the makers of a film to produce a project. If not encourage, at least don’t stamp down our efforts. We are hoping to tentatively release the film on July 14.
You tend to use distinctive props, such as the auto rickshaw in ‘Oram Po’ and a bottle of liquor in ‘Va’. What does ‘Vikram Vedha’ have?
Both Pushkar and I are very obsessive with even the smallest of details when it comes to making a film, especially the background elements. The auto and the quarter bottle are the two protagonists in the earlier films. In Vikram Vedha, the gun plays a very significant role.
What has changed in Tamil cinema since you started making films?
Technicality is the one big change we faced. Va was the last movie we shot on film. Now everything has become digital. Further, with the coming of digital advancements, there are so many more filmmakers in the industry. It has also changed the way people work in cinema.