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Interview Team : Dilani Rabindran; Balasaravanan

With a National Award in hand for his first feature film, M. Manikandan is now one of Indian cinema’s newest filmmaking phenoms. The humble director has already caught the attention of international critics and audiences who have unanimously celebrated Kakkaa Muttai when it played at several festivals around the world, but he remains most excited about sharing the film with Chennai audiences when it releases theatrically June 5. Behindwoods’ Dilani Rabindran chatted with Mani about his tremendous success so far and what he hopes to say to Indian audiences with a couple of crow eggs.


So Kakkaa Muttai is releasing for Indian audiences, but it has been seen by many international ones already. How do you feel about Chennai crowds finally getting to see the film?

I don’t have much doubt that it will do well. This is definitely the kind of movie that will connect with them well. I actually had more worries about international audiences seeing it! Because I wondered how they would connect with a story fully set here [in Chennai] and specific to this society. But, here I am certain this is a film the Indian population will definitely like.

This is definitely the kind of movie that will connect with them well


So this is your first feature and it has accomplished the incredible feat of achieving a National Award, even before its theatrical release, for Best Children’s Film. What did you think or feel in the exact moment you heard you had won the National award? Did you expect it?

I definitely did not expect it. I had a strong feeling that the boys [Vignesh and Ramesh] would win ones, but I never even dreamt that I would accept a gold medal with my own hands. Now, after receiving it, that moment has become a huge, unforgettable one in my life.

I never even dreamt that I would accept a gold medal with my own hands


But didn’t a lot of people, even popular industry veterans who worked on the film, predict that you would win one?

Yes, but they mostly predicted the boys would win, but that I would be accepting one myself was a tremendous, pleasant surprise for us.


How did you tell Ramesh and Vignesh the news that they had won National Awards themselves?

I called them up and told them, and they didn’t know what award I was talking about, they didn’t understand how big it was. But then I said “we’ll go in a flight, guys [to receive the awards]” and after hearing that they were very happy. More than the award they were excited about going on a plane. 

More than the award they were excited about going on a plane.


How did you discover those two and choose them, instead of experienced child actors?

I first saw them when I was going through the slums taking reference photos of children from those areas, because I wanted kids who looked and acted like them. They were very energetic and talkative. Then, after we saw child actors in auditions I could see that none of them had that same energy that these kids [all of them in the movie] I took photos of did! So it occurred to me – why not just take them? So I did and trained them for 2 months to prepare them for the film. These kids have certain wildness, very different from traditional city kids.

These kids have certain wildness


How did your producers, Vetrimaaran and Dhanush, feel about you wanting to take non-trained children for the lead roles?

At first they said no. They said it would take too long to get them ready for shooting and it would be better to go with children who knew how to act. But I insisted and said I would take responsibility for preparing them well in a short time. So we took 2 months and I taught them, and got them ready for a test shoot. When Vetrimaaran and Dhanush saw that they happily agreed to them. But the test shoot was only about half the length of all the shooting they did for the full film.

At first they said no


So many international critics who have reviewed the film have interpreted the film to be about globalization and how politics and society’s drive for it could impact the innocence of younger generations, etc. But what do you hope to say to Tamil audiences specifically through the film?

Globalization is unavoidable. Not to say that there aren’t benefits when it takes more prominence throughout a country, but every country has its own roots right? For generations upon generations, history and culture is built, and, sadly, globalization sometimes means wiping some of that out. So [what I hope to say is that] it’s important to ensure that these roots are not lost in the process of accepting and embracing globalization. It’s important not to lose our culture and identity for the sake of economic growth.

It’s important not to lose our culture and identity for the sake of economic growth.


So with all these heavy themes, do you yourself consider Kakkaa Muttai a children’s film? 

No, I never considered Kakkaa Muttai a children’s film! It is a film for adults that just centers on child characters

I never considered Kakkaa Muttai a children’s film


Not only did you have fellow National Award winners Vetrimaaran and Dhanush as producers on your first feature, you had a stellar technical team – like the late editor Kishore and music director G.V. Prakash, for instance. How did they join the project and what was it like working with such experienced professionals for your debut?

Most of them came on board after seeing my short film Wind. I only wondered a bit if G.V. Prakash would feel comfortable creating the sort of music I had in mind for the story, but he was great and gave me a lot of freedom to be involved in the composing. I’d say everyone treated me with the respect of a much more senior director right from the outset. 

everyone treated me with the respect of a much more senior director


So you were a photographer first, then a cinematographer. When did your ambition to become a director come along?

Only after I made the short film Wind


How does that make sense? Shouldn’t you have had the interest to direct to go through the process of directing that short itself? Why make Wind then?

Well the truth is I wanted more experience as a cinematographer. So I talked to a couple of friends who were directors and told them they should make some shorts and let me handle the camera; they agreed but then I didn’t like any of the stories they narrated me. So I went away and wrote a few stories of my own (Wind being one) and brought it back to them and said – ‘here, you direct it, I’ll do the camera work’. But none of them really understood the story, or how to take the film and just told me to direct it I did. 

I wanted more experience as a cinematographer


Wait, so you wrote Wind just to get yourself some cinematography experience, but then ended up directing it by default almost, and then ended up loving directing?



That’s very backwards.



How did you think of the story of Kakkaa Muttai

So my son really likes pizza. One day when I took him out to a pizza shop I saw some poor children and got to thinking about how much effort it might take them or their parents to save up some money just to have a small taste of it; a small taste of what many children and adults eat almost daily without thinking anything of it. 



So what can you tell us about your second film, Kutramum Thandainaiyum?


Right now we’re in the process of having the background music recorded by Illaiyaraaja sir. It is a film that is directly opposite to Kakkaa Muttai, and that’s all I’d like to say about it to keep the suspense intact.


And what do you have planned after that?

I’m in the process of planning a very big budget film as my third feature, instead of a small scale independent, like Kakkaa Muttai and Kutramum Thandanaiyum



Favorite Director: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) or Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven)

Actor you’d like to direct: Dhanush

Actress you’d like to direct: Nandita Das

Closest friend in the industry: Vijay Sethupathi

Favorite Tamil Movie of all Time: Moondram Pirai

Advice to new filmmakers trying to make it in the field: Nothing to advise, just go make a movie! Stop sitting around and discussing your ideas – go make something of them.




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