Kanaa is about women's cricket. What made you choose this topic for your debut film?
People ask me when everyone endorses cricket, why I should also do it. I am not here to endorse it. I wanted to do a film on something that happened in my life. I am a cricket player and have represented my college team. Cricket is close to my heart and I have always been in awe of the game since childhood, have been connected with it and practiced it. I have lived with cricket and the game has fetched me many friends. Cricket has brought me close to all those who decided/decide the course of my life. It is my religion and nobody can tell me not to make a film about my religion.
Of course there are many films on this sport. If I say that I am the first to make a film on cricket, you can question me. But nobody has done a film on women's cricket and that's the reason I felt this idea was unique. In Dil Bole Hadippa, Rani Mukherjee will masquerade as a man and play cricket with boys. But that's not a film based on women's cricket. That was a different script.
I have that small pride in the fact that as a first time director, I have made a film on a subject which has not been done by others. This would go in the annals of film history and I am happy about it. As a story too, everyone liked it, from producer to cast members and that's why they agreed to play not because it is on women's cricket.
You were looking for a cricketer to play the main role, right? How did you zero in on Aishwarya Rajesh?
Generally, when we finish a story, we would first think about an apt cast to bring life to the characters. Aishwarya Rajesh was the first one who came to my mind after I was done with the story. Her character is someone from Kulithalai and her looks perfectly fit someone from there. Added to that, she is a good performer. I asked her first if she knew to play cricket and she answered in negative. Then we announced auditions and were searching for a cricket player. There were many interested but we were not satisfied with them. In fact I had shortlisted a cricketer, she is playing for Delhi now. But she was in a dilemma as her career objective was cricket only. So we decided to bring an artist and teach her cricket. That was when Aishwarya called us to find out if we had got someone. Since we did not, we went ahead narrating the story and she said that she can learn to play the game and try. If it works we can have her. We taught her the game. She picked up very well. Since she was a fast learner, it boosted my confidence. She practiced for two months. I never had any doubt on her performance and was sure she would pick up the tricks fast. We had recorded her learning every day and we could see her improvement. Everyone was happy and we started the project with her.
"Vaayadi Petha Pulla" number is a major attraction for Kanaa. Whose idea was it to make Aaradhana Sivakarthikeyan sing?
I know Aaradhana since the time she was born. She always sings and especially Siva's songs even before the release. Of course all children would sing film songs but what I liked about Aaradhana was that she would sing it correctly without a flaw in the tune or words. She is also not shy to hold a mike and sing. I had confidence on her talent, but was a little hesitant to ask Siva on this. I told him one day that I wanted paapaa to sing and gave a valid reason. I told him, "This is a song for dad-daughter duo. If you both sing, it would be apt for the script and would be special. If you are not okay with the idea, I will anyway look out for a dad-daughter duo to sing this". Siva was skeptical about what if it did not turn out as expected. I convinced him saying that what the kid sings is only music and that I am not going to compel her to render in a specific fashion. I am going to retain whatever she sings and not change anything. He asked me to record the song and give it to her. The plan was to make her listen to it every day. Once she listens, she will automatically sing. When she reached a point of singing fluently with confidence, we brought her to the studio and said that she would be singing with her dad. She did and sang exactly how we wanted. You will not find any error musically in her rendition. I would say that the kid had given us all a big gift. We made them sing and shot candidly and kept those shots which we liked. Nothing was planned. I think that's why it looked effortless.
You have been a lyricist, singer, actor and now a director. Which field would you focus now?
I have come into the industry wanting to be a director. I also realized the reality that I could not have become a director right from day one. For some, it may happen, while for some, it may take time. I also knew that I should not lose heart and stand for what I aim. I decided that I have to be in film industry only. Therefore, in that direction, first I did short films, then, I worked as an assistant director for three years. But that film could not be released as there were financial struggles. When I was wondering what to do, Santhosh anna gave a song to write. My first was in Pizza. I had written two songs in Pizza, one each in Pizza 2 and Jigarthanda. I also sang in Jigarthanda after which people viewed me as a singer too. Then GV Prakash gave opportunities in his film. My lines are all normal with commonly used words and are not highly poetic or of that sort. People liked this style and so there were many takers for my lyrics. Then I worked for Imman and slowly many music composers were comfortable to work with me. When life was going in that path, Siva used to remind me that my goal was something else and that I should not get detoured. "Go for what you came in for", he used to tell me. Lyric writing or singing or acting happened for survival. But now, finally I am here as a director of Kanaa. After this, if you ask me would you direct, yes, direction is only my job.
You and Sivakarthikeyan are friends. As a producer of Kanaa, how was he?
He is friendly and continued to be one even when he was the producer of Kanaa. In fact I would say that as a producer, he cared for me more. He was constantly motivating me. He used to tell me, "You wanted to become a director and therefore should make quality films. Your films should be like examples for those aspiring directors. You need to create impact. There is a lot of competition here and there are many good filmmakers here. Whenever you slip, there are people who would take up your spot. If you want to retain your place, you should work for it, strive for it." I also had the same clarity and he added value to it. It got stored subconsciously. As a producer, he was very inspirational. I am not patient, but he is very patient. I learnt that from him. He has been a great motivator.
Can you tell us about the role of Sivakarthikeyan in Kanaa?
Siva has done a supporting role in this film. That's why we are not projecting it as Siva's film. In our life, there could be some people who join us at a particular phase and we would be inspired and motivated by them. In the same manner, Siva will join a struggling period in the life of a girl and inspire her.
Will you direct Sivakarthikeyan in a full-fledged role?
Surely, if I don't direct him, who else? I have all the rights to direct him.
Have you locked your next script?
No, after Kanaa's release only, I will decide on what kind of film I want to do because I don't know about the response. I don't know what my place is going to be and from where I would get opportunities. One thing is sure; I will not compromise on ideas or story. I also will have to keep in mind my target audience. If we have to partake in a race, we need to have the stamina first and to sustain, quality is the only option. There should not be compromise in quality, ideas and most importantly, we should make films that can connect with people.