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October 13, 1998


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Madras calling


Manisha Koirala. Click for bigger pic!
Given the weather in Bombay, lightning is very much on my mind as I write this. And -- this is official -- lightning does strike twice in the same place. When that lightning is named Manisha, that is.

This Sunday, October 11, the Bollywood star was down in Madras for the launch pooja of Shankar's latest, Mudalvan. Which makes this her second outing in a Shankar film, having already appeared in his earlier superhit Indian, alongside Urmila Matondkar and opposite Kamal Haasan.

Manisha has a name for professionalism allied to talent, which probably explains why big name directors down south fight to repeat her in their films. Earlier, it was Mani Rathnam who couldn't seem to get enough of the leading lady, using her first in Bombay opposite Arvind Swamy, and then again in Dil Se opposite Shah Rukh Khan.

And now it is Shankar -- a director who thus far has shied away from repeating his heroines.

Or heroes, for that matter -- but for this one, Shankar has gone back to Arjun (Sreenivasa Sarja R Ashok Babu, to use his given name), who starred in the director's debut vehicle, Gentleman (opposite Madhu). Interesting choice, Arjun having recently had a big hit with Thai Manikodi, which saw him paired him with Tabu.

As usual with a Shankar film, the cream of Tamil cinema landed up for the pooja -- and at the end of the function, left knowing nothing much about the project, Shankar being notoriously close-mouthed when it comes to talking of under production films. Given the title, though, it seems more than probable that this film, like Kaadhalan before it, could have a political underpinning.

Shankar had three hits in a row with Gentleman, Kaadhalan and Indian, so there was some speculation that the relative failure of Jeans -- if you can call it a failure, that is; word from the industry is that it did very well in Tamil Nadu, and attained superhit status in Andhra Pradesh -- would have jolted his confidence a shade.

Not a chance -- in fact, the director's confidence in himself is reflected in the fact that this time, he will produce his own film. Which, given the fact that Shankar's directorial style is lavish to say the least, could involve a considerable outlay.

Working with Shankar on his latest are talents of the order of A R Rahman (music), Vairamuthu (lyrics), Venky (special FX) and K V Anand (cinematography).

This makes the first time Anand -- 'KV', as he is known down south -- will team with Shankar, who had used Jeeva for his first three films, and Ashok Kumar for Jeans. KV, of course, was the guy who won a national award on debut for the Priyadarshan-helmed Thenmavin Kombathu. And while on the Priyan-KV team, Bombay will shortly see the two of them in tandem, when Doli Sajake Rakhna hits the marquee.

The film stars Nagma's (heroine, incidentally, opposite Prabhu Deva in Shankar's Kaadalan) sister Jyothika opposite Akshaye Khanna, and is a remake of the Malayalam superhit directed by Fazil, Aniyathipravu -- the film that brought back, in adult avtaar the erstwhile child superstar Shalini.

Fazil remade the same film, as Kadhalukku Mariyadhai in Tamil with the same heroine, paired with Vijay, and, predictably, scored another superhit. Be interesting to see if Priyan, who, along with Fazil, rank among the top run directors down south, can helm the Hindi version to the kind of success at the turnstiles that the Malayalam and Tamil versions enjoyed.

In passing -- a face to watch out for when the Hindi version hits the marquee is Innocent -- the durable comedian/character actor of Malayalam cinema, who plays the same role he essayed in the Malayalam version. Which reminds me of this story, dating back a few years when Innocent was relatively new to the screen, when a group of scribes cornered him on a set and asked him why his name was 'Innocent' (which, incidentally, is his real life name, Innocent Vincent).

The actor, with the deadest of pans, told them: "See, when I was born, my father took one look at me and decided that I had the face of a thief. So he kept my name 'Innocent', so that later in life, when I am arrested and brought to court and the judge asks me, 'Are you innocent?', I can say on oath, 'Yes, your honour, I am Innocent!' "

The scribes took a while, on that occasion, to realise that their legs were being subtly pulled.

Love through the lens

Harking back to the earlier item on Shankar, and his Jeans cameraman Ashok Kumar.

Who, as we mentioned in this column earlier, is now busy directing Kama, a story with an erotic underpinning, being scripted by Randor Guy (familiar to TN denizens as a writer of short stories and, more to the point, of a serialised history of the city that used to appear in various periodicals).

Starring in it are three new faces -- two girls, one guy. Asha Mehra, Sunila and Vishal, in that order.

And out of that menage, it is Vishal's name that stands out -- simply because he is the son of none other than Ashok Kumar himself.

Raises a thought -- the shooting of this film must be, well, different to say the least. In a country where parents are notoriously reluctant to discuss the birds and bees with their offspring, here we have a father directing his son in an erotic film and, what is more, handling the camera as well.

We live, apparently, in enlightened times.

Ash goes south again

Vijay. Click for bigger pic!
Hmmmmm... All the items this time round have had a Shankar connection. While going completely off the track, one little snippet more. The heroine of the director's last film, Jeans, is due to reappear on the Tamil marquee.

That's right, buzz in the industry is that Aishwarya Rai has been signed on to appear opposite Vijay, the hottest thing going in Tamil cinema just now.

And directing the Aishwarya-Vijay combo is none other than the latter's father, S A Chandrasekhar, one of the veterans of the industry.

At this point, however, no further details are available -- watch this space, as they say.

