Karu Palaniappan
Interviewer : Inian & Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Camera : Balaji | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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His sharp intellectual demeanor is what strikes you first when you meet director cum actor Karu Palaniappan. A hardcore bibliophile, Palaniappan floors you with his intelligent sense of humor and razor-sharp one liners. Having completed his first outing in front of the camera as hero in Mandhira Punnagai which has also been directed by him, Palaniappan talks to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian.
What took you long to come in front of the camera?

I was not to act in Mandhira Punnagai when we began the project. When I narrated the script of Mandhira Punnagai to my friend cum producer Karthik Nagarajan, the topic of casting came about. Till date, I have not written a script with someone in mind. The usual norm is to write the script, discuss with producer and then look for a suitable cast. Hence when I was discussing Mandhira Punnagai and a couple of names were being considered, Karthik gave it a thought and suggested me to don hero’s role. He felt I would be suitable for the role. He was the one who insisted on my donning the greasepaint. I have never considered acting and when the man who is funding is keen about it, I thought why not. Karthik believed that as the script is fresh, a new face would be more appealing. That’s how I came into acting. If not for Karthik, my entry may have been delayed even further.

I was not to act in Mandhira


Acting is difficult

How was it to work in front and behind the camera?

I am more comfortable behind the camera rather than being in front. Appearing in front of the camera may seem easy as long as you are behind it. The director in me was not dormant when I came in front of the camera as I was worried about the numerous aspects of direction for the first few days. My camera man and assistants told me not to worry and assured that everything would be taken care of. It was indeed difficult for the first few days. However, when you ask me which is easier, I would say, it is direction, may be because I have been working on this craft for a long time. Acting is difficult.

What is Mandhira Punnagai all about?

The specialty of Mandhira Punnagai is that all the characters from hero to heroine to comedy artist and supporting cast are all portrayed with grey shades. Everyone has a cassette but Nithyananda’s has been trapped. That’s the difference. There is no good person here. Mandhira Punnagai says that everybody is with plus and minus here.

There is no good person here

Santhanam is said to be doing a different role. Can you explain?

We thought comedy was important for the film because the story is very tight. Hence we did not want a separate track for comedy. When we called Santhanam, we told him that he needs to be there for a lengthy period as we cannot shoot his part alone and send him off as he would be featuring through out the film. He also agreed and felt that would be the ideal aspect for him as well. Thanks to his cooperation, we were able to have him in the entire film. If the shooting for the film went on for 90 days, he was there with us for more than 30 days. Mandhira Punnagai revolves around me, Meenakshi, Santhanam, director Thambi Ramayya, and Nagulan Ponnusamy of Varnajalam fame.

We wanted a heroine who was


Why Meenakshi?

The first condition we had while casting the lady lead was that she should be free because, I am acting, my friend is producing and so we can go to the shoot whenever we feel like. Hence we wanted a heroine who was in line with this and free. Meenakshi had done a decent job in Karuppusamy Kuthagaidarar. Later on, of course, she attempted different aspects including glamour but apparently they did not work. The
worst that people could say is that Meenakshi has not acted in blockbusters. That’s all. When I have decided to take the plunge as hero, heroine is no big deal. Hence we called Meenakshi and sought 60 days of her call sheet. Initially she was confused as to why we are seeking 60 days from a heroine. But I explained that only when we shoot 60 days with her, we can bring out an equal footage of hers with hero. I don’t know to shoot with just 20 days for the heroine. When we completed the film, Meenakshi said that she has indeed acted for 65 days, 5 days more that what we had told her.

Did Meenakshi justify your expectations?

I believe Meenakshi is going to hog the limelight in Mandhira Punnagai. On the first day of shoot, I sent her back at 3 PM to make her study her dialogues. She is an artist who is used to prompting. Her mother tongue is not Tamil and it is difficult for her to speak. I told her unless she thoroughly comprehends the dialogues, it is hard to emote. Of course, there would be some standard expressions in the bank which can be used and adjusted. That’s the maximum we can do. Luckily, we got a lady who was well versed in Bengali and Tamil and translated every dialogue of Meenakshi’s and explained to her in detail. Hence Meenakshi thoroughly read all her lines and it was a new experience for her. At the end of it, I cannot say if Meenakshi knows Tamil or not but she certainly knows the dialogues of Mandhira Punnagai by heart.

