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Director's dream project

His oeuvre mixes powerful stories with messages, sugar-coated ... a buffet for film buffs. Filmmaker Shankar assures SREEDHAR PILLAI that "Anniyan," to be released soon, is a racy, fantasy thriller.



Shankar at work.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS, the best season for releasing blockbusters, is fast approaching and the Tamil film industry is looking forward to "Anniyan." It is the most talked about big budget extravaganza directed by Shankar.

Films churned out from Shankar's dream factory are meant to storm the box-office and in the last 11 years, he has given seven and is the only director to have a combined gross collection of over Rs. 100 crores from them! His oeuvre is basically commercial mass movies with powerful stories and messages sugar-coated in the entertainment format.

Shankar's movies are yarns spun beautifully to entice the movie-goers to part with their hard-earned cash for three hours of fantasy.

Through the ages, Tamil films have relied on issues to lure the audience — whether it was the socialist MGR kind of mass entertainers or the reformist Sivaji Ganesan genre of films of the 1960s. This pattern was reworked in the 1980s and early 1990s to suit the image of Rajnikanth and Kamal Hassan.

Shankar is the only director among his contemporaries to have survived withthe `generation next' audience. They feel that Shankar still has the magic touch and knows the pulse of the audience.

"Anniyan" is the first film in Tamil to get institutional finance from IDBI. Though producer `Oscar' Ravichandran is reluctant to speak about its cost, the trade sources estimate it to be in the range of Rs. 12 to 15 crores. The dubbed version in Telugu, "Aparichitudu," has been sold at a record price as Shankar's "Boys" was a huge hit in Andhra and the ``Anniyan" hero Vikram has a good market there.

Shankar in an exclusive chat with The Hindu. Excerpts:

Has the taste of Tamil audience changed?

It is but natural that changes have to happen. Today's audience is exposed to other media and they can have entertainment in the comfort of their home. Rather than a formula (film) or star value, they are looking for stimulation. They want to be shaken up by the catchy visuals, story, packaging and music.

Why do all your films take a long time to make?

I started "Anniyan" early last year and since I work with a full-length script it has taken me 14 months to complete the film. It has 63 scenes and all of them were executed with great care and pain. I think by my standards it was fast work (smiles).

Is "Anniyan" also `issue-based' like all your earlier works?

I prefer to make films that are issue-related, add a lot of commercial glitz, and (then) package it so that they are palatable to the common man. I try to bring realism in my own way within the commercial format using state-of-the-art techniques and good production values.

But your critics say that you can only make big-budget extravaganzas with top actors. Any comments?

I believe that my films are like a `buffet' of entertainment with a wide variety to choose from. Everybody will find something in it to suit their taste. As for my critics, they say that all my works are mass `masalas,' I can tell them that it is not easy to make a glossy film that has a soul, which will appeal to the ordinary man.

In all your films, the heroes are larger-than-life vigilantes who play to the gallery and they also convey the repressed feelings of society. What are your comments?

My heroes are anti-authoritarian figures who seem to reflect the cynical mood of the times. I feel that any idea filmed with conviction will be a hit. My heroes may be larger-than-life but like all humans they have emotions. And when I use big stars, their already existing image among the audience works to the advantage of the film and dictates of the box-office.

Can you elaborate on the message that you are going to convey through "Anniyan"?

I am extremely passionate about "Anniyan" and its message. I have travelled to many parts of the globe, especially the developed countries, and I am fascinated by the rapid strides that they have made in all fields. But back home, I am upset to see the neglect, poverty and the laid back approach of our youngsters. I often think that we are a lazy country. Why haven't we produced one gold medallist in the Olympics?

My story is about a person who tries to bring (about) a change within our society. The issue that I am trying to solve is inherent weakness within our society and some motivation to move forward like other nations.

What is the story of "Anniyan"?

It is a commercial fantasy, fiction, thriller. My hero Ramanujam, played by Vikram, is a lawyer. Ambi, as he is affectionately called by his father, Parthasarathy (Nedumudi Venu), kick-starts a process to change people's attitude. I have put my thought process into the character, who also has shades of grey. His cold-heartedness, angst and dare-devilry go beyond the realm of justification.

The film has five songs tuned by Harris Jayaraj, camera is by Manikandan and Ravi Varman. Art is by Sabu Cyril, editing by V. T. Vijayan and the action scenes are choreographed by Peter Haynes.



ON THE SETS: In "Anniyan," Sada, according to the filmmaker, combines glamour and talent while Vikram is its life and soul.

In all your earlier films, the highlights were the chartbusters from A. R. Rahman. Now with "Anniyan," you are teaming up with Harris Jayaraj for the first time. Do you miss Rahman?

I agree that Rahman and I have clicked in a big way, but both of us have decided to go our separate ways. And working with Harris is an experience, and he has given me some amazing tunes, which, I assure you, are going to be mind blowing.

Your song sequences have always been innovative and a riot of colours? What have you tried out in "Anniyan?"

I have canned a song in Amsterdam, during the annual flower show, on the lead pair and another folk song sung by Jassie Gift, shot near Shenkottai and on Sabu Cyril's astounding recreation of a village. Then there is an item song by Yana Gupta, which is sure to rock. Out of five songs two are classical, two are fast and one is folk.

How is it working with Vikram, the National award winner?

He is the life and soul of "Anniyan." He is a thorough professional and a fine actor. My `Ramanujam' is safe in his hands and I don't think anyone else could be as convincing as him. He has given all his time, energy and thought to "Anniyan" and no other Tamil hero could have been so devoted to the project. "Anniyan" will surely be a benchmark in his career.

What about others in the cast?

Sada is a combination of glamour and talent. Nedumudi Venu, Prakash Raj, are actors par excellence and Vivek's comedy is a revelation.

What are the special effects and technical highlights in "Anniyan"?

For the first time in Indian films we have used the time-slicing technique used earlier in "The Matrix." Time-slicing is about numerous stills on a camera system consisting of 120 cameras, a special ring and precise control in post-production to achieve a frozen-time effect. We have used this for an action scene superbly choreographed by Peter Haynes.

How would you sum up "Anniyan"?

It is my dream project, which will be a racy entertainer. I should thank producer `Oscar' Ravichandran without whom "Anniyan" would not have been made. After seeing the rushes he told me that my vision justifies the budget.

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