In this heart-to-heart conversation the director elaborates on his choices in his latest film, Nenjam Marappathillai, and discusses his hopes and aspirations
It’s quite an achievement that after a decade full of horror duds, a decade full of filmmakers attempting to capitalise on the popularity of the horror genre, Selvaraghavan’s first film in the genre, Nenjam Marappathillai, exudes an air of novelty. It may seem like a regular story on the surface, but the filmmaker, as he has done with many of his recent films, reaches out for something loftier: in the case of this film, an examination of the struggle between god and devil through the focus on its depraved protagonist, Ramasamy (SJ Suryah). Here’s Selvaraghavan himself discussing this film in detail and in the process, providing a lot of insight into his person.
Given the strong commentary on faith in this film, is it fair to conclude you are a believer?
I strongly believe in a deity and hope to understand so much more. My first dream was to become an engineer. And then, I realised I wanted to become a filmmaker. Today, I think I want to try and understand God. I hope to hang up my boots sometime and set out on a personal journey to discover myself and God. I like to think of this as the last leg of my journey.
Wait, are you talking about quitting cinema?
(Laughs) I am conflicted because I also want to make films till my last breath, like Clint Eastwood, who is making films though he is in his 90s. I don’t think the filmmaker in me will ever die.
With Saani Kaayidham, you are turning actor as well. Is this choice motivated by your admiration for Clint Eastwood as well?
I am embarrassed to be mentioned in the same breath as him (laughs). The script of Saani Kaayidham seemed interesting. I think every filmmaker is an actor. If I get good scripts, I’m quite happy to try my hand as an actor.
Considering that Nenjam Marappathillai suffered a substantial delay, was there ever the worry that it could feel outdated?
I always believed in this script. I always told people like SJ Suryah that no matter when this film gets released, it will still feel fresh. Some scripts have that quality. Some others don’t, but I guess it was fortunate that the delay affected this film.
SJ Suryah, whose performance has come in for a lot of praise, seemed such a natural fit in your world.
For years, I have been watching his work and have wanted to work with him. I have always found him to be an interesting actor. There are many such talented actors out there, looking for opportunities from the right filmmakers.
While on performances, Dhanush has always spoken about your influence in shaping him as an actor. What do you credit for the evolution of your cinema understanding? When did this happen?
I owe it all to cable television. It did not matter if I was beaten up at home for wasting time on it; I would sit and watch the same films over and over again on channels like Star Movies. I was addicted. I was intoxicated by what I was watching. Cinema is an irreplaceable teacher. After everyone at home slept, I would watch cable television all night long, the volume barely high enough for me to hear what was going on.
For the remainder of this conversation (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), Selvaraghavan: I hope to make films till my last breath (Nenjam Marappathillai)- Cinema express