While speaking to PS Mithran, you realise his relentless passion for commercial/masala cinema and his earnest approach to the unique genre of the country. His debut Irumbu Thirai (2018), starring Vishal, is an example of a well-made commercial film that doesn’t take the genre and the audience for granted. In this conversation, PS Mithran assures that his upcoming Diwali release, Sardar, would also be a similar quality entertainer.
Going by the theme of Irumbu Thirai, Hero, and Sardar, it looks like you are fascinated by the underworld and conspiracies…
Not the underworld. I am fascinated by the other side of the coin. We are only presented with the face of everything, but we are largely unaware of what goes behind things. I read a lot of Arthur Hailey’s books. Be it Detective or Airport, with his works set against industries, he analyses minute details of the setting and creates drama out of it. So, I am fascinated to explore the sides of society that are unexposed.
I am not into conspiracy theories. I know conspiracies exist. There’s a difference. I will not say something like ‘911 was an inside job’. For example, towards the late 80s and early 90s, our government ran campaigns across the country stressing the importance of breastfeeding and urging families not to avoid it. Why was there a need for such a campaign in the first place to tell our mothers to breastfeed children? Because a company back then marketed its milk powder as a healthier option than breast milk, people fell for it. Imagine, someone actually thought breast milk was his competition and sold his product against it and won. Isn’t it a conspiracy?
So, tell us about Sardar… there seems to be a huge market for films about undercover agents now
Ever since the concept of the country was formed, the concept of spying also began. So, it has been explored a lot. However, our films only show the spies as an end product… I mean we don’t get to see how they are made. You only see James Bond and Ethan Hunt going on about their missions. We don’t know where they come from. A spy should have been a common folk once. How and why did he become a spy? These questions fascinated me. That’s when I came across a spy named Ravindar Kaushik, who was a theatre actor. When prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, the Joint Intelligence Committee got frustrated. Until then we didn’t have a proper spy network, but only planted sources. With planted sources it was always a bargain for information… they weren’t a loyal network. That’s when the government decided to make spies like Ravindar. They changed a lot of theatre artists across the country into spies. Sardar is a fictitious account of one such spy.
Right after Irumbu Thirai, I just told him the idea of Sardar to Karthi… about a theatre artist who can play multiple roles in a play, and is also a spy. Karthi found that idea catchy and immediately gave his nod. The spy portion is a part of the film. It also has an emotional core that is palatable to the Tamil audience. I don’t want to make a cold thriller like Mission Impossible. I treated Irumbu Thirai the same way. I kept telling my assistant that though it was a high-concept thriller, at the core, it is a Visu film. Irumbu Thirai had the simplest and most basic conflict — the hero needs money for his sister’s wedding. Our audience needs that relatability.
In Irumbu Thirai, the characterization of Rangarajan (Delhi Ganesh), the hero’s father, was genuine, something you don’t get in typical commercial fests. Have you ever thought of doing a small family drama exploring such characters?
Honestly, no. I grew up watching Hollywood films. There, every genre has a huge audience base. Even niche and high-concept Hollywood films have a market across the world. But, in Tamil Nadu, only 10 to 15 percent of the audience are moviegoers of which only a small fraction are up for high-concept films. Hence, if I am spending Rs 40 to Rs 50 crore to make a film, I can’t make returns just by catering to that small audience. But, I want to only make such high-concept films (laughs). To balance it out and make it palatable to all, I have to add this emotional drama. Or else, I have never thought of doing small films.
So, you see cinema as people’s art and don’t intend to make films for yourself? Market is important for you while making a film
If I want to make a film for myself, I shouldn’t ask for money from others. When I am making a film with someone else’s money, I can’t do whatever I want. The producer is going to invest crores and crores of money. One day shoot is costing easily around Rs 6 to 8 lakhs. How will I get that back if I am going to make an art film that will not be seen by enough people? I understand it’s an art form, but one can’t deny that it is costly, right? Let’s first create a market for our film. If an art film is made in Europe, it has audiences in several countries. Tamil cinema is yet to create a name. We are still being perceived as Bollywood. Let’s first create scope for our cinema before discussing arthouse films.
So, what’s the fascination for huge action films? What are your inspirations?
I am very much inspired by Ridley Scott’s films. After Stanley Kubrick, I think only he has done films in a range of genres. Kubrick would make the best in any genre he handles. On the other hand, Scott made films that were for audiences across the board. Be it The Gladiator, Alien, or Blade Runner, they were for everyone. Also, his films are visually stunning–even the bland ones like The Counsellor (2013). So, if someone asks me what kind of filmmaker I want to be, I will say I want to be like Ridley Scott. Talking about action movies, it’s not that I am inclined just toward that genre. I want to provide the thrill element to the audience, and in our country thrill always translates to action.
About your last film Hero, do you think since our heroes already behave like superheroes, it is hard to pull off the superhero genre here?
don’t think that’s the case. The problem with Hero is that it was trying to do a lot. Maybe, if I had stuck just with the superhero concept and had not explored other aspects as much as I did, it would have worked a lot more. That’s my problem… I always try to do a lot.
Lastly, what do you have to say about Sardar?
Come, have a full meal. We have everything: things you have seen before, things you haven’t seen before, old things in a different dimension. The film has got it all.
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