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I don’t subscribe to the idea of making a film with a hero in mind: Sundar C - Times of India

I don’t subscribe to the idea of making a film with a hero in mind: Sundar C – Times of India

As a director, Sundar C is known for his comedy entertainers like Ullathai Allitha, Winner, and the Kalakalappu and Aranmanai franchise. Now, the actor-turned-filmmaker is back with a film, which he says, will be slightly different from his usual films — a feel-good multi-starrer movie. In a conversation with us, the director talks about the film, titled Coffee With Kadhal, how OTT has changed the film industry, and why he is now keen on making films with big stars. Excerpts:

Can you talk about the origin of the film? What spurred you to make it?
I like watching feel-good films and have wanted to make one for quite some time. Anbe Vaa and Love Actually are among my top five all-time favourite films. While there are feel-good films releasing frequently in English and Hindi cinema, in Tamil, they are a rarity, which is strange. We do romcoms instead. In fact, I had originally begun my own films like Ullathai Allitha and Theeya Velai Seyyanum Kumaru as feel-good films, but somehow, they turned into romcoms. During the COVID lockdowns, I was cooped up in my home and I felt I should write something light-hearted. I would say this is a film with a simple story that will make you feel good. On the whole, this will be different from the films I have done so far, albeit slightly. Because, if I try something too removed from what people expect from me, I end up in trouble, like it happened with Action and Anbe Sivam.

So, what is the film about?
The film revolves around three brothers who are contrasting characters. One is a musician, an introvert, played by Srikanth, whereas Jai plays a chef, an extrovert. And the third, Jiiva is a guy who works in the IT industry and is a more balanced character. But their romantic lives get intertwined. In our films, if you take the characterisation of brothers, they will either be inseparable or at each other’s throats. But here, I have tried to make them closer to real life. They are neither too close nor against each other.

The film also seems to have a lot of female stars…
The film has five heroines, and I have gone for fresh faces. DD (Dhivyadharshini) plays the sister of the three brothers; she is the family’s livewire. Malavika Sharma, who has done a couple of films in Tollywood, plays Jiiva’s pair. Amritha Aiyer has a very south Indian face and looks lovely. Then, we have Raiza Wilson in a stylish role. We also have Samyuktha of Bigg Boss Tamil fame and Aishwarya Dutta. Humour is a must when I make a film, so we have Yogi Babu and Redin Kingsley, whose performance I loved in Doctor. We always see Yogi Babu as a local guy, but in this, he will be a stylishly dressed wedding planner, with Kingsley as his assistant. I felt they would be an interesting combo, like Goundamani and Senthil.

There were reports that the film is a remake of Kapoor & Sons, prompting Khusbu to come up with a clarification. What could have led to such rumours?

Perhaps because this is also a story involving brothers, and we had shot in the same house in which that film was shot? Kapoor & Sons was a serious relationship drama, but this one is completely light-hearted, dealing with the bonding and minor skirmishes between three brothers.

You had already cast Jiiva and Jai together in Kalakalappu 2. What made you rope them in again for this film?

Both Jiiva and Jai are talented artistes and they are perfect for these characters. Also, I like to have a comfort zone while I’m working. Since I’d already worked with them, we share a good wavelength. I believe the shooting atmosphere should be comfortable, especially when you are making a feel-good film. If there are ego clashes on the set, then, that will upset everyone’s performance and eventually, reflect in the film as well. That is why I repeat artistes.

You are working with Yuvan Shankar Raja after 18 years…

Yes, after Unakkaga Ellaam Unakkaga and Winner, I have collaborated with Yuvan again. Since this is a feel-good film, it is also a musical. We have eight songs, but barring a couple, the rest will all take the story forward. When we began the film, I told Yuvan that I wanted songs that are vintage Yuvan, like the ones he gave us around 2010, in films like Paiyya. Like Raaja sir’s songs, his melodies are everlasting. He will also feature in a promo song that we have shot for the film.

Many in the industry feel that OTT has changed how audiences view our films. Do you agree?

