EXCLUSIVE: I didn’t change ‘Election’ script after watching ‘Maamannan’, says director Thamizh

The filmmaker asserts that his latest outing is more about how intentions aren't enough to make it big in politics.

ByAvinash Ramachandran

Published May 21, 2024 | 2:21 PMUpdatedMay 21, 2024 | 2:47 PM

Director Thamizh gets candid about 'Election'

The timing of a release is everything, and there couldn’t be a better time for director Thamizh’s sophomore film Election (2024) to hit the screens.

The entire country is amidst the second-longest general elections, and it is during this phase that the Vijay Kumar-starrer has been released (on 17 May).

“In some Tamil political films, we’ve seen a common man suddenly becoming the Chief Minister of the state. In reality, it is extremely tough to win an election in your area. The same area where you grew up all your life and know each one in the locality. That is the ground reality of the system, and that’s what we wanted to showcase in Election,” Thamizh tells South First, days after the release of his first mainstream movie had hit the marquee.

Well, his debut venture Seththumaan (2020) had a festival release and was a direct-to-OTT film.

Excerpts from a candid conversation with Election director Thamizh:

Thamizh's Seththumaan is streaming on Sony Liv

Thamizh’s directorial debut ‘Seththumaan’ is streaming on Sony LIV. (X)

Q. Your first film was about food politics. And now, you are tackling votebank politics. But you have focussed on the not-so-mainstream local body elections. Why did you think this story had to be told?

A. The local body elections are more personal to both the candidates and the voters. This is a microcosm of the entire state. The voters in an MLA or MP election might not know their candidates personally.

But, in this case, more often than not, they will know the candidate’s likes and dislikes, political stance, caste representation, and more. It is looking at each candidate with a magnifying glass. I wanted Election to be an honest, organic view of such a situation.

Q. Interestingly, Election is about three different elections spanning a decade. But you only have passing references to what happened in between those elections? Why was the focus solely on the three local body elections?

A. The film is all about the power of being in power. I wanted to show the depths to which people would go to wield that power. Again, since it is not an overarching election, we see the good and bad happening to the same people in an almost cyclical nature.

I wanted to show how politics isn’t relegated to just a single election.

Election is more about how intentions aren’t enough to make it big in politics. It is about the system, and its unimaginable hold over the people.

Election review: A compelling thriller about grassroots politics

Q. Despite having a hero who has regular doses of action, romance, and sentiment, he is someone who doesn’t always win in life. Why was the character sketched in such a way?

A. I wanted the film to be as close to reality as possible. It is boring to see a political film with the usual “will the hero win” template.

It wasn’t important to show the hero going against the system and winning against all odds. I thought showing the odds was more pertinent.

The struggle to do good in politics was more important than the victory itself. Failure is paramount in politics. But it takes a different colour in local body elections. It is a culmination of factors including caste, religion, gender, economic status, etc.

There are no filters or shenanigans to gloss over such discrepancies. I wanted to show all the factors that burden a new person’s entry into politics. I didn’t want to take the cinematic route.

Failure was important for Vijay Kumar’s Natarasan to understand politics, and as always, a loss teaches you more than a win.

Election is a political thriller

‘Election’ is a political thriller. (X)

Q. Compared to Seththumaan, you seem to have made a lot more compromises in terms of storytelling in Election.

A. Honestly, I don’t like using standalone songs in my films. But here, I had to use a couple of romantic numbers. However, it was for the greater good of establishing a character that has very little screen space.

I prefer using songs as a narrative device to show the progress of time like the Nallur election campaign number. There are also action sequences for the hero.

But I understand that how we are mounting a film is as important as what we are telling through it.

I needed people to come to theatres and see what I wanted to tell, and for that certain aspects had to be incorporated.

Q. So, what was it that you wanted to tell your audience through Election?

A. I wanted the process to be documented. How do they count votes? Who has the power to ask for a recount? How often does a minuscule vote difference change the fate of a local body? When I researched all these details, I was quite surprised. I wanted that to be felt by the audience too.

Understanding the process is important. Understanding local body elections is the cornerstone of understanding Indian elections.

Thalaimai Seyalagam Season 1 review: Weak writing pulls down this well-acted show

Q. The casting in Election is quite interesting. Every cast member exuded a sense of authenticity to the premise and the setting of Vellore.

A. I liked Vijay Kumar’s political stance and his next-door-boy image. I wanted him to be part of the film, and he graciously agreed.

When I finished scripting, the first actor I reached out to for the role of Natarasan’s father was George Maryan. I told him he is the soul of Election, and he brought in his years of experience as a Therukoothu artiste and an acting instructor.

I signed Preethi Asrani for the film even before the release of Ayothi (2023) because she looked like a girl next door, and I needed that from my actors.

To bring nativity to the film, we used several actors from the theater groups in Vellore, gave them basic training, and brought them in front of the camera.

Thamizh directorial Election

Director Thamizh’s sophomore film ‘Election’. (X)

Q. One cannot look past the fact that Election has thematic similarities with recent films like Maamannan. Did you have to rework your script to accommodate the releases that beat you to the clock?

A. Honestly, I didn’t know Maamannan (2023) and Election were similar till the former was released. But I see it as a film that explored another angle of vote bank politics.

Kalavani 2 (2019) and Mandela (2021) dealt with the same theme differently.

I didn’t change anything after watching Mari Selvaraj’s directorial. I didn’t have to either. The premise was different too, right?

Q. Up next, you are once again adapting a Perumal Murugan work to the big screen. Is it comfortable working on such adaptations as opposed to working on your script like Election?

A. If only (laughs). While Seththumaan was adapted from a short story called “Varugari“, my third film is adapted from his novel “Pookuzhi“.

When I am working on his scripts, I have an extra responsibility. I can’t hit the bull’s eye. I can’t afford to make a film that won’t do justice to his words. That is always a bigger challenge, but one that I enjoy taking up.

Also Read: Politics, politics everywhere, whether Tamil cinema likes it or not