'There is no heroism in any of my films'
No film in recent times has received as much appreciation as Balaji Sakthivel's Vazhakku Enn 18/9 (Case Number 18/9). Excellent reviews have brought in the audiences. This small film has become the talk of the town.
Success is not new to Sakthivel as his Kadhal is still considered the best teenage love story.
A happy Balaji Sakthivel talks about Vazhakku Enn 18/9.
At the recent press conference, you shocked everyone by prostrating in front of the entire media. Why did you do that?
My film is my labour of love, my baby, my child. I am the mother of my child, not father.
I was very anxious how my baby would be accepted by people. When I found that everybody loved my baby, I was overwhelmed with joy.
When I saw the smiles and appreciation on the faces of all, I didn't know how to react. It was an impulsive reaction on my part to prostrate in front of the media and my producer.
Yes, I was being very emotional. But then, don't all mothers feel emotional about their babies?
Image: A scene from Vazhakku Enn 18/9
'It took me two-and-a-half years to write the screenplay'
What made you write such a complex screenplay where characters are interwoven?
Yes, it is a complex screenplay. It took me two-and-a-half years to write the screenplay. I won't take the entire credit for it; my entire crew helped me weave the story in such an innovative manner.
I would say there is nothing unusual about the story; it is the script that makes the story unique.
I want to compare my screenplay to sugar cane juice. When you see sugar cane, you don't realise what is inside but when it is crushed, you get the sweet juice.
Similarly, I crushed the story in such a manner to write a complex screenplay which resulted in an interesting film.
Was the screenplay inspired by a news report?
Yes, you are right. I think it was four years ago that I noticed the story of an innocent young man jailed for inflicting injuries on the girl he loves.
It was hidden in a corner of a newspaper but it attracted my attention.
I wondered why a young man would cause injuries to the girl she loves. Are we missing some links in the story? I was somehow sure that he was framed.
The plight of the young man and the disturbing thoughts remained somewhere in my mind, refusing to leave.
Image: A scene from Vazhakku Enn 18/9
'I don't like to create an unreal world full of unreal characters'
From the two characters, how did you give shape to the other characters?
Like I said earlier, I felt the boy who was jailed was innocent. I made the young girl a housemaid.
Then, I thought it would make sense if I created another young girl in the family. There can be other young men in the apartment complex from the same background who would be interested in the girl. Thus the other characters were created.
I believe in realism. My characters are all real and you can see them all around you.
I don't like to create an unreal world full of unreal characters.
How difficult was it to write the screenplay?
It was the most difficult part in the making of Vazhakku Enn 18/9. It took me slightly less than three years to give proper shape to the screenplay.
You won't believe it, but once the screenplay was done, it took me only 52 days to shoot the film!
It is surprising that you took years to write the screenplay but the filming was done in less than two months!
Yes, that is how I am. I feel the most challenging and difficult part is creating the characters, visualising the situations and writing the script. Once that is ready, filming is easy.
It is not a tough job at all. It has always been like that for me. If planning is proper, execution is not difficult at all. Planning cannot be guess work--it has to be 100 per cent proper.
Image: Balaji Saktivel explains a scene to his actors.
'I will continue to make young love stories till the end!'
In Kadhal, Kalloori and now, we see many new faces in your films. Why do you prefer them to established actors?
The truth is, I only want actors who feel comfortable fitting into my characters. There is no heroism in any of my films and my characters are not superheroes but real people.
Most stars or actors with a certain image feel uncomfortable doing my films. That is why I prefer new faces who carry no baggage.
Is it easy or difficult for you to mould new actors?
I find it very easy. If you choose the right actors, it is easy making them your characters.
I cannot take the entire credit for choosing the right actor. I must thank my four assistants, Sivakumar, Shivalkar, Srikanth and Suresh, who are the four pillars of my work.
They select four or five people and give me the choice of selecting one. I don't audition thousands of people to choose my actors.
You have made young love stories so far. Any particular reason?
It is only the young who come to the theatres without any preconceived notions. If I tell them the love stories of old people, they will get up and walk out.
So, it is because of pure commercial reasons that I make young love stories! (laughs).
I don't think I will be able to tell the love stories of old people. I will continue to make young love stories till the end! I like being young at heart always!
Image: Balaji Saktivel with Mithun Murali
'I prefer new faces who carry no baggage'
Did you expect this kind of success and appreciation when you made the film?
My mind was numb by the time the film was ready. When I watched it for the first time, I felt a bit emotional. After that, I watched it mechanically. I must have watched it at least a thousand times. By then, I had lost all ability to view it critically.
When I showed it to people, I watched their responses. I got the feeling that it touched them somewhere.
But by the time it was ready for release, I was extremely anxious. I was not sure how the audience would react. There are no commercial elements in the film.
Are you happy the film is not only appreciated by critics but accepted by people also?
I am happy that my film has become their film. It has become a people's film.
I have reached such a state of mind that I am neither happy nor sad; I am blank. I am trying to be in that frame of mind--detached from all the success.
Image: Balaji Saktivel explains a scene