We get on a call with director Karthik Subbaraj just as the trailer of his film with Dhanush Jagame Thandhiram goes live across the world. He puts his video on mute and picks up a call. Karthik switches his video on again and says, “It was Dhanush who called from the US to share his thoughts on Jagame Thandhiram trailer. He was happy about it and said ‘trailer bayangarama iruku’ (The trailer is just amazing). Tell him that the little over two-minute trailer gave us a feel of a brief meeting between Quentin Tarantino and Karthik Subbaraj meeting half way at the Heathrow for the film is rightly set in London. Karthik laughs, “I am glad you said so. I am a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino. However, that doesn’t mean that I have intentionally forced those elements in my script. We grew up watching Tarantino and Mani Ratnam’s films. So subconsciously every filmmaker would have minute influences of their films in their writing.” Jagame Thandhiram produced by Y Not Studios Sashikanth will premiere in Netflix on June 18.
The film has Dhanush playing Suruli a Madurai-based gangster who later flies to London where the story is expected to take a few twists and turns. Karthik Subbaraj initially had a different plan for the film and had Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman and Robert Di Niro in mind for roles now played by British actors James Cosmo and Roman Fiori. “The idea of Jagame Thandhiram struck me in 2014. It was in 2016 I started the pre-production work. Only when I got in touch with casting agents in Los Angeles I realised that having them in the film will escalate the budget to a different level altogether. I narrated the story to James Cosmo in a coffee shop in London and he was thrilled. The film was initially set in New York which again is expensive than shooting in London. When the story was shifted to London it was easier as I could explore issues on current global affairs. Also, I could bring in a Tamil angle to it because there are more Tamilians in United Kingdom. Everything fell in place and we went on floors in 2019. We haven’t shown you the regular London where Tamil songs are usually shot. You will see places you haven’t seen before.” The director says that despite the film going through a few changes in terms of production houses, Dhanush’s confidence on the project never subsided. “I wanted to explore Suruli’s world in Dhanush’s perspective. He stayed intact ever since he listened to the story. Having a person like him is a blessing because he is also a singer and a lyricist. I am huge fan of his voice. That is why I wanted his intro song Rakita Rakita crooned by him. The song Nethu is sung and written by Dhanush. I told him about the situation before he boarded the flight to London and he gave me the first draft when he landed. He is a package. There were people who asked me if Suruli is Pettavelan’s son or Petta in his younger days. The answer is ‘no’. This is a completely different story—a global issue through the eyes of a local gangster,” smiles Karthik. On working with National-award winning actors like Dhanush and Vikram, Karthik says that the process of filmmaking has been exciting. “They have their own way of delivering a performance that lights up the shooting spot. It will be completely different than what we would think of. So, more than the process being easy, it is exciting I would say,” he tells us.
Jagame Thandhiram is also National award-winning actor Joju George’s debut in Tamil. “I met him for a discussion on another film we worked on. That is when he gave me a DVD of his award-winning film Joseph. I liked him in that character. In JT, he plays a role older to his real life’s and has delivered a stunning performance. When we started the film, not a lot of Tamil audience were familiar with him. But with Nayattu and One becoming huge successes during the lockdown, it will work to the film’s advantage. He has also dubbed for his role,” the director opens up. There have been several controversies surrounding the film since the producer’s decision to release the film on Netflix. “Who knew such a pandemic would hit us when we made the film? It is completely producer’s call and I have no say in that. If not for COVID, Jagame Thandhiram would have released in May 2019 in theatres” says Karthik.
But has the Petta director noticed his name missing in the promotional posters made by Netflix? “Yes I did. More than what I feel personally about it, I think it is their policy to not included a director’s name in promotions. That is why I have been promoting my own poster designs on my social media. It would be nice if Netflix can change their policy in future,” he concludes.