Election is just around the corner! If you are checking out the ink stain on your finger that’s yet to wear off, you can be rest assured that you have done your civic duty. But the Election we are referring to is director-actor Vijay Kumar’s next film, helmed by Thamizh of Seththumaan fame. “Election is actually a family drama that uses politics as a backdrop. There’s an underlying message that the film stresses upon. The film’s lead character is not someone well-versed in the profession and how he gets into it unwittingly, only for it to change him in the end intrigued me,” says Vijay, who points out how his two directorials (Uriyadi and Uriyadi 2 ) were “straightforward political films”.

“Doing another similar political film was not something I was planning on doing, but this story was different,” adds Vijay, pointing out why he believes we have not had many films on grassroot-level politics. “I think it’s because some believe it might court controversies. Just like how romance and horror are genres, I feel politics should be a genre on its own. Even if we don’t preach messages, just having it as the backdrop on which the film gets mounted results in so much that can be conveyed.”

What it takes to make a film on politics

Director Thamizh’s Seththumaan was a hard-hitting take on the politics of caste and food. Vijay Kumar promises that Election, on the other hand, has its share of commercial elements. “Thamizh had a bound script when he came to me and it was not written having a particular actor in mind. Even in the press meet, he said he wrote this film and was looking for actors with some political knowledge. Election is a commercial film made to reach the masses,” says Vijay, who compares it with his earlier creation, Uriyadi 2. “There, the lead character directly spoke about his political stance. What I liked the most about Election is how flawed the protagonist is; it’s the journey that evolves him.”

A still from ‘Election’

A still from ‘Election’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Speaking about maintaining a fine balance when it comes to sharing a message through a commercial film, Vijay says, “Let’s not even call it a message; if it’s a thought you want to turn into a topic of debate within one’s mind, we cannot let the characters of such a story take their own shape because we have predetermined what it should do. When that happens, there’s a high chance of it getting artificial or preachy. That’s why time is spent on defining these characters well.”

The actor also cites making sure the film does not offend anyone as another challenge with this genre. “Someone is bound to get hurt with such a film. That’s why balancing the content becomes paramount. With the right political acumen, we can make sure the damage is minimal (laughs). More than the script, we had to be aware of contemporary politics while sketching such a story. Almost all the names we came up with for the fictional party were already registered, and it was difficult to find a colour for the party flag that didn’t resemble any actual ones. We had to convey what we wanted to without sounding preachy; it shouldn’t be controversial, but also be commercially successful,” quips Vijay.

A new angry young man in town

When I point out how he seems to have personified the role of the angry young man, Vijay says, “I don’t think it was intentional; after Fight Club, I listened to a variety of stories and I’m open to doing all genres. But the fact is that my first two films and writing dialogues for Soorarai Pottru have given me such an image. The films that I’m receiving are also similar, which is what I’m trying to avoid. That said, I enjoy playing an angry young man.”

The actor finds such roles to be an extension of his persona: “Despite being a happy soul with a great sense of humour, when I read the news, it enrages me. When fellow humans are in trouble, a part of us wants to find the source of that problem which could either be the system or an individual. But, as an industry insider,I’ve also realised that if I continue doing it, I’ll be stereotyped.”

A still from ‘Election’

A still from ‘Election’
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Films and their impact on society

The conversation veers towards the real-life implications of message-loaded films, and there are many examples of films not having such an impact.

“I don’t think tackling an issue in a film will directly result in having a real-life change, but most of the solutions to these problems aren’t solvable overnight. It might take years but change will take place and a brilliant society will come out of it. Those trying to make a change today are seeds sowed by many of our ancestors. The implications might not be immediate but it creates a butterfly effect that will result in a change down the lane,” he adds and stresses how the good work shouldn’t be stopped even if there is a lack of an encouraging situation. “I adore people who do it despite that; Jai Bhim, for example, made me cry out loud. I’m not sure if I can do such a film as I feel even to say something crucial, a huge star is needed. Otherwise, it’ll be made as a small film that a few people might appreciate it, but the masses might not even know of its existence. That’s the situation today.”

A director with a direction

Speaking of making films, it’s been five years since Vijay Kumar directed one. “Taking up acting was a conscious decision, but I didn’t get the sort of projects I imagined and the ones that worked out took longer than I anticipated. Fight Club, for example, took three years and that wasn’t in my hands. I find it interesting to give life to the imagination and creativity of another person and be presented differently. We live in our own little world, but others come from different backgrounds with varied perspectives. I love watching films, and this, in turn, makes me to be a part of a medley of diverse projects. It hasn’t worked much in my favour and I’m writing my next film,” says Vijay.

“I want to act when the right film comes up, but until then, instead of waiting for it to knock on my doors, I want to write. Based on how things pan out, my next directorial will take shape and I’m hoping to make a film at least by the end of next year. Even while acting in films, the director in me has not stopped working; I note down points and keep an eye out to hone my skills. For now, I find it convenient to star in my own films… but that’s not a decision set in stone. Once I get older or lose my market, I might not be able to act, but direction has always been my passion and I will do it to the very end.”

Election is slated to release in theatres on May 17

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