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April 20, 1998


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Wonder of wonders


Shankar. Click for bigger pic!
So it's finally out on the marquee. Jeans, I mean -- the country's costliest film ever.

Ask Shankar what it's about, and he still won't say much. And, true to his small-town roots, responds instead with homespun analogy.

"For us," he says, including cameraman Ashok Kumar, lyricist Vairamuthu, FX expert Venky and composer A R Rehman in the 'us', "making the film was like taking a pretty girl, dressing her up tastefully, using make-up to enhance her looks, teaching her the nuances of the music and the lyrics, preparing her in every possible way, and finally putting her on stage for her arangetram. That was our job, and we've done it. Now it is up to the girl, and the audience."

Though the film hit the marquee on Tamil New Year's Day, April 14, the jury is still out. Meanwhile, what the hotshot director WILL talk about is the seven wonders of the world, which form the backdrop of a song in the film. "The trouble was," he says, "that no two sources agree about which the seven wonders actually are. Each list is different. For instance, some include the Hanging Gardens of Babylon -- which no longer exist. Another place, I read about a St Sophia's Church in Istanbul which qualifies for the honour. So it was a matter of researching, and finalising our own choices."

Which are? "The Pyramids, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, the Taj, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and Niagara Falls."

An aside: Shooting at each of these places, Shankar says, was not easy. But the greatest difficulty was shooting at -- wait for this -- the Taj!! Not, mind you, that the director is embittered by the experience or whatever, he is merely stating what to him is a fact of life. The Archaeological Society of India, Shankar points out, is so worried about pollution, about damage to the edifice, that things tended to get difficult.

And so, to school...

Aishwarya Rai. Click for bigger pic!
Aishwarya Rai may have dropped out of her architecture studies, but she remains a diligent student. Or so says Shankar, who directed her in the just-released Jeans.

"She reminded you of a dutiful schoolgirl," he says. "She would get all her dialogues, in Tamil, written out, then sit in a corner studying the words, understanding the meaning, getting people to monitor her pronunciation. And when the time came, she would deliver the dialogue in one perfect take..."

Rave reviews, from a director acknowledged, by all who have worked for him, to be very, very demanding.

Why did he choose to cast her? "Well, the film is about love, about an NRI and the girl he falls in love with. Above all, I needed a very beautiful girl -- so who better than the world's most beautiful?"

And in passing -- Shankar has two kids, both daughters. The first is around four years old. And is named -- wait for this -- Aishwarya.

The making of Jeans...

Gautami. Click for bigger pic!
If the producers of India's costliest film invited you to an exclusive showing of a film about its creation, wouldn't you go?

Thirteen days before the actual launch of Jeans, such an invite did land up at the homes of the who's who of the Tamil film industry. And -- with the grapevine abuzz about how Rajnikanth was a star guest, how Ash Rai would be present, and such -- they went, in droves, to the elegantly decorated South Indian Artists Association Preview Theatre, on Habibullah Road, in central Madras.

Present were the likes of rising young star Vivek. Raghuvaran. Gautami who, after her entry into the ranks of the BJP, has been going around with a pistol-packing escort.Kasturi. Surya, son of actor Sivakumar, who debuted in the Mani Ratnam production Nerukku Ner. And suchlike.

Stars who, thanks to prior commitments, couldn't make it to the venue sent their families instead.

And then the theatre darkened, the curtains parted, the projector was turned on. And a bemused audience sat and watched, with varying moods, as there unfolded a 16 mm 'feature film' of the making of jeans. No, not the film -- what they showed, in meticulous detail, was how a pair of jeans -- you know, that egalitarian costume of the today generation -- was tailored.

The film came courtesy of Diana Garments, located in the Madras suburb of Valsravakkam. Who, in case this comes as news, make the Ruf & Tuf range for Arvind Mills.

Some stars saw the humour in the situation. And realised that they had been well and truly had, on April 1. Others -- Gautami prominent among them -- lost it for a bit, and went away muttering about the many important engagements they had put aside to make it to the 'premier'.

The joke, incidentally, was courtesy a Tamil weekly magazine, which specialises in such spoofs.

Dancing Ganeshas, and all that

Prabhu Deva. Click for bigger pic!
The rubber-jointed Prabhu Deva has a fixation -- he collects images of Ganesha.

Not just any old Ganesha, though -- his special preference is for icons depicting the elephant-headed god in a variety of dancing poses.

Prabhu Deva's latest film, meanwhile, hit the marquee on April 14. Kaadhala Kaadhala, a Rajkamal production, pits him opposite no less than Kamal Hasan, with southern sirens Soundarya and Ramba providing the female element.

Karthik Raja provides the music, and Singeetam Srinivasa Rao directs. Singeetam, for those who came in late, has directed earlier Kamal ventures like the silent film, Pushkak, and Apoorva Sahodarargal (dubbed in Hindi as Appu Raja).

"It is an out and out laugh riot," says Kamal about the film. "In fact, I will even say that it is impossible for a viewer to deliberately refrain from laughing, even to win a bet." This, from a guy who, both in Pushpak and, more recently in Avvai Shanmughi (Chachi 420 in Hindi) has revealed a distinct flair for comedy.

Mammotty's Politricks

Mammotty. Click for bigger pic!
The man is incredibly busy, these days. Every other day brings a felicitation -- you do know, of course, that the two-time national award winner recently added the Padma Shri to his many laurels?

The industry buzz is that he could soon add a third national award to his collection -- following the release of the Jabbar Patel film on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, with Mammotty playing the title role. Interestingly, the star-actor was a bit hesitant about taking on the role -- mainly because he needed to shave off his moustache, and cut his hair a particular way, and stay that way for the year the film would take to shoot, which in turn meant not being able to do too many other films.

Good friend Joshi, the director who has collaborated with Mammotty to come up with many hits, resolved the ambiguity. "Tamil and Malayalam films, you will continue to get by the dozen," Joshi pointed out. "But a project like this is once in a lifetime -- grab it!"

Mammotty did. And is now into the last stage of dubbing for the film, which is slated for a release later this year.

Meanwhile, doing good business on the Kerala marquee is his latest outing, The Truth. The film -- no, we aren't giving details here, just yet -- is a political whodunit, with Mammotty playing cop with a difference.

Rather strangely, a good few of Mammotty's recent hits have had political themes -- Makkal Aatchi, Arasiyal (which paired him with Shilpa Shirodkar), Marumalarchi (which had him opposite another Bombay girl, Devyani, the star of hits such as Kaadal Kottai and Suryavamsam (which stars failed DMK candidate Sharath Kumar, and is slated to be remade by ABCL with Amitabh in the lead role).

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