‘Of course Sakalakala Vallavan doesn’t sell sorakkai’

By Kamal Haasan Clone

(Exactly 30 years ago, the groundbreaking Sakalakala Vallavan was released. It has since been voted as one of the top 100 films that nobody knows how and why they became box office hits. For the record, Chinna Thambi tops the list)

Whether it’s Alexander The Great or Iruttu Kadai Halwa, it starts off with just the name, without the glory it attains. Sakalakala Vallavan was no different. We never thought whether it would make it to the Newsweek’s 100 Greatest Films ever or not because Newsweek doesn’t publish such a list. We just wanted to make money.

Perhaps due to the fact that I had dropped out of school, I’ve had many movies that the educated public would find absolutely cringe-worthy. And most of my movies of that type have been directed by SP Muthuraman sir, who eventually became SPM sir. I knew SPM sir was the brother of Subha Veerapandian, a diehard Periyarite and a DK activist. But he never threw this fact in my face most probably because of the kind of films he was making.

This was the time I was acting in Moondram Pirai, which came out in the same year (1982). SPM sir did not concern himself with such films where the hero, rather than walk up to the heroine and tell her that it was him who had taken care of her when she was down with amnesia, makes monkey faces at her hoping that she would recognise him. SPM sir said he would never be caught making such a movie. At that time, SPM sir was seeing the re-runs of many MGR films. We kept discussing those films. We were all fans of MGR and Periya Idathu Penn. We wanted to make a film like that. And we ended up making a film exactly like that.

Later, too, when I made Thevar Magan in 1992, I realised I should have asked SPM sir to direct it. It was his cup of tea. In the sense, he would have lent his name happily while letting me to do the actual direction.

AVM Saravanan of the AVM Studios, with whom I had my debut, wanted to make another film with me. They suggested SPM sir’s name. I was amused. Because at that time, people usually told me about the heroine and not the director’s name.

SPM sir did not tell me any story. He never had any. We just had to assume it. I thought this was the way to go as you can improvise on the day while shooting. AVM Saravanan, who had a reputation for having his arms folded, did not believe in spending on stories. He just wanted us to make a film — any film — that would not bring a bad name to his famous production house, which had enjoyed the consistent patronage of the respectable family audience, the kind among whom Nethu Rathri Yemma and Nila Kayudhe would be a huge draw.

The way SPM sir was filming the movie, providing me lines in English that I could practice my now famous and ludicrous accent on, and that lurid disco dance, I knew this was the kind of village subject that we all dreamt of making. During the shooting of early scenes, I told SPM sir that I would not do the village market scene. And SPM sir agreed. Earlier in my career I had done many village movies, like 16 Vayadhinle, where they rung in the rural ambience by having a rambunctious village market scene. When I expressed my reservations on the market scene to SPM sir, he simply said, ‘Of course Sakalakala Vallavan doesn’t sell sorakkai’.

At some point of the film’s shooting, I decided that to get into the character, I needed a bike for the dance sequence for the song Ilamai Idho Idho. But when the time came, SPM sir was standing there glumly, and the cameraman Babu was sitting with his head in his hands. I thought there was a technical glitch. I said, ‘what is the problem? I’m ready. So are the colourful lights behind that are going on and off signifying that this is a fun night club even though nights clubs that I know of never look like this, and at any rate, Chennai has heard of no night club in the 80s that the film is set in.’

SPM sir forlornly showed me a small note from the producer saying that there will be no petrol for the bike. This was the producer’s way of making sure we shot responsibly, without going overboard with takes. I was livid. I called my office and asked them to bring a big can of petrol in 20 minutes, and in those 20 minutes I was ready to dance on the bike.

Sakalakala Vallavan was one of the films —- along with the likes of Maria My Darling, Andha Oru Nimidam, Per Sollum Pillai —- that made me decide that I should be doing more masala movies. Apart from being easy, they also provided good money. I was nearing middle-age. I thought, “If I don’t do earn now when will I make money?” After wrapping the film, I was so happy that I took Sarika and went for a walk around the empty set where they had shot Nethu Rathri Yemma.

I am always asked when SPM sir and I will work together again. I don’t know if we can summon up that same feeling of doing a film for the pleasure of making money. Now there’s too much pressure. And I don’t blame SPM sir. He’s been so tormented that he wouldn’t want to add to it by doing a film with me again.

(Disclaimer: Waiting for a rejoinder from AVM Saravanan, which we hope is not a legal notice)

(Disclaimer 2: This is a remake of this piece)