Isha in Tamil

Isha Koppikar. Click for bigger pic!
I was reading, some place, that extras -- junior artistes, to be politically correct -- have unions and that one of the rules governing the use of extras is that you have to employ the locals. In other words, a Bombay film-maker going down to Madras to shoot has to work with junior artistes affiliated to the Madras union.

Good thing actresses don't have such unions, or the one in Madras would be on indefinite strike by now. Yeah, right, I'm leading into another item, about another Bombay belle taking Tamil tinseltown by storm.

This one is Isha Koppikar, the Konkani lass from Karnatak Society, Mahim, Bombay, who started out as a model and went on to accept a leading role opposite Arvind Swamy -- the one actor more than any other who appears to get paired with Bombay lasses -- in the under-production Tamil film En Swaasa Kaatre. The film is a thriller set in the world of computers, with Arvind Swamy playing techno-thief.

Though the film is yet to be released, the grapevine has been buzzing with tales of Isha's stand-out performance. On the strength of which, the lissom lass has already been signed on for three more films down south -- and that, we are told, is just the beginning.

Karisma backs out of Mudal Mudalaga

Karisma Kapoor. Click for bigger pic!
Then again, here's a case of migration halted mid-stride -- Karisma Kapoor will not act in Mudal Mudalaga, the film for which she was signed earlier, opposite Arvind Swamy.

No reason for Karisma's backing out is known, at the time of writing this.

For now, thus, her sole appearance on the Madras marquee will be as an alien, in an expensive song and dance number for Gentleman Kunjumon's forthcoming release, Kodiesvaran.

The stars in his kitty

Priyadarshan. Click for bigger pic!
For Malayalam cinema, this would rank as the A-team.

Script by national award-winner M T Vasudevan Nair, direction by Priyadarshan, lead actor Mohanlal.

It's been a while since Mohanlal has appeared in the kind of powerful, author-backed stories M T is famous for -- the last outing featuring the two was under the direction of the late Bharatan, the film being Thaazvaaram.

The upcoming Priyan venture marks the debut of John Paul as producer -- interesting, in that Paul is himself a big-name screenplay writer with several hits to his credit.

Paul obviously doesn't believe in playing favourites, however, for even as pre-production work has begun on this film, he has also launched another one, this time with Mammootty in the lead under debutant director Biju Vishwanath.

Work on both films will proceed simultaneously -- which means that Paul could well end up with a one-two killing punch at the box office. I mean, a Mammootty starrer and Mohanlal starrer from the same stable on the marquee at the same time, what more could any producer want?

The other hit

Suresh Gopi. Click for bigger pic!
Going off at a tangent, you know that Mohanlal and Mammootty appeared together, opposite Juhi Chawla, in the Fazil-helmed Harikrishnas -- and that the film, released on Onam day, is already accounted a hit, right?

Right. On the same day, there was this other release -- Summer in Bethlehem. The stars, Suresh Gopi and Jayaram, the two stars who occupy the rung just below Mohanlal and Mammootty, on the Malayalam marquee. The result? Another hit.

Damp Diwali in Mollywood

Sharat Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
This is one Diwali that is going to be a bit of a damp squib as far as the Tamil marquee is concerned.

Traditionally, the festival heralds the release of the biggest budget films of the year, but this time round, there is no film starring Kamal Haasan, none with Rajnikanth in the lead, no film, even, with Vijay, now rated the biggest draw on the Tamil marquee after Rajni himself.

In the absence of the biggest names, the parade this year will be led by Sharat Kumar. Other stars, of greater or lesser luminosity, to feature in this year's Diwali releases are Karthik, now enjoying a very successful run, Murali, who has two films to his credit, Prabhu, son of 'Chevalier' Sivaji Ganesan and now a veteran in his own right, and Vijaykanth, once known as the poor man's Rajnikanth but now well and truly on the downward slope.

Even the one mega-budget movie that was slated for release this Diwali -- Kunjumon's Kodiesvaran, starring his debutant son Aby opposite Simran, with Karisma Kapoor making a one-song appearance -- has been postponed "due to circumstances beyond our control".

This could be one Diwali, then, when the movie buff prefers to spend his rupees on things that go flash-bang, rather than queueing up at the turnstiles.

Nasser Chandrababu Naidu?

Nasser. Click for bigger pic!
Before moving on from the festive theme, a little aside on one of the expected releases. Desiya Geetam (National Anthem), the film helmed by Cheran of Porkalam fame (the film that was slated to go for the Toronto Film Festival), has Nasser playing chief minister.

No big deal. The twist is that the actor has chosen to model himself -- in terms of dress, makeup and deportment -- on the jet-setting, laptop-wielding Nara Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.

So is the Naidu-lookalike a good guy or bad guy in this film? Ah, that would be telling!

Nasser seems to be getting interesting roles these days. Another outing of his -- also a Diwali release, though inside buzz is that it could be slightly delayed -- is Edirum Pudirum, in which Nasser plays Veerayyan.

Name sound familiar? Yeah, right, it's close to sandalwood smuggler Veerappan-- and that is precisely who Nasser is modelled on. The muttonchop moustache, the olive-green fatigues, the rifle slung over the shoulder -- tell you what, if Nasser were to leave the set and wander about without remembering to change into civvies, he could well find the general public running for their lives, and the SIT task force personnel tightening their fingers on the trigger.

Chevalier on tube

Sivaji Ganesan. Click for bigger pic!
No one -- repeat, no one -- is too big for the small screen.

In Tamil cinema, the biggest of them all is 'Chevalier' Sivaji Ganesan -- you know something, even 'Sivaji' should be in single quotes, actually -- and he is now hