Vivegam director Siva on his collaboration with Ajith and his bond with cinematographer Vetri
When director Siva worked with actor Ajith on the Tamil film Veeram, little did he know that he'd work with Thala on two consecutive projects. But the collaboration is one that has proved successful for both the filmmaker and the star. The duo is now gearing up for their latest release — the action-thriller Vivegam.
"He hinted at it (us working together again) on the sets of Veeram," says Siva of teaming up with Ajith. "It was just five days since we had started the shoot and he called me all of a sudden and said, 'I think we will be doing many more films in the future.' Preoccupied with the shooting that day, I just gave a perfunctory nod and said, 'Okay sir.' I realised what he meant only after I wrapped up the shooting that day. I was puzzled about what impressed him, but then it was decided that my next film would be with him."
Siva is all praise for his lead star. "He (Ajith) respects a script writer’s space. He has never influenced my writing in any way. When I scripted Veeram, he said he would wear simple dhoti and shirt throughout the film, given the genre. Apart from that, he didn’t make me change any sequence or dialogues for him. I think that’s a unique attribute he has. He completely believes me, as a director or scriptwriter. His faith in me pushes me to do more, to improvise more."
Despite having an influential commercial star on board, Siva says he never had any urge to pen particular dialogues keeping Ajith's image in mind. "I have got an actor like Ajith sir who is full of positivity, we have a great crew, and a good production unit. So I don't want to miss this opportunity. One can’t just brush aside the impactful dialogues as punchlines. It’s a message with good spirit. When I have Ajith sir uttering those words on screen, the reach will be unimaginable. At the end of the day, there's a chance to make a valuable point about women’s safety, stalking and caste discrimination."
Vivegam is of course what all of Kollywood has its eyes on, and we asked Siva what it was about. "We have all been in situations where we felt completely lost, with no ray of hope, times when our perseverance was tested. Vivegam deals with that, with the strength of will — as the 'Never, Ever Give Up' teaser dialogue makes evident. I have received many personal messages about how this dialogue made people take that next step in life. I was overwhelmed and felt that I am complete as a director after I read such inspiring stories."
"Although the crux of Vivegam and the narrative style will be different, the emotions are universal, and the audience will connect to it easily. The emotional bond a husband and wife shares is a magnificent one. I have tried and succeeded in bringing that to the screen," Siva says.
Significant portions of Vivegam have been shot in Eastern European countries like Slovenia and Serbia in extreme weather conditions. Siva says Hollywood stunt choreographer Kaloyan Vodenicharov was awed by the daredevil sequences Ajith pulled off: "I wrote seven sequences for a high-octane bike chase scene and prepared the storyboard to show it to the stunt master. He asked me if we can use a body double and I said Ajith sir would do the chase himself. The stunt master asked if I was joking — he was very skeptical. When we explained the sequence to Ajith sir, he said 'Okay', and the stunt master had a bewildered look..."
"Ajith sir took the keys, performed a donut, a wheeling, a drift and the master was completely bowled over, and he said, 'I have worked with a star, a racer but never worked with somebody who combines the two. It's going to be my best bike chase'. Despite shooting many risky stunts, no one was hurt, and there were no minor mishaps either," the director adds.
Vivegam also marks composer Anirudh Ravichander's second project with Siva and Ajith, after Vedalam (the soundtrack for which was an immediate chartbuster).
Of working with Amirudh, Siva says, "It is truly a delight to narrate a story to him. He will enthusiastically jump, whistle, hop on and even run on his couch! When you tell him a story, you actually get to know the pulse of the audience. He is open to experimenting and is sincere with what he is doing. For a screenplay which is multi-layered, it is not an easy task to do re-recordings, but Anirudh does that very well."
Siva has also teamed up — yet again — with his frequent collaborator, cinematographer Vetri, on Vivegam. Of the seen movies Siva has directed, Vetri has been cinematographer on six, with Karthi-starrer Siruthai being the only exception.
"Vetri is a very special friend. Whenever I write a script, he is the first person I narrate it to. And he always gives me genuine opinions. So when I told him the story and screenplay of Vivegam, he immediately said the movie is going to be extraordinary. His skills with the camera are incredible. I have been behind the camera for almost 14 films, so I know how tough a cinematographer's job is. A film like Vivegam is undoubtedly challenging for a cameraman, but he has done a miraculous job," Siva says.
Of course, we can't end a conversation about a film starring Ajith without referring to superstar Vijay. Siva, however, is quick to brush off any talk of a rivalry. "Vijay sir and Ajith sir are mutually respectful of each other. Vijay sir is a good friend. When I watched Theri, I called director Atlee and raved about a scene in the film. And after we released the 'Kaadhalaada' song, Atlee called me and said how much he appreciated it. That’s how the industry is today. I don’t know about the fan wars on social media, but there is no place for any negativity in the industry. The camaraderie between both the camps has been excellent and healthy."
Produced by Sathya Jyothi Films, Vivegam, which also stars Kajal Aggarwal, Akshara Haasan and Vivek Oberoi in important roles, is slated to hit screens worldwide on 24 August.