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Interview Team : Sudharshan

“We wanted to be friends forever,” begins Mr. Bala! “So, we took the first syllables from both our names (Suresh and Balakrishnan) and started writing under the nom de plume, SuBa,” completes Mr. Suresh. That’s SuBa, best explained!
Rather than competing with each other during college for a short story competition, the writers joined together and became twice stronger. Today, there are millions who’d thank the fates for that!
From Kana Kandaen to Anegan, the pioneers have written for the biggest names in the industry including, Ajith, Vijay, Dhanush, KV Anand, Suriya, Vikram and director Shankar.
In an elaborate discussion with Sudharshan Giridhar, SuBa talk about their history, KV Anand’s role in their lives, fighting ego, their literary works and of course, Anegan!



What inspired you to become writers?

Bala - Even as a youngster, I was an ardent fan of Jayakanthan. Every short story of his started to move me emotionally. His works made me believe that writers are from the heavens; that they are all celestials. I strongly believed that it was humanly impossible to write so beautifully.
Jayakanthan and in the later stage, Sujatha, T Janakiraman, Kalki, Na Parthasarathy were the inspirations for us to believe that it is okay to write your mind. In a way, they brought out the writers in us.



How open was your family when you expressed your desire to take up writing as a career?

Suresh: When I was in my tenth, I wrote a short story for a children’s magazine. Surprisingly, it got published and I was so proud of it. That was, in a way, the point of beginning of my writing career. The fact that my writing was accepted by a popular magazine gave me great confidence. By the time I finished my PUC, around 7 short stories of mine got published. I was very sure that I was going to be a writer.
Then came the college life, met Bala and we started to write together. Our first winnings was Rs.100. When my dad came to know about it, he called me. I was expecting him to appreciate me, which isn’t unusual for any father. Instead, I earned a heavy round of bashing from him. Response at Bala’s place was similar.
Both families were upset with our decision. They asked us to take a job. So, we decided to continue writing, but not publish them until we had permanent jobs. While Bala joined Bank of Baroda, I took up a job at Bank of India. He was at Perundhurai and I was placed in Chennai. We exchanged our stories regularly. My writings would be with him and his, with me. As agreed, we never published our works, until we both were settled well. 
When we started sending our works to magazines, it wasn't for the money. We sent those, because we wanted to tell our stories. We sent them, so that we can write more. We sent them because we were passionate. When you get paid for the work you love dearly, what is there to grumble about?
Unconsciously, our intention to write differently, later started giving us big commercial returns. The house we are living now was earned from our literary works and not cinema. 


History and the recent past show instances of ego clashes breaking great unions... How do you survive ego?

Suresh: It’s very simple. Neither Bala’s nor Suresh’s ego interfered with Suba’s ego. When we argue or fight for something, it must always be for the betterment of the product. If you are matured enough to get convinced or accept a better idea, ego can never win over us


While writing for a movie, how do you split work among yourselves?

Suresh: To be frank, we don’t split our work. We multiply it. Bala edits my work and I edit his writing. That’s how we work… We don’t make it easy for each other.


SUBA and KV Anand – the importance of the three in each other’s lives…

Just like Suresh and Bala, KV Anand and Suba became friends even before coming into cinema. While we were writing for Kalki, KV Anand joined as a still photographer. While we were travelling across Tamil Nadu to write about things, KV came along with us to take photographs for us. So we became very close friends. 
When we started writing novels, we wanted the wrappers of our books to carry something different and not just the usual age old sketches. So we asked KV to help us with some photographs for the novels. He was so full of ideas that his photographs for our novels were much appreciated. 
There are also instances where we developed stories from his photographs. That is the height of his creativity. We all complemented each other very well and each of our ideas turned out to be inspirations for each others’ works. 



Kana Kandaen – The dawn of an adept trio

Suresh: We never started our careers as cinema writers. We wanted to be story tellers. KV Anand is a voracious reader and he came to us asking if we could get together for a movie. The new association gave birth to Kana Kandaen.
Bala: Kana Kandaen was based on our novel, Pudhaithalum Varuven. Maadipadi Kutrangal became Ayan. Another story of ours, Nesippadhai Sollividu inspired us to write Ko. The novel was a full-on romance, but we added a few other elements to convert it into Ko.
That’s how we three work. We pick a story, discuss a lot about it and add more entertaining elements to cater to our audience.
Maattrraan was the only project that wasn't inspired from one of our earlier works. KV Anand got hold of a magazine article about conjoined twins that acted as the seed.



