Lokesh Kanagaraj has never worked as an assistant to a director. He never went to film school. Instead, he maintains that he learnt filmmaking by watching Kamal Haasan’s films. In his four-film-old career, he admits to having written all his characters with shades of Kamal in them, drawing also from Kamal’s movie characters except for one film: Vikram. 

So the story goes that Lokesh had narrated an idea for Kamal, which the actor liked. The conversation veered towards Vikram (1986) and Lokesh, a fan of the original, was curious to know more about what Kamal originally conceived, which critics dismissed as far ahead of its time. At one point, Lokesh was so engrossed by Kamal’s idea — of a protagonist — that he stopped him right there and asked if he could borrow this character sketch and induct it into his narrative.

The veteran warmed up to this idea. The meeting ended with Kamal providing the meat Lokesh was looking for, in addition to a weighty budget, a battalion of stars including Vijay Sethupathi and Fahadh Faasil, and an arcade of guns —  most owned by Kamal himself. The new Vikram, says Lokesh, is a full-blown action extravaganza. Edited excerpts from a chat: 

Clearly you are fascinated by action films…

I am heavily influenced by the 1990s Hollywood films I grew up watching, such as Predator, Rambo, Terminator and the Die Hard series. Like how today’s kids enjoy Marvel and DC films, these action films had a lasting impact on me. Probably that childhood fascination is why I am drawn to the genre.

In Tamil cinema, there have been very few unadulterated action films such as Kuruthipunal, Chathiryan, Inaidha Kaigal and Theeran Adhigaram Ondru. When people ask me why my films happen at night, it is probably because of the impact of Oomai Vizhigal. When I started making films, I was influenced by Kamal sir’s Sathya. So, I was very particular that Vikram shouldn’t be just another action flick…I wanted the impact to linger on.

With your debut film ‘Maanagaram’, you had said the screenplay was structured so multiple strands of the narrative converge. You said that there was very little writing involved in ‘Kaithi’, since it was more to do execution. With ‘Master’, you wanted to show the parallel journey of two characters. How different is the writing for ‘Vikram’?

The initial pressure I had was to meet the expectation of fans. Even though I made it clear that I was a fanboy, I knew making a film with Kamal sir wasn’t an easy task. The actual pressure was to impress Kamal sir with my writing because he hasn’t done a movie close to six years [discounting Vishwaroopam 2 which was shot before]. From his side, I was sure he would be particular about a weighty script. In fact, he was so keen on the language and diction that I wanted to live up to his standard.

He liked the original idea I had narrated to him. But because I was so impressed with his idea, when he did the original Vikram, I wanted to take his character and fit into my world. I took a long time to write and he was constantly in touch, though I was giving him excuses saying that it’s taking longer than usual. When I gave the bound script, he liked what I came up with and said, ‘This looks completely like your world. So, I’ll just come on board as an actor.’

For some films, you can gauge whether it will work or not at the writing stage. And there are films you know only after making them. Kamal sir understood that this film belonged to the latter. He was also convinced that I would pull it off because he’s seen my previous work and liked it.