Popcorn Monkey Tiger director Suri on what inspires him to make 'edgy' films: 'I make films for regular people'
Kannada film Popcorn Monkey Tiger released in theatres 21 February.
Sometime last year, after Sandalwood director Suri’s intense Shivrajkumar-starrer Tagaru released, he was in the midst of a story-sharing session with his five-year-old son Pruthvi. Somewhere down the line, Pruthvi mentioned a phrase ‘Popcorn Monkey Tiger’, fusing three disparate things into one line. And now, the teaser of Suri’s film by the same name has crossed 881,000 views, and ‘Maadeva’, a song composed by Charan Raj for the film, has more than 925,000 views. The film releases on 21 February.
From the time he made Duniya in 2007, Suri made a name for his stark portrayals of people not often headlined on the big screen. Gang members and their wars, drug dealers, corrupt cops, and the people whose lives were torn by them, were showcased in all their grittiness on screen, giving the director the moniker ‘Raw’ Suri, with films like Duniya, Jackie, Kaddipudi among others.
Popcorn Monkey Tiger is yet another film in that genre. But, like Suri says, he always stages his films differently. “Like a doctor or an artist improves with practice, a director does too. Every time you shoot, you consciously don’t repeat what you did the last time when it comes to things like colour treatment. I stick to the subaltern in terms of a broad theme, but keep the final mix different. It could be the actors, or stars or the general tone. As I see it, the world is about the lasting fight between powers who instill fear — the arms of the government and the mafia — and how the result of their meeting reverberates among the middle class. What is life? It’s about the middle class struggling to migrate to the upper class, and that throws up many interesting situations.”
The director, who hates being slotted, compares it to be kept in an assigned spot in a library. “It’s your job to slot, not mine to react to it. I merely narrate stories about this life that I intensely love. There are greats such as Kurosawa and Coppola abroad. There’s Puttana Kanagal in Kannada, K Balachander and Mani Ratnam in Tamil. We are surrounded by similar stories. Where we differ is in how we place them in context, how we choose differing patterns.”
Suri is a raconteur whose words fill the notebook with trivia that will prove useful at some stage in life. But, there’s only so much he will speak about Popcorn Monkey Tiger. “I was looking for a very simple title that will lead you to the film. It’s not black or white. People tell me the teaser was intriguing. But, personally, I don’t give importance to anything but the final output. I spliced shots that I thought represented the film and turned it into the teaser. The real content is in the film. I’ll say this. It has a different narrative, but a very simple plot.”
The song 'Maadeva' from the film has gone viral; it fuses English lyrics with the chant of 'Maadeva.' Sample this: “Tear the shade off the sunlight Maadeva, Put the moon on to speed-dial Maadeva”. “So far, I would have helped create over 50 songs for the movies. But, at one stage, the interest wore off and I did not want any songs for this film. I needed a mood for a particular scene and asked composer Charan Raj. He and lyricists Ritwik Kaikini and HanuManKind came up with this. Once I delegate, I hand it over completely. I don’t get much English, and my associate Amritha Bhargav explained the lyrics to me. The song made a lot of sense, and I went ahead with it. Interestingly, Ritwik, a sound engineer, is noted writer Jayanth Kaikini’s son, and even his father did not know we had roped him in.”
Ask Suri how he’s changed over a decade of filmmaking, and the director says that he’s learnt to make himself and his requirements clear. “A rose to me means a real rose, not an artificial one. When you make things clear, people will know you mean what you say. This reflects well on the end product too. There was a time when I did cinema that I did not really believe in. It took my gurus to make me realise that I was walking down a path that I was not comfortable in. I returned to making films for regular people.”
Luckily for Suri, actors and stars have respected and given in to his vision, and every film he makes happens to be a director-driven initiative. “Good content will convince people. Appu (Puneet Rajkumar) and Shivanna (Shivrajkumar) know me well. They mould themselves to my working style. Their faith gives me the courage to experiment within my genre.”
Suri is also known to provide good breaks to those working with him. This results in two things: newer stars emerge in the technical side and films look different even though the same team works on them. “Be it composer Charan Raj or Amritha Bhargav; they provide a different dimension to the raw material I give them. So, their new voice gets amplified. Otherwise, we will be consuming films made only based on old existing tropes. There’s a difference in the story being narrated based on whether a person, for instance, heard about an accident, saw it firsthand or was inside the vehicle that crashed. I’d like to rope in more of the last category, so that my films are steeped in reality and breathe with detail.”
Tagaru found a place in most ‘Top Kannada films to be watched’ lists, which is probably why Popcorn Monkey Tiger has piqued interest outside of Karnataka too. So, what would a non-Kannada speaking audience get from the film? “Illusion, the fear of losing power, the pull of relationships… these are common emotions that are not tied down by language. And that’s what Popcorn… is all about.”
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