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Shah Rukh, Vijay are child-like from within: Director Atlee

In this no-holds barred conversation, director Atlee talks about Jawan, and why he involved Tamil technicians in it. The filmmaker opens up on speculations, allegations around him and the similarities between stars Vijay and Shah Rukh Khan

Shah Rukh, Vijay are child-like from within: Director Atlee

Director Atlee

CHENNAI: As we entered director Atlee's office in the heart of Chennai, we were welcomed with a few motivational quotes on one side and a painting portrait of Amsterdam from the 1800s on another wall. The main hall is like a museum that has collectibles starting from Atlee's numerous awards, clapboards of his films, antique cameras, Ramayana and Mahabharata, coffee mugs from Paris, footballs, and books on football world cups. As we are about to complete the tour, we hear a voice, 'Vaanga Bro!' An excited Atlee greets us to talk about Jawan and much more. Excerpts from the conversation

How Jawan happened:

"It's been over four years since we met and Jawan happened four years ago. You would have seen my pictures with SRK from IPL matches at Chepauk and I signed the movie during the lockdown. It is my work in Tamil and the love of media and the audience that has taken me till Shah Rukh's living room. He gave me a whopping budget of Rs 350 crore for Jawan during the lockdown. Who would have done that?"

Jawan will be SRK in an Atlee film:

"He was clear about that from the beginning. He asked me to make a film in my template and that he would act in it. Even when it came to the cast and crew, he left it to my choice. Jawan will be a mass action entertainer that will strike a chord with Pechiamma in Madurai to a Riya in Jammu and Kashmir. It has a very strong "Indian emotion" as a touchpoint to it. I could have made another romantic film like Raja Rani or another random action film. But I wanted to make good use of this platform so that more Tamil filmmakers are invited by other stars in Mumbai. Now that cinema is wide open, everyone has the opportunity to work everywhere. We have made the film in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu where the audience have a different taste and like different styles of films. My style is that I have done one film that would cater to all the audience."

On roping in Tamil artistes and technicians:

"What I am today is what Tamil cinema has given me. I wanted a daily wager to benefit to the maximum from this film. Which is why I opted to work with FEFSI workers. Barring Mersal's 20 days, I wouldn't choose to shoot abroad. There was a song where we used 4,500 artistes from the south. FEFSI met and thanked me for providing them with the opportunity. I am glad I could use Jawan to do something good for them."

'Vijay plays a cameo in Jawan?':

"Vijay sir does not play a cameo in the film. If that was the case, I would have announced it myself. I would maybe plan for a movie that will have both these actors in lead roles. In fact, I have played a cameo in Jawan."

Opens up on plagiarism allegations:

I was dragged to court often and I have won all the cases. Someone said Mersal is copied from Moondru Mugam. After hearings, the producer, who filed the case, ended up paying the fine. Another aspiring filmmaker said that Bigil was his script. I was only worried for his career. Vikram, the then head of the Directors' Union gave a letter saying that Bigil is an original script. That helped me fight the case. So, that's okay.

'Budget control is necessary and I have done that':

"A director shouldn't open an account book and a producer shouldn't open a script book. As a filmmaker I should be aware of the budget and a producer should know what the script is. But we cannot be involved in the budget and they shouldn't interfere in the creative process. I am now producing a couple of Hindi films and I wouldn't be involved in the script. There have been talks that Atlee overshot the budget of his previous films. Do you want to know the lineup of my upcoming producers? Thanu sir, AGS, Thenandal and Fox Star (now Disney+Hotstar). If they felt that I went above my allocated budget, they wouldn't ask me to do a film for them again."

'Would love to work with Ajith':

"As a filmmaker I would love to work with everyone in the industry. I would like to test Hollywood waters too in the near future. Why not Ajith? I would work with him when the opportunity comes."

Similarities between SRK and Vijay:

They both are child-like. They are adamant and focused when it comes to work. But they have a child within them. Apart from that, their humility is something I admire. This is what sets them apart from others."

What next after Jawan?:

"My little boy Meer has my call-sheet for the next four months. I haven't spent time with him. I will be on a break and he will have all my attention. I will decide on my next after that."

Kaushik Rajaraman
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