Tired of playing second-fiddle to the hero in most of his films, radio jockey-turned-actor Balaji Patturaj decided to write a starring role for himself. The result is the upcoming Tamil comedy LKG, about a small-time politician who tries to learn the tricks of the trade to make his way to the top.
RJ Balaji, as the actor is better known, has appeared in about 25 Tamil films, including Vignesh Shivan’s Naanum Rowdy Dhaan (2015), Kalees’s Kee (2017) and Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai (2017). The actor felt that it was time for a change, he told Scroll.in. “I was often stereotyped as a friend who would just talk about women to the hero or dance in a wine shop in most films,” Balaji said. “Some of these roles became very boring and I could sense that people too might get bored with my films. Only around seven or eight of my roles were great.”
After rejecting a string of similar roles, the actor decided to take matters into his hands. “In 2017 I said no to around 17 films and in 2018 I said no to 13 films,” he said. “If I wanted to make money, I could have said yes to all of these films. But in two years, I would have been irrelevant. That is when I decided to write my own films.”
Directed by KR Prabhu, LKG, short for Lalgudi Karuppiah Gandhi, uses satire as a prism to examine major political events and trends, from the violence caused by cow fanatics to the jallikattu debate in Tamil Nadu and the use of freebies by politicians to lure voters in the state. The film, however, does not mock politicians for the sake of it, the actor asserted.
“I was clear not to make troll or spoof material,” he said. “We have enough of that on the internet. I wanted to trace the journey of a small-time politician with traces of comedy.” Also starring Priya Anand, JK Rithesh and Nanjil Sampath, LKG has been produced by Vels Film International and will be released on February 22.
Balaji wrote the film along with his friends Muthu Pradeep, Gopi Krishnan, Vicky, Saravanan, Andrews, Sitrarasu and Surendran during his stint as a Tamil commentator at the Indian Premier League in 2018. “Since the matches would start in the evening, we would write the film in the afternoon,” he said. “I used to do film reviews in radio shows and have been part of 25 films. With that knowledge I charted out a basic structure for the film.”
Among the recent political events parodied in the trailer are actor Kamal Haasan’s entry into politics and the inauguration of the Statue of Unity, a 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel near the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat, built at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore. The project has been criticised for the massive expense, the alleged environmental damage and the reported displacement of several Adivasi farmers whose lands had been acquired for the project.
“In the second stage of writing, we started thinking about all of the issues unresolved in the country in the past few years,” Balaji said. “We jotted them down and tried to integrate all of those things in the film. For example, the trailer starts with Lalgudi saying he will build a statue of Rs 3,000 crore. When that [Statue of Unity] happened, we decided to integrate it.”
The film does not just point fingers at the establishment but also offer solutions, Balaji said. “If I wanted to share my opinion about something, I can do it on any stage,” he said. “But film has its own language. I also wanted the film to have a strong social responsibility and not just criticise politicians. If there are things that go wrong, there should be a solution for that. The film is releasing a few months before the general elections. If around 10,000 people watch the film and if at least five of them think before they vote, the film has won.”
Making political films carries the risk of censorship, as was seen with Vijay’s Mersal (2017) and Sarkar (2018), both of which were forced to bow to government pressure and cut some scenes after their release. Does Balaji fear a similar fate for LKG, especially since it comes out in an election year? “I am neither a Vijay or Ajith nor a Rajini [Rajinikanth] or Kamal [Haasan],” he joked. “I want to make films in my own space and I am not sure if politicians even know who I am. I don’t know if they will take my films so seriously.
Balaji, who began his career in radio in 2006, plans to continue to juggle radio, acting, writing and cricket commentary for the 2019 IPL season. “I want to work at my own pace. I want to do nothing for at least three months after the film. If these three months extend to six months also, I am happy about it.”