Meenakshi is going to hog the

limelight in Mandhira Punnagai

In Pirivom Sandippom, Nagarathar wedding was the highlight. Is there such a feature in Mandhira Punnagai?

I never thought it to be the highlight of Pirivom Sandippom. We wanted to showcase the wedding in detail and we did it. That’s all. In Mandhira Punnagai, we believe the highlight to be its characters. The heroine meets the male lead, their interactions and such events will be the highlight. People who have seen the film till now, like the short, crisp dialogues. I like writer Jayakanthan’s works very much whose forte is to convey in a terse and pithy fashion while not resorting to pages and pages of dialogues. I am inspired by him and the character will be on the lines of Jayakanthan.

It is necessary to see 15 DVDs

to shoot an action sequence

Generally, in your films, relationships play a pivotal role. Will Mandhira Punnagai also be on those lines?

That is the craft, I know best. For other things, I have to rack my brains. I don’t know to shoot a grand song. It is necessary to see 15 DVDs to shoot an action sequence and do a mix and match work. Of course I don’t do these things. Hence I feel when I film things that I have come across or read, it would be more impacting because this is what I know and am more comfortable with.

Camera work, art work

Camera in Mandhira Punnagai is by Ramnath Shetty who has worked in Pazhassi Raja. I did not know him earlier and have not worked with him. Having worked in a big film like Pazhassi Raja, I thought, it would be easy for Ramnath to work in my film. He has done a good job in this film.

Art director Rajeevan who is one of the constants in all my films has worked in MP too. He is my good friend and we share a good rapport. He has done an apartment interior in this film which will be talked about.

Vidya Sagar’s music

Vidya Sagar is again one of my regulars. He has scored six songs for MP and all of them melodies. I have brought in Arivumadi for lyrics. Due to his anger with someone, he was refusing to write lyrics and every time I used to approach him to write for me. He was always in the refusal mode. However, I called him this time also. Finally he relented and attributed it to my perseverance. He has penned 4 songs and the other two are by Viveka and Yugabharathi.

He relented and attributed it to

my perseverance

Where did you shoot?

Mandhira Punnagai, but for a song of 3 minute duration, was shot in Chennai, from the first to the last scene. Of course, there are many restrictions to shoot in Chennai but it was possible because I am a new face and Meenakshi is also not very popular.

When our films run, we say it is a

good trend

The trend in current Tamil cinema

When our films run, we say it is a good trend, otherwise we criticize it. That aside, industry is always there; industry does not expand or shrink due to anyone.

Favorite directors in the current generation?

I like Rajesh. I liked his Boss Engira Bhaskaran better than Siva Mansula Sakthi. I also liked Sargunam’s Kalavani which was a neat work. His diligence and eye for details were impressive. If there was Ayuda Puja celebration in one scene, you will find hero’s bike sporting a small garland in the subsequent one.

On your special camaraderie with Cheran?

If you take around 15 present day directors like Cheran or Lingusamy or Ameer or Suseendiran, you will find at least 12 of them discussing various things. The remaining three may be busy in their work. What I strongly believe is nobody can film my story. Suppose if I write 70 scenes and hand them over to a director, the final product will turn out to be totally different, I think

Nobody can film my story

that clarity has come in now to the industry. When you say that we are all bonding well today, I feel the same type of friendship would have been there even in past among directors. During those times, there was not much of media light. Now everybody can watch me and Cheran talking or me and Ameer discussing. It may have been possible that Balachander and Mahendran would have met and discussed but media may not have been there. Now we see Balachander and Bharathi Raja embracing each other. I am sure they would have done the same thing earlier too but these many flashes did not sparkle then.

Will you continue acting after this?

I am not sure. When I saw Mandhira Punnagai, I felt I was ok. See, I am not a big actor who is out to take the industry by storm. Close circles who saw Mandhira Punnagai felt that I have justified my role. As regards MP, I am fine. But after this, I feel I should adhere to direction because this is where my mind is. I am always checking on others. I think shepherding comes easy to me. So let me concentrate on what comes naturally to me. I am not sure if some white men would call me; if called, I would decide based on who called me.

The film that runs well is big and

that which bombs is small

On small budget and big budget films?

There is no such thing as big or small films. The film that runs well is big and that which bombs is small. That’s all. For me, my film is big and for some one else his film is big.


Tags : Karu Palaniappan, Mandhira Punnagai, Meenakshi, Santhanam, Vidyasagar, Pirivom Sandippom
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