Express News Service
Wedged between the bustling streets of T Nagar, director Naga’s unusually quiet office space almost feels like a portal to another dimension. He smiles in satisfaction when I tell him this, and add that his Marmadesam was an important part of the life of many 90’s kids. Surprisingly though, he isn’t jumping in joy about the rerelease of Vidaadhu Karuppu on Kavithalayaa’s YouTube channel. “It was already uploaded illegally by someone else, but yes, it’s heartening to see millennials getting introduced to it,” says Naga, as he opens up about the hit series and how it came to be.
The origins of Marmadesam
‘I was a cinematographer working with Balachander sir, when the series’ producers Kailasam (K Balachandar’s son) and Chandrasekhar of Min Bimbangal called me to do a series. I accepted, believing I was getting roped in as the cinematographer, but then learned they wanted me to direct it too. I accepted after thinking about it for two days. Indra Soundar Rajan, who had written a series called Ragasiyamai Oru Ragasiyam (that was published in Ananda Vikatan) joined us.
I realised though that there would not be enough content for more than 26 episodes, and we would not be able to break-even with limited content. We then developed the second half and that became Marmadesam, a title suggested by KB sir himself. The rural parts — the temple and the navapashanam bits — were written by Indra Soundar Rajan. Together, we wrote the urban part about the lorry that kills people.
As we had that TV slot, we decided to come up with more and started working on adapting another book (Vittu Vidu Karuppa), written by Indra Soundar Rajan. That’s how Vidathu Karuppu happened. It was once again a whodunit but was also a revenge story. We brought in the multiple personality disorder idea into it.’
Where science met religion
‘Back in college, I learned more about science than what was taught to us. I would read the latest articles of Scientific American while they would be teaching us thermodynamics.
My maternal grandfather, Chinappa, was a staunch atheist and a close friend of Periyar. My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, used to take me to the temple every day. Kapaleeshwarar Temple was my first playground. When reading about science, I would get reminded about something I read about religion. I began connecting dots and found this very interesting.
I brought in such ideas into my stories. Karuppu Saami, for example, is a real story. People would leave their houses open and keep a sickle on the roof, when they headed out to work. No one would dare rob a house guarded by Karuppu Saami. It’s a belief that survived many generations.’
Challenges of screenwriting
‘Adaptations of popular books often turn out to be disasters (laughs). We need to see if the text can be conveyed without dialogues. If it’s a film, it’s easier to trust the audience with details. When it’s a weekly series, you can’t do that. That is why we needed to finish each episode with cliffhanger moments.’
‘The first season, Ragasiyam, was a whodunit, and we had the culprit in plain sight. We were keen to make sure every character is doubted by the audience. So, we intentionally roped in popular faces and gave them roles that were in contrast to what they were generally perceived. Delhi Ganesh, for instance, was usually portrayed as a poor Brahmin or a cook. We gave him the role of a high-profile psychiatrist. Subhalekha Sudhakar was always playing innocent characters, and we cast him as the village rowdy. Prithviraj was generally seen as an angry young men, and here, he played a techie from abroad. This got the audience doubting each character.
In Vidaadhu Karuppu, the audience is left to decipher everyone’s character based on their background story. We went for new actors here. Chetan was an aspiring director back then and I cast him because of his features and soft-spoken nature. We built the family around his character, Rajendran. This was also Devadarshini’s first role. I saw her anchoring a show and thought she was perfect.’
Putting the search in research
‘I travelled through the state looking for Karuppu Saami temples. People don’t know that there are many versions of the deity like Maangadu Karuppu and Sangili Karuppu. People would go to these temples only at a certain time of the day, and never by themselves. I have heard stories of people saying that the deity has been sighted, with some claiming he is 15 feet in height and some others adding that he can be recognised by the smell of sandalwood.
Madurai’s Azhagar Kovil is a major source of inspiration. There are 18 steps between the two doors in the temple, within which people believe that Karuppu resides. I have incorporated these details in the climax.’
‘I am working on scripts for offshore OTT platforms and will be directing a Telugu film. I also do workshops on filmmaking and cinematography. In fact, I have more than 25 scripts on hand. I’m just not the type to go looking for producers. It is hard to find one who shares your excitement.