Vishal: My role as a producer keeps the actor in me alive
Ahead of the release of his upcoming film, Veeramae Vaagai Soodum, Vishal talks about working with debutant filmmakers, issues plaguing Tamil cinema, and more
Irumbuthirai was among the most important films in Vishal’s career. Not only did it become one of the biggest successes of his career as an actor and producer, but it also, in a way, kickstarted a particularly interesting recurrence in his career. Post Irumbuthirai, which was directed by debutant director PS Mithran, Vishal has been acquainting himself with a new filmmaker for every alternate film of his. Films with Lingusamy (Sandakozhi 2), Sundar C (Action) and Anand Shankar (Enemy) were alternated with Venkat Mohan (Ayogya), MS Anandan (Chakra), and now, Thu Pa Saravanan (Veeramae Vaagai Soodum). While this alternation might not have been planned to a dot, there is no doubt that Vishal’s heart is beating for first-time filmmakers. “They have undying passion to succeed, and after the pandemic, this hunger has only grown. Having been an assistant director myself, I have seen the struggles my fellow director aspirants went through. So, I do my best to ensure my gates are always open for them. In fact, it can also be seen as me using their passion to further my career!” says Vishal.
It is this confidence that made him ask an award-winning short-film director, Thu Pa Saravanan, for a feature film idea. “I saw a lot of maturity in the making of his short film. He was first afraid about the feature film possibility but returned with Veeramae Vaagai Soodum. I was quite impressed with the screenplay structure,” says Vishal, who also credits writer Pon Parthiban for fine-tuning the script. “Veeramae Vaagai Soodum will be a film that can be seen by all kinds of audiences. This is a Pandiya Naadu type of film where the protagonist is a middle-class person who gets entangled in a fight that is not his but finds the mettle to come out trumps. It has all the elements required for a successful film,” says the actor, who plays a police aspirant in Veeramae Vaagai Soodum.
In speaking of the screenplay structure of the film, Vishal lets us in on a highlight. “The villain (Baburaj) and I meet only in the climax. Veeramae Vaagai Soodum has three parallel storylines, including a plot based on the Thoothukudi Sterlite protests, and the point of convergence would be the trump card of the film,” says the actor, who also talks in lengths about the casting process. The film stars Dimple Hayathi, who was recently seen in Dhanush’s Atrangi Re, Raveena Ravi, Marimuthu, Yogi Babu and Thulasi among others. “Raveena plays an important character in the film, and it is her story that carries Veeramae Vaagai Soodum forward. When I saw Joji, I felt Baburaj would be a valuable addition to the film. I thought it would be nice to beat up someone new for a change,” says Vishal, laughing.
While Vishal is gung-ho about the prospects of the release of Veeramae Vaagai Soodum, which is expected to hit the screens this Republic Day, the producer in him is aware of the uncertainties in the post-pandemic world. “We have sold the theatrical and satellite rights, but even now, the release plans are not concrete. We have fixed a date because it will help all the people related to the film to plan the release strategies accordingly. But then, we have also seen how release dates of films like Valimai and Etharkkum Thunindhavan have been pushed,” says Vishal.
Talking about balancing his careers as an actor and a producer, Vishal candidly admits that it is his Vishal Film Factory that has kept afloat the actor in him for the last 17 years. “Backing my own films allows me to exercise freedom in choosing scripts. In fact, we shot films even when the pandemic was at its peak in May. We shot Veeramae Vaagai Soodum in 60-odd days in Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad, and wrapped it all up by September,” says Vishal. When asked about why his production house isn’t collaborating with other actors, Vishal has no reservations in admitting that the Thupparivalan 2 controversy laid rest to a lot of his plans. “I never expected Mysskin to backstab me. I had to take over Thupparivalan 2 because almost 13 crores was invested in the project. I can’t leave it at this stage. Then, the Nadigar Sangam case also happened. Such unforeseen circumstances have pushed a lot of well-laid plans. In fact, we wanted to do something like Majjaa almost four years back. We wanted to provide a platform for independent musicians to reach a wider audience. Everything has been delayed,” says a dejected Vishal, adding that the fortunes of Tamil cinema would improve only with proper infrastructure in place.
“There needs to be an overhaul right from taxation, ticketing partner agreements to shooting permissions. For instance, we don’t get permission to shoot in Chennai during the day. There are no sets for airports, railway stations or police stations. That’s why we go to Hyderabad. We have to meet CM Stalin sir and ask for such infrastructure developments in our State,” says Vishal, who also emphasises the need for “smaller” films to receive a wider audience and reception. “A solitary success like Pariyerum Perumal isn’t enough for the revival of Tamil cinema. This must be a regular occurrence. A producer must not be left in limbo about the prospect of the film’s release. All producers must take a break, step back and analyse as to what should be done to improve not just their films but Tamil cinema as a whole. I sincerely hope normalcy is just around the corner,” says a hopeful Vishal, who will next begin shooting for Adhik Ravichandran’s Mark Antony, and then get on to his debut directorial, Thupparivalan 2. “It took 21 years, but my directorial dream is finally getting realised,” signs off Vishal.