Suresh: When cinematographers jump to direction, people expect a romance movie with great visuals. When KV Anand decided to become a director, he sat with us for a love story too. He wanted to present romance differently. So, we talked about period stories, multi-layered stories. That’s how the idea of Anegan took form.
Anegan was supposed to be KV Anand’s first movie!

Anegan was supposed to be KV Anand’s first movie!


The influence of Brian Weiss’ ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ in Anegan…

Suresh: When we decided on the central theme of Anegan, we needed a thread that could connect the four time frames. Finding that thread seemed to take us a great load of time. Meanwhile KV Anand read our Pudhaithalum Varuven and went ahead with Kana Kandaen.
Bala: We’d discuss about this script after every movie. During Maattrraan, we came across this book called Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss. The author talks about his true experiences in performing regressive therapy. 
Suresh: It reminded us of our own stories like, Balikku Bali, Kirubavukku Munn Kirubavukku Pinn and Marakkadhey Mannikkadhey. In all these stories we had dealt with past births and time travel. We wondered why we didn't think of it earlier.
So, the book, ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’ helped us develop the thread that connects all the four time frames in Anegan. 
Bala: In fact, you can see the book in one of the shots that shows around Madhu’s room.


Almost all your works rely on twists in the plot… While writing, do you start working backwards from the twist to avoid logic issues or do you have any other technique that you incorporate?

Suresh: Every writer will have a situation where he/she will have to work backwards. But, once the script is done, we sit together to discuss the twists. 
Bala: Take Ko for examples. We wanted to begin the story with a punch. So, we kept the bank robbery as the introduction scene for Jiiva. His photographs help the police to track the culprits down. We could have let that scene end there and kept it as a standalone intro sequence for the protagonist. 
But we made a trivial change in the chief burglar’s character change, which gave him a purpose to be a part of the full story. We made him a Naxalite, so that he could play a key role in contributing to the impact of the climax sequence. 
Suresh: Initially, the climax and the intro were two unrelated events. We made a thread to link both in order to add juice to the twist.


How do you cater for superstars like Ajith, Vijay, Dhanush, Suriya and Vikram?

Suresh: No one has ever come to us seeking for a script for a particular actor. Until now, directors have come to us looking for good scripts, stories and themes. We have a stock of over 400 stories of which at least 50 to 60 could be suitable for cinema. Directors pick one from those, generally. So, again, we don’t write a script with an actor in the mind…


Even Arrambam?

Suresh: Vishnuvardhan got in contact with us to make Billa 2. He came up with the prequel idea and we found it challenging. Had it been a sequel, we would have been forced to stick to the character’s current image that was created in Billa. We believed a prequel would give us a lot of liberty in terms of the script and the character sketch.
But, we were held up with a bunch of projects already during that time and hence, asked Vishnu for a year’s time. In the meantime a lot of things happened and Billa 2 was made by a different team. 
After that episode, Vishnu came back to us asking for a story for Ajith. We didn’t have a story for Ajith. But we pitched in a script that had two protagonists. Having penned a lot of military based stories, we know the hardships that the soldiers go through in our country and about the political pressures and treatments they face. Then the Mumbai blast happened and the Hemant Karkare issue inspired us to write a story. Thus, Arrambam took form. 
Ajith listened to the script and he liked it. He didn’t mind it being a multi-starrer. He was confident about his part and he was very secure in his own space. 

Vishnuvardhan got in contact with us to make Billa 2


I’ve heard most of your detective novels have the characters Narendran and Vaijayanthi of Eagle Eye Detective agency playing the lead… Any chance the series could turn into a movie franchise?

Suresh: That has to be decided by the directors and producers. We don’t have any ideas of directing or producing movies. In some of our movies, we have added glimpses of Narendran and Vaijayanthi. 
Bala: I don’t think it is fair to bring those two characters to movies. Narendran and Vaijayanthi have a strong fan base. Each and every fan would have their own version of Narendran and Vaijayanthi. If we make the series into a film, we’d have to cast someone to do the lead roles. That would mean breaking the imaginations of our fans and replacing them with a different image. Even Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan as the lead would disappoint the fans. In their imagination Narendran might have a part of Rajini, Kamal, Karthi and Suriya. Remove even one off the equation and the people would be largely disappointed.


Even Rajinikanth or Kamal Haasan as the lead would disappoint the fans


But, the Harry Potter series worked magic, as books and as movies…

Suresh: That’s our point. The actors who played the leads in Harry Potter were new and didn’t do a single movie in between. They grew with the story and it was easier for the audience to connect with them. Now the challenge for viewers would be to accept them in other roles.
Similarly, Narendran and Vaijayanthi might only work if the leads are fresh and don’t have an image among the audience.


Do you think the Tamil industry is a good place for passionate writers? Are the directors open to taking up the works of other writers?

Suresh: As far as the Tamil industry is concerned, I’m afraid I’d have to say, such a scenario haven’t developed yet. But we sincerely hope it does. 
There was a time when writers were roped in just to put everything in writing. Do you remember who wrote the story of Baasha? How about Aboorva Sagotharargal? I’m sure not many do. You know those movies as Rajinikanth’s and Kamal’s respectively. That has been the fate of our writers. Our films have always been star driven.  
Very few writers like Sujatha got their respect because of their rich literary works. Kamal Haasan, Shankar and other leading film makers considered it an honor to work with Sujatha and they were proud to tell the world they are working with him. But not all writers got that kind of respect. 
Good thing is that, it feels like the times are changing now and writers are getting due respect and recognition lately. Thanks to KV Anand, writers are getting noticed for their works.


Your thoughts on the aspiring writers, who approach you for advise…

Suresh: Everybody these days seem to have a knot. You have to check our inbox out. There’ll be at least a hundred mails every day asking for a chance to write or a request to put them through to Shankar so that they can pitch in their story. Some come to us because they might have a line but might not know how to develop it as a full length story.
For you to be writers, you must be good readers first. Rich experience might help you to write a book or two. After that you must depend on your imaginations and creativity, which grows only by reading more. Most of the aspirants are only attracted to the glamour of cinema.


You filled Late Sujatha’s shoes in Shankar’s I…

Suresh: Shankar had been working on 'I' for a decade, we guess. He had everything ready. He narrated the entire story to us. He wanted us to work on the dialogues and share our thoughts on the screenplay. 
Shankar is tough only on the sets. We were very comfortable working with him. There’ll be heat and stress only during the production process. We have to work under stress only when there is a change required in the script during the shoot.
Bala: If you want to know Shankar completely, you’ll have to work with him. Not only is he a genius, but he also puts in so much effort into everything he does.

Shankar had been working on 'I' for a decade


The recent works that you loved…

Suresh: We enjoyed the writings in Soodhu Kavvum, Pizza. 
Bala: We loved Thegidi too… That’s our style of work…


Yennai Arindhaal is your style too, would you agree?

Suresh: I wouldn't say so. It’s a typical Gautham Menon work. Yennai Arindhaal is definitely not our style… If you are talking about the genre, yes it is one that we have explored a lot. But, Yennai Arindhaal is too straight forward to be our work. Arrambam is our typical formula. We like to keep the suspense going for a major length of the movie.


Be it Anegan or Arrambam, your stories have very strong female characters. Do our heroes feel secure in their spaces, when they have a female lead, who has an equal part to play?

Suresh: Women by nature are emotional and they don’t care about the logic much. If they think someone deserves love, they shower it on the person. So, basically it is easier to spin a story around a female character. 
As for whether our heroes are secure in their spaces, I’ll have to say they are very mature in that aspect. Take Ajith for instance, he is very confident about his potential, otherwise would he have signed up for Arrambam that has an equal scope for Nayanthara? 
It is the people around the actors who are always insecure. They wouldn't want another actor’s movie to release while their idol’s movie is running in the theaters.


Lastly, what are the changes you’d like to see happening in the industry in favor of writers?

Firstly, writers must be respected. I’m not sure if all the writers get paid enough, in comparison to other main technicians. If the industry is ready to pay the writers well, there will be more exciting talents coming in.
Secondly and most importantly, do not try to cheat the writers. Script is the backbone of any movie and it is high time we develop the maturity to acknowledge the fact.
Dear SuBa! Thank You!!! It was a pleasure!!!



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