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Director Shakti Soundar Rajan explores a new genre in his third Tamil film, Miruthan — about a deadly virus that is turning human beings into hungry zombies, signalling a possible apocalypse.

Rajan began his film career with Naanayam, a thriller, followed by Naaigal Jaagirthai. Miruthan is India’s first zombie film.

There is no supernatural element in the story, said Rajan, who has also written the script. Releasing in the UAE on February 18, Miruthan is a word coined from manithan (man) and mirugam (animal). The Telugu version is called Yamapashan.

“It’s about a virus invading people... the fear of a pandemic surpasses what one can feel for a ghost,” he said.

Miruthan is set in Coimbatore and Ooty and features Jayam Ravi as a traffic policeman. Malayalam actress Lakshmi Menon, last seen in Vedalam, is paired opposite him as a doctor.

Shooting a zombie film naturally brings its own set of hurdles. One of them was getting 500 actors playing zombies ready for the climax sequence.

“The front line comprised of fifty fighters who were trained in action,” says Rajan. “The camera focuses on them, mainly. Behind them were 200 gym boys and then a line of junior artists [young actors].”

With 50 makeup artists working on them the night before, they were all eventually ready for a shot at 9am the following day.

“Practical difficulties while handling a crowd of actors and filming at night in live locations were other hiccups we faced,” adds cinematographer Venkatesh S, who last worked in Vadacurry — not to forget the recent flooding of Chennai that stalled work.

Many wide-angle shots were used, and since the film involved CGI work, after every shoot, Rajan had to send the shots to this department.

Crediting lead actors Ravi and Menon for their unfailing support, Rajan said he is grateful to Ravi for trusting a young director with a completely new concept. He said he owes this to producer S. Michael Rayappan, who dared to take on a new experiment that involved a large canvas and a high budget.

“Lakshmi, being an integral part of the action scenes, was present on the sets all the time and that can be quite tedious,” Rajan added.

For Menon, Miruthan is special, not just because she is part of India’s first zombie film, but because of the opportunity to meet Ravi. She’s been a fan since she was a teenager.

“He was my first crush, since the time I watched M Kumaran Son of Mahalakshmi,” Menon said.

Her schedule began with romantic scenes with Ravi — not easy, she says. “The first ten days were bad for me, since both of us are reserved people.”

“Karthik is a traffic constable who does not aspire big,” said Ravi. “He has a younger sister under his care. But when confronted with zombies, Karthik is forced to take on a responsibility.”

“This is a visual film, where the images are powerful and telling,” he adds.