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By Arun Gopinath
After watching Vaagai Sooda Vaa and going through all the reactions that the movie has received over the period, one feels that there is one aspect of film making that is not appreciated enough in Tamil cinema; perhaps Indian cinema as a whole.

Yes, Vaagai Sooda Vaa has received positive reactions and reviews from most sides and it thoroughly deserves all of them. But all the plaudits have gone to the director for his story, the subject he adopted and his handling of the subject. While all these remain important parts of
the film, one feels that the clinching aspect of Vaagai Sooda Vaa was its casting. The art of finding the right person for the character is something that is often undermined and underappreciated in Indian cinema.

Look at Vaagai Sooda Vaa. The number of new and unrecognized faces outnumbers the familiar faces in the movie. It is the casting of the children especially that is the best part of the film. Being a film that emphasizes the importance of educating children, it was of utmost significance that the kids picked for the role fit it to a T. And, the on screen results are good enough to understand the kind of time and scrutiny that Sargunam and his team would have given to get the right kid for each and every character. Of course, lot of work has been done after the casting to get each and every chosen kid into the mould of a 1960s village child who spent more time wading in muck than in a classroom. While it was good to see Vaagai Sooda Vaa being accepted and appreciated, it was a bit disappointing that an important aspect of the film went under the radar. There weren’t too many voices that appreciated the extremely natural portrayal made by every child that came on frame.

Sometimes, we focus so much on central characters and plots that we lose sight of small nuances. The entire media went gaga over the performance of the little girl Sara in Deivathirumagal. Yes, she was phenomenal for a 6 year old girl; but so were a lot of children in Vaagai Sooda Vaa. It is difficult enough for an adult experienced actor to get into a character from the 60s and we are always are ready to appreciate that. Think about the amount of talent that these children must possess that none of us ever felt that they have not adapted well to the period. Really, credit was due to Sargunam for some absolutely delightful casting and to the children for winning performances.

Coming back to casting; it is an unappreciated aspect of film making in India, mostly because of the star system that prevails. There are always select actors for select roles and this is repeated over and over again, taking casting out of the equation. How many “naattamai” roles has Vijayakumar played, or how many ‘understanding dads’ has Jayaprakash played in such a short career. Finding the exactly right actors/persons for the script is sometimes considered an unnecessary strain, one feels, which is why we have template actors for template roles. Sometimes, one also feels that scripts are written after selecting the actors; at least that is the way that star ventures seem to work. There are many instances when he have received news that a star has signed up to do a film for a certain production banner and that further details (which might include the story, screenplay and the director) are yet to be worked out. This would not happen in a story-character driven industry, where the first things to be finalized would be the story and screenplay, which would then decide the right actor to fit the bill.

It is only rarely that film makers surprise us with casting decisions. And, going by statistics, the surprise casting has always worked. Remember how Bharathiraja was hailed as a master at the craft of casting because he used to pick people right out of the crowds in villages and make them perform in front of camera. Casting need not be that adventurous. But, at least there can be best use of available resources. We all still remember the delight with which we received the Sevvazha character in Paruthiveeran which pleasantly surprised us by bringing Saravanan practically out from oblivion. Remember the casting decisions in Kadhal that made it a wonderful experience. Yes, Kadhal Dhandapani has now become a stereotype jukebox villain because of redundant casting techniques, but his introduction to cinema was a masterstroke in casting. Or try Aadukalam; it would have been tempting for any director to try a Prakash Raj or Nasser or Ponvannan for the character of Pettaikaaran, but the director backed his instincts and put Jayabalan in. Now, we cannot imagine anyone except Jayabalan having done that role.

Casting, especially when it is with unknowns, is always a tricky and risky business where the director backs his instincts to give the best results. In Hollywood, casting is considered one of the most important decisions before a film begins shooting and there are independent consulting agencies which recommend suitable actors after going through the script. Every Hollywood movie’s credits will have a place for the person who took care of casting. It is a rarity in Indian cinema. It is time we realized the significance of right casting and give it a fitting place. And, it is also time that we specifically applaud excellent casting like the one done in Vaagai Sooda Vaa.
Tags : Vaagai Sooda Vaa, Sargunam, Deivathirumagal
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