A single line inspired Tamil director CS Amudhan’s 2010 hit Thamizh Padam.
Looking to make his directorial debut, Amudhan had one sentence in mind: “A village that is intolerant of male infants.” What resulted was a feature-length spoof, one that would win commercial success as well as critical acclaim.
“It was a complete shot in the dark and a gamble everywhere,” Amudhan told Scroll.in. “It was basically a genre that had never been attempted, and we did not know if the audiences would be accepting. The fact that it worked was good fortune.”
The Shiva-starrer, which parodied cliched plot devices and characters in Tamil cinema, is back for a sequel. Thamizh Padam 2.0 will be released in July.
Through the saga of an aspiring film star, Thamizh Padam sent up every beloved plot device in Tamil cinema. The sequel sees Shiva takes on the Tamil Nadu police, one of the most overused professional groups in Tamil films. The cast of the Y NOT Studios production includes Iswarya Menon, Disha Pandey, Sathish, Santhana Bharathi and Manobala.
“We have tried to maintain some continuity from Thamizh Padam,” Amudhan said. “Everything else is different. It is mounted on a much bigger scale than what we were able to afford before. I think this film will be a much bigger cinematic experience than the original. At the same time people are going to come into the theatre thinking it is a certain kind of a movie. We will have to surprise them again.”
Amudhan did not expect his first film to be such a success. “To be very honest with you, we were not very serious about the film,” he explained. “We did not think that the film was the beginning of our career or anything of that sort. I wrote it, pitched it, got it approved and the star got on board immediately. We did not have time to think. We shot it in one rush and released it almost immediately. We were not very careful [and did not] consider too many things before the film.”
Largely featuring fresh faces, Tamizh Padam got away with with mocking popular screen icons including Rajinikanth, Vijay and Suriya. Amudhan credited the spoof’s success to the Tamil film audience’s maturity, but also acknowledged that fans can sometimes be loyal to a fault.
“We are like an equal-opportunity employer,” Amudhan said. “We did not single out anybody in the film. For fans, that is a consolation. If I go after their idols, I am also going after other people’s idols. It tells them that there is no agenda and that we are not doing this to attack anybody. That is probably why we did not get trolled.”
The movie further levelled the playing field by going after classics such as Nayagan and Thalapathi. “These are cult films,” Amudhan pointed out. “You basically go after the top-of-the-mind pop culture stuff. I think the audiences got that.”
How were references to so many films and characters woven into the limited run time? “The writing process usually starts with a theme,” Amudhan said. “You start with an exciting scene or an idea and then that kind of feeds the writing of the entire script. It sets the tone of the film. I keep referring back to that idea to see if every other scene is falling within that context. Everything is measured against that original idea.”
The scenes also need to make the allusions clear to the audience, Amudhan pointed out. “The Thupakki [Vijay’s 2012 film] reference from the teaser is an example,” Amudhan said. “You put a man against a Mumbai backdrop wearing that sweatshirt with two guns in hand and you do not need to say anything more. People immediately get the reference of Thupakki.”
That Tamil film fans are a knowledgeable bunch also helps. “I don’t think even I have the knowledge that they have,” the filmmaker said. “They sometimes pick references which even I did not know or intend to place in the film.”
Still, wouldn’t it be a niche set that can pick up on all the references? The genre automatically ends up finding its audience, the filmmaker said. “People above 40 and people who do not regularly watch Tamil movies are not going to get the film,” Amudhan pointed out. “They might still laugh, but might not get the references. You are not looking for a 100 crore collection and that is alright. It works better with a different audience.”
A strong story line is also important, Amudhan said. “I often get questioned regarding the relevance of spoofs now when everybody is a meme creator,” he said. “The cinematic experience that we can give you will not be visible in those things. It is a very thin line. We were careful about not descending into silliness. All the criteria that go into a regular film still apply here, including character arcs and movements.”
It has taken Amudhan eight years to mount the sequel, and with good reason. “I did not want to do a spoof again knowing very well that I would be typecast for it,” Amudhan said. “I wanted to do something else and then come back. But unfortunately the other film did not take off.”
The parody comes from a place of veneration for Tamil cinema of the 1980s, Amudhan said. “You should own the Tamil film identity instead of thinking that it is passe,” Amudhan said. “If we have a natural ability to do something like that I don’t think we should feel ashamed that it is dated. Older films used to balance different elements. If you look at Thamizh Padam, we have followed the same model of balancing songs, fights and emotions.”
While new productions have become more technically sound, they lack the charm of older movies, Amudhan contended, adding that his inspirations include K Bhagyaraj, R Sundarrajan and Manivannan. “Sundarrajan’s Vaidehi Kathirunthal, for instance, has extreme tragedy and outright hilarious comedy,” Amudhan said. “If you want to make a raunchy comedy like Mundhanai Mudichu [K Bhagyaraj’s 1983 film], we are not able to strike that balance. We are either going overboard or inane. Bhagyaraj hit the right chords to pull the family audience in and also keep the young male audiences happy. That is the kind of balance I am talking about.”
For Amudhan, radio jockey-turned-actor Shiva was the obvious choice to achieve that balance. “His kind of sense of humour and presence lends itself very well to the genre,” the director said. “He brings a certain identity to the movie. He does not mimic anybody. He does not try to act like Vijay or Ajith in any scenes. He brings his own sense of comic timing to the film.”
The affability that Shiva infused into the character helps. “It is very hard to take offence with him,” Amudhan said. “You really cannot get angry with him for anything. That is an invaluable thing to have in a movie like this.”