Nithilan Saminathan on Maharaja: ‘Vijay Sethupathi ensured I felt no pressure’

Nithilan Saminathan on directing Vijay Sethupathi's 50th movie 'Maharaja', collaborating with Anurag Kashyap, and more.

ByHaricharan Pudipeddi

Published Jun 11, 2024 | 8:04 PM Updated Jun 21, 2024 | 12:02 AM

Vijay Sethupathi’s much-anticipated action-drama 'Maharaja' will release in theatres on 14 June.

Seven years since the release of his breakout debut film, Kurangu Bommai (2017), filmmaker Nithilan Saminathan, is finally gearing up for his next–Maharaja–which, coincidentally, also marks Vijay Sethupathi’s 50th film.

Ahead of the film’s release on 14 June, Nithilan Saminathan caught up with South First to talk about the long wait to make his second film, why he isn’t in a hurry to make films, working with Vijay Sethupathi and the joy of teaming up with one of his favourite filmmakers, Anurag Kashyap.

Maharaja promises to be an exciting film about a barber in search of someone called Lakshmi. Nithilan Saminathan doesn’t even give any clue about whether Lakshmi is a living character or an object. He says it’s the exciting premise, which set up the first 10 minutes of the film, drives the script forward.

Also starring Mamta Mohandas, Bharathiraja, Natty, Abhirami of Virumaandi (2004)fame, and Anurag Kashyap among others, Maharaja is tipped to be a thriller with a fair dose of violence and drama.

Excerpts from a conversation:

Q. Seven years is a long gap between your first and second film. At a time when most filmmakers are quick to jump to the second project, you took your sweet time.

A. I don’t plan films that way. I take my time to write and develop ideas. By the time I went to the sets to shoot Maharaja, I had written 14 drafts. The premise improved with each new one. Also, it’s not like I waited seven years for Maharaja to materialise.

My producer paid me an advance three months after the release of Kurangu Bommai, and I began developing the idea I had conceived. Eventually, when Sethu anna (brother) joined the project, I made certain adjustments in the script to align with his persona. After that, everything else fell into place according to our plan.

Q. Was Maharaja planned as Vijay Sethupathi’s 50th film or it coincidentally happened to be his 50th release?

A. When Sethu anna came on board, it wasn’t certainly his 50th film. We didn’t plan Maharaja to be his 50th film in any way; it just happened. Until recently, we were unaware that this would be a milestone release. This has heightened the excitement surrounding the film, both among fans and within the industry. (smiles)

Also read: I’m tired of those kinds of films, says Vijay Sethupathi

Q. Was there additional pressure when you realised it was Vijay Sethupathi’s 50th film?

A. When you work with Sethu anna, he doesn’t let you take any pressure. We just worked to give our best output. More than pressure, we were more self-aware of the responsibility of working together. Sethu anna was kicked when he heard the script. He wanted to give his best. And, guess what? He did!

Q. A lot of filmmakers consider it an exciting opportunity to work with Vijay Sethupathi. How was your experience?

A. It has been one of my most enjoyable yet rewarding experiences. Sethu anna makes the process quite interactive, and that’s what makes it exciting. Each scene is improved by a lot of discussion. Sometimes, he suggests a reshot when he’s not happy with a scene. As a director, I need not even have to initiate. That’s the kind of involvement you get from him.

Q. Maharaja features Anurag Kashyap as the antagonist. What’s the reason behind his casting?

A. Anurag sir is someone I quite look up to. Working with him has been a dream of mine. The excitement comes from collaborating with someone you’ve always wanted to work with. That’s how I felt when Anurag sir joined the project. He plays a fascinating role that goes beyond the typical villain character.

Q. Mamta Mohandas makes a big comeback to the Tamil industry with Maharaja. Could you talk about her casting?

A. Mamta plays an important role. She’s been picky about offers that she’s been getting from the Tamil industry. So, when I approached her, she was clear about her expectations. But when she heard the story, she just jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately, I can’t talk much about her character. It’s a role that drives the story.

Q. Kurangu Bommai is still remembered for the shock value it brings to the climax. Can we expect similar treatment from Maharaja?

A. After the initial ten minutes, every subsequent minute of Maharaja will surpass the audience’s typical expectations. Those who formed an opinion after watching the trailer will pleasantly be surprised.

(Edited by S Subhakeerthana)

Also read: Vijay Sethupathi’s ‘Maharaja’ to hit the screens on 14 June