Definitely. People want to come to the theatre only if there is something larger than life. But if it is a small film, even if it is good, they decide they will catch it on OTT when it releases a month later. Even in Hollywood, it is the superhero films or CG-oriented 3D films that are sustaining in theatres. We will soon face such a situation here as well. The other kind of films that will continue to succeed is those that depend solely on the big stars. But I am not too keen on doing such films. I don’t subscribe to the idea of making a film with a hero in mind. I just go by the story and choose the actor who best suits it. I don’t look at their market value. So, when I have to do a big-budget film, I have to design it in such a way that it feels bigger even without the presence of a top star. Even my Aranmanai films are designed that way. The first one had Vinay, the second one Siddharth, and the third Arya, before the success of Sarpatta Parambarai. So, doing such a film is a sandhoshamana savaal for directors like me. I have turned down two big-hero films in the past month. The reason is that their salary alone makes up almost 60-65 per cent of the film’s budget. In those days, the star’s salary would only be 20-25 per cent of the film’s budget at the most. So, if you include the fees of the other cast and crew, you only have about 10 per cent of the budget to make the film. I feel this is kind of cheating the audience. So, what the audience expects isn’t there on the screen. We should have at least 50 per cent of the budget on the screen. Otherwise, it is not right to call it a big film.

But can you blame actors for charging so much, when producers are willing to pay them what they ask?
If I’m producing a film, I’d have a fixed amount in mind as the salary for the hero. If the actor I’m in discussions with doesn’t agree, I’d go for another hero. But the problem is that the business of our cinema has changed in such a way that you need a big hero to make a film. For producers, it is easier to sign on a big star for a huge amount, get their dates, rope in the artistes and technicians he suggests, make the film and make some profit. But they are not too bothered about the quality of the film. So, I wouldn’t blame an artiste or a director. If you are going to give me Rs 25 crores, I’d happily pocket it. It is you who have to think twice before offering me that amount. The other thing is that when you finally tally the expenses and the collections, there isn’t actually much of a profit on such films. But no producer comes out openly and says that the film is a loss. Because if they say so, they will not be able to get the dates of the hero for another film. Not only that, even the other stars will be reluctant to work with them because they will fear that such frank admission will affect their market value. So, producers just boast about their film entering the 100-crore or 200-crore club. In my opinion, the films that are made by giving an extravagant amount as salary to the hero are a classic case of the ‘operation success, patient dead’ scenario. The stars, too, hike their rates in proportion to their rival stars. They don’t go by what the actual business of their previous film is. ‘He gets so much, so give me this much,’ is their philosophy. So, when a top star increases his salary, the next one in line hikes his, and this trickles down proportionately.

Have you finalised your next project? There were reports that you are going to do a 3D film…
Yes, my next two films have a huge canvas, with 3D and larger-than-life elements. For me, the richness should be seen on screen. From 2005-2010, I was working as an actor for five years before that, and prior to that, I, too, was making hero-oriented films. Our cinema, too, was being made that way. But in 2010, I realised my films were not clicking when I made them this way, and I was being blamed as I was the director. So, I took a conscious decision to first write a script that I like and then rope in actors whom the story demands. That is how Kalakalappu started. But filmmaking is a business, and everyone involved should profit from it. So, if I had one lesser-known hero, it might not work. I went with a double-hero subject, and packaged the film with an interesting script, the right comedians, and crew. Now, looking back, I think this decision is the reason for my survival all these years. After 27 years in the industry, if I can sell my film based on my name alone, it is this decision that has made it possible. If I have to say it in filmi terms, ‘Yaara nambiyum naan illa’. If I decide to make a film, I can start it on my own, without having to go to a production house or a hero, narrate my story and get it okayed. I decided to place my trust in the script. But at the same, I ensure that I include elements that would make the film a commercially viable proposition. Even with Coffee With Kadhal, I have good-looking heroes and heroines, good comedy, Yuvan’s songs, so all these will help the film.

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