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The making of Planet Kollywood

The cream of the Tamil film industry gets together for the biggest tribute to Kollywood. SUDHISH KAMATH watches them at work

PHOTO: S. R. RAGHUNATHAN

ALL FOR A CAUSE Rajiv Menon, Sabu Syril and Mani Ratnam discussing set design

A time machine is being invented. It's called `Netru Indru Naalai.' Director Mani Ratnam is at the helm, all set to interpret the history of Tamil cinema — from the very beginning.

Let there be light, he says. Cinematographer-director Rajiv Menon obliges, switching on the torch lights on the eight-foot wide miniature model of the 120 feet wide stage at the Mindscreen office in Alwarpet.

"Move that chedi (plant), bring that malai (hill) closer," he tells his assistants as he looks through the viewfinder. After clicking away with various light combinations, he connects his digital camera to his laptop to demonstrate how the transition from black and white to the technicolour era would work, much to the satisfaction of the director.

"I want stunningly blue skies," reacts Mani. `It should look like the Ladakh skies."

"A realistic sky has to be a vinyl one," says art director Sabu Cyril, the man entrusted with the job of giving Planet Kollywood a shape. He has the task of fitting a train, a ship, a dam, a building with a terrace, roads, hills and trees within that space, and has to account for making some of them disappear at the drop of light. What makes that difficult is that David Copperfield isn't in the crew.

Research on costumes

The next day, actor Revathy and designer Anu are running around researching colour and material for the costumes. They have to find over 750 different sets of clothes. Using the longest running musical "Cats" as a benchmark doesn't make it any easy, especially with Mani being very choosy about his colour schemes. "I'm scared of `jigna,' (loud, garish and gaudy clothes)," the director of the musical tells Anu, inspecting the samples for a number from the 1960s.

"Use a lot of khakis, bottle-green and greys. Stick to that school for trousers. And let the shirts be white, off-white or cream. They could be flowery or pin-striped. But they should evoke that period," he explains.

A few feet away in the conference hall, director Vasanth requests for an extension to practise at the dancers union hall on Burkit Road. "The stage won't be ready till August 5, so we want to continue rehearsals there," he squeals into the phone. Assigned with tasks of artiste co-ordination and production, Vasanth hardly has time to breathe.

For, Mani is very particular that the dancers get used to the space at the venue. "We can then mark grids for Rajiv (lights)," he tells Sabu, who promises to deliver the stage by August 5.

"As of now, the carpentry is happening in one place, painting is happening at another. We will be putting the whole thing together only by August 5," says Sabu.

The scale of the event is so huge that the organisers request for a phased publicity campaign, just to ensure every single person's contribution is taken note of. "Not one person is being paid," says Vandana of The Banyan. "We're thankful to Madras Round Table 1. It's amazing to see their commitment. Apart from wages for the dancers and materials, we haven't paid for anything. Mani has given us three months. Look at him taking it all upon himself."

At her residence, actor-dancer Shobana is rehearsing religiously for hours together for the only non-film performance of the show.

And, at the dancers' union hall, dance masters Kala and Brinda are putting Shaam through the grind. The actor has a tough ask of getting into Kamal Haasan's dancing shoes. About 100 dancers have been rehearsing all day from July 25. "There are 20 different songs, no" says Kala. "There is a lot of difference between choreography for the stage and for film."

At the Real Image office, Vandana and Vaishnavi from The Banyan fight over the aesthetics of layout of the posters as Senthil Kumar from Real Image offers to negotiate. Real Image, incidentally, is putting together the entire soundtrack for the show and programming it to sync with the computerised lights management system.

"As the music changes, the lights will automatically change as programmed," explains Senthil.

Apparently, A. R. Rahman has scored a track and Santosh Sivan is making a special short film for The Banyan's fund-raiser evening at the Sathyabama Engineering College.

The proceeds of the show will go in aid of The Banyan's projects including a health care centre for villages around Kovilakuppam on East Coast Road, a therapeutic long-term care centre for homeless people with chronic psychiatric problems and a resource centre that will help in forging proactive partnerships to increase stakeholders in the mental health sector. You could expect surprises. For, there will be visitors from Bollywood.

From "Chandralekha" to "Chandramukhi", Planet Kollywood has seen various forms of larger-than-life. On August 15, they will all come alive.

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