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Garudan director RS Durai Senthilkumar Interview: Audiences are more genre specific, changing the format of commercial cinema | EXCLUSIVE

Garudan director RS Durai Senthilkumar opens about his upcoming Soori-starrer, clarifies about Vetrimaaran's involvement, reminiscing about working with Balu Mahendra, and more.

Garudan director RS Durai Senthilkumar Interview: Audiences are more genre specific, changing the format of commercial cinema | EXCLUSIVE
RS Durai Senthilkumar

Last Updated: 01.14 PM, May 28, 2024


Filmmaker RS Durai Senthilkumar made a splashing debut with Ethir Neechal (2013), and delivered some commercial hit films like Kaaki Sattai (2015), Kodi (2016) and Pattas (2020). Four years might not sound that long a time, but given the topsy-turvy conditions that the pandemic has put the Tamil cinema through and the subsequent conditioning of audiences, Durai Senthilkumar still has the mindset of a student who is awaiting results after an exam, with his film, Garudan, release around the corner. 

'Audiences are genre-specific now' 

“My last film was released in 2020 with Dhanush sir. After that, I used my break to understand the changes in the mindset of Tamil cinema, the dos and don’ts, unlearning from the previous films. After all this and post the OTT bloom, as a filmmaker I see that audiences are tuned to watch a film as per the genre. OTT platforms also offer them in such a way. There was a pattern in Tamil cinema where we mixed everything. I think that has changed because the audiences are aware of what kind of film they will be watching before entering the cinema hall. They want you to entertain them in all ways possible within that genre. I think our typical commercial film, which is a mixed bag of everything, has changed,” says Durai Senthilkumar.

Speaking of genre-specific, the director talks about his film Garudan, “It is a rural action drama with a what next factor. We have made it in an intriguing tale of three lives and a minister’s wish coinciding with them. How their lives are getting changed, in each of their perspectives, is how I have taken. So, if you take out one scene as well, it becomes an incomplete story. I am hoping to have stayed true to the genre.”

Sets of Garudan
Sets of Garudan

A unique pattern in Durai Senthilkumar’s filmography is uncanny pattern of having worked with his protagonist twice in a row. After Sivakarthikeyan’s Ethir Neechal and Kaaki Sattai, followed by Dhanush’s Kodi and Pattas, the filmmaker worked as a co-writer and overlooked the train accident sequence in Vetrimaaran's Viduthalai starring Soori. Now again working with Soori in the capacity of a director in Garudan, Durai Senthilkumar says, “It so happened, I guess. Mostly in cinema, we collaborate with those you know. That is how I see it. After watching Ethir Neechal, he fixed me for his film and after Kodi, he retained the team again. I think it happened by chance,” he adds.


'I don't categorise actors'

When asked about the culture of categorising our actors as heroes, villains, comedians and so on, the filmmaker takes us back to the time of Ethir Neechal when Sivakarthikeyan was a budding actor. “He had done films like Marina and Manam Kothi Paravai. He was known as a stand-up comedian and known for his timing. At that time, I had made him enact emotions in Ethir Neechal. I am of firm belief that if a comedian can emote such pain, actors shouldn’t be categorised. Even with Soori sir, he has a great understanding of life and is in touch with his roots even now. So, when we say a character he is able to connect with it easier. I don’t think I categorise actors and use them in a certain way only.”

On the sets of Garudan
On the sets of Garudan

Speaking about working in Tamil cinema, which is mostly hero-centric, Durai Senthilkumar says most of the scripts are written while having a hero’s face. He adds, “Since I have worked with Dhanush sir and someone who has inspired me a lot, few of my initial scripts were written with him as the hero. Even Ethir Neechal, I had him in mind. But rest of the characters, we usually think of them as characters and not as artists. But for example, even during discussions, we take the names of the characters rather than actors, while talking about them. Say Soori’s character is called Sokkan in Garudan and while describing it, we refer to Sokkan than the artist who is playing it. Even if we had written Sokkan with Soori in mind, we refer to the character name only.”

Along with Soori, Garudan also features Sasikumar and Unni Mukundan in the lead roles. Having cast after the roles were written for them, he says, “We wanted the roles to be played by heroes as well, because they too are important characters. It is the screenplay that warrants for multiple characters. Otherwise, we may go into a template writing with restrictive storytelling. For a script to flourish, you need to have characters that add value.” While reminiscing about working under late filmmaker Balu Mahendra along with Vetrimaaran, Durai Senthilkumar recalls, “We discuss more about form in a screenplay than the content. Form is what determines how a story can be said on screen. Content is something that can be presented in any way. How we can create new forms, translate from literary sense.”

'Setbacks are needed'

Durai Senthilkumar has been a fortunate filmmaker so far, with his films proving to be successful at the box office too. Asked if he anticipates how his failure would be, he says, “Practically, we do know our flaws in the films we make. Only after we have made the film, we know how it turns out to be and from the mistakes learnt, we address and do not try to repeat. Setbacks are needed to correct ourselves and only success wouldn’t help.”

Garudan is set in a rural backdrop of the southern Tamil Nadu region, rooted in being a village drama. Speaking about this, the filmmaker says that even urban stories can be rooted, provided one stays authentic to how the story is being told. “Garudan is about an issue surrounding a temple and we thought it would be nice if the film is set in a rural backdrop. We chose the premise for the story. Also on the other hand, rooted stories are the ones that instil authenticity among the audience. We have crossed over 100 years as a film culture and with so much consumption, film knowledge is no shortage among the audience. So, we need to be true to what we present.”

Having been in the industry for 23 years now, the filmmaker feels that more screenplay writers presence in the industry, and to work with directors, would be a good space for the future. “Instead of that all directors have to write the screenplay as well, it would be nice if we understand the separation between writers and directors,” he adds. This becomes even more particular, especially when rumours speculated that Vetrimaaran had written the script of Garudan. Durai Senthilkumar clarifies that Vetrimaaran has only given suggestions and inputs within the capacity of a friend and colleague. “I had narrated it to him after finishing the script, and he had given some inputs. I had incorporated those,” he signs off.

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