Shakti Soundar Rajan's next thriller, Tik Tik Tik, is set in space — a first for Tamil cinema
Shakti Soundar Rajan is among the most exciting filmmakers of Tamil cinema today. His innovativeness and willingness to take the path less travelled, he has successfully reinvented the commercial space with films such as Naaigal Jaakirathai (a buddy cop thriller centered on a German shepherd dog), and Miruthan, a romantic Zombie flick. Interestingly, both these films shone at the box-office and introduced Tamil cinema audiences to new genres, earning Shakti a dedicated following among youngsters.
Shakti is currently busy wrapping up his fourth film, Tik Tik Tik, which he describes as a race-against-time thriller, set in space. Considering this will be Tamil cinema’s maiden exploration in this genre, one wonders if he likes to diversify with each film. “Honestly, Tik Tik Tik is not another desperate attempt to make a first-of-its-kind genre film. The film shaped up in a very organic way and it’s written in a way that it takes the story organically into space,” he said, explaining the title literally translates to the ticking of the clock and will justify the race-against-time space the film falls into.
The project has reunited Shakti with Jayam Ravi, with whom he had worked in his last film, Miruthan. “Two weeks after the release of Miruthan, I met Ravi to discuss the idea. He got really excited and was ready to come on board immediately,” recalls Shakti, admitting it was very challenging to write a space film. “The writing process, especially the exhaustive research work, took us nine months. That’s the time that’s usually spent on writing, shooting and making a regular commercial film. Initially, we spoke to a retired scientist from ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) and got the basic facts right about everything related to space — the space shuttle set up, the kind of work that goes on ground and in space during a mission and the important decisions that are taken. Once the research part was cleared, the writing process was relatively easier,” he said, adding the team had plans to shoot in ISRO, but they didn’t get permission. “The ISRO campus is protected like a military base. Even if you want to click a photograph, you need clearance from the Army.”
Talking about the film, which is on the verge of completion, Shakti said spaghetti westerns and films like Apollo 13 and Armageddon inspired him to make Tik Tik Tik. “You could call this ‘men on a mission’ kind of film. But this is not a dry science-fiction film. I’m a huge fan of Grindhouse movies by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and I intentionally make my films look superficial. It’s not that I aim high and it misses and goes low. I aim for a B-movie because it’s through which I can connect with the masses,” he explained.
A large chunk of the film’s budget has been spent on set work and computer graphics. Shakti is all praise for his art director SS Murthy, and believes if not for him they couldn’t have pulled off this project. “Our art director took the whole film to the next level. It’s with impeccable detailing he built the interior of a space shuttle. Usually, art directors in Kollywood have a warehouse with materials that are commonly used on many projects. But we sourced a lot of material and it’s not easy to build such extensive sets on this budget. We built four sets. The interiors were made life-size and the exterior was shot in miniature,” Shakti says.
On working with Ravi, who was recently seen as a tribesman in Tamil film Vanamagan, Shakti said his commitment stuns him. Elaborating with an example, he said, “We imported a device to shoot action sequences. When you use rope in stunts, it only helps you move front and back or left and right. This device helps to move in 360 degrees but none of us knew how to use it. My stunt choreographer and his team figured out how to use it and trained with it for a week. We wanted to give Ravi a demo and were ready to spend a weekend with him. When Ravi arrived on sets, he wanted to try out the device. As he started using it, he felt quite comfortable and in no time was ready to shoot. He was so good with the device; he even shot scenes for body doubles. We wanted some shots of body and hands in the action scenes and Ravi came forward to shoot these scenes as he was very comfortable with the device.”
For about 70 percent of the film’s shoot, Ravi was attached to a harness. It would take him an hour to take a loo break because he had to remove his space suit and then put it back on. “He couldn’t even sit wearing the suit, so he would ask the harness to be loosened and stand through the most part of the shoot. It was a grueling shooting experience. That’s why we didn’t go for a fancy cast. Apart from Ravi, most of the supporting cast comprises upcoming actors,” he said, adding that Ravi shares screen space with his real life son in the film. “Ravi plays father to his own son.”
The film also stars popular Singaporean actor Aaron Aziz, and Shakti says he was cast because they wanted an actor of Asian descent. “We were on the lookout for an Asian actor and we also had a few options. But we went with Aaron because he’s very popular in Malaysia and Singapore, which are very important markets for Tamil films. It was a delight to work with him as he is very committed. Even when he didn’t have scenes to shoot, he would hang around on the sets as he hated sitting in his caravan,” Shakti says.
Asked if he thinks Tik Tik Tik will usher in a wave of space films in Kollywood, Shakti said, “To crack a story everyone understands in this genre is really tough. There are not too many elements to play with when you’re in space. It’s very difficult to put space in a commercial set up and make it engaging. Our film has no romance and even the songs have been shot as montages but we have elements we think will appeal to everybody.”