tv & movies

A film-within-a-film in ‘Pagaivanukku Arulvai’

We catch up with M Sasikumar and his co-actors on the set of Tamil film ‘Pagaivanukku Arulvai’, which is adapted from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’

We walk into a dingy hall where M Sasikumar is standing; he is surrounded by a group of seated men, all donning prisoner uniforms. To one side we notice Vani Bhojan and beside her is Hareesh Peradi.

Sasikumar mouths a few lines and walks into the centre. In one swell motion, he yells out something and stretches his hands out. This leads to a commotion among the prisoners who now lunge at Sasikumar; in the melee, one of them attacks him using a chair, which shatters on contact with Sasikumar’s back.

Sasikumar (C) while filming ‘Pagaivanukku Arulvai’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The scene is the shooting spot of Tamil film Pagaivanukku Arulvai, starring Sasikumar, Vani Bhojan, Bindhu Madhavi, Hareesh Peradi, Sathish Ninasam and others, at the erstwhile Indira Mills in Chennai.

Produced by 4 Monkey Studios, the film — which is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth — is directed by Anis; Sasikumar’s role is based on Macbeth. “It is a scene that happens inside a jail,” says Sasikumar during a break. “The story is about prisoners, and I am telling a story about myself to the prisoners when this happens.”

Film within a film

Although he is sceptical of the regional audience having read Macbeth, Sasikumar is confident that Anis’ use of contemporary storytelling will help them understand the concept.

Sasikumar (in white tee shirt) during filming of ‘Pagaivanukku Arulvai’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“The ones who have read Macbeth will like this interpretation and for the others, they will at least understand the story,” he says. On the set, there are various tools — from a screwdriver to a hacksaw blade hung on wooden boards from the wall. Behind Hareesh Peradi, there are two structures resembling a King Cobra and a bull — made from what seems like recycled material.

Ask Anis if that is placed for CGI purposes, he plays coy. “I don’t want to spoil things before the audience gets to watch the film, but what I can tell you is that they merely symbolise a theme. People have preconceived notions about prison and the inmates, but there are many artists and playwrights among them,” he says.

Filming underway at Indira Mills | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The film also marks the Tamil début of Kannada actor Sathish Ninasam. In a scene, he is asked to walk in at a particular time and just say “Yes, I will do it”. All signs point to a film-within-a-film being made, something Anis hints at but refuses to acknowledge.

For Vani Bhojan, riding high since the success of her last theatrical release Oh My Kadavule!, Pagaivanukku Arulvai represents another opportunity to showcase her acting talents. “I don’t want to be a doll and come stand for a few scenes and leave. I play an actor within the film and am part of a drama that happens inside the prison,” she says, adding, “I am choosing the roles that leave me satisfied.”

Vani Bhojan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Whilst he has not donned the director’s hat in quite some time, Sasikumar remains a keen filmmaker. After every shot, he rushes to the camera assistant asking for a playback. Director Anis is only happy to oblige when his lead actor asks for a retake. “There is no heroism element in this film, and Sasikumar is not someone who will make changes to the script and change its identity from how I wrote it,” says Anis.

Ask Sasikumar if he plans on getting back to directing films any time soon and he springs a surprise: “Actually, I wanted to reduce my acting commitments and start directing a film in 2020 but COVID-19 slowed down those plans. I have written stories during lockdown that I intend to direct in the future. Circumstances made me an actor. When I take up directing again, I should be able to do that with absolute freedom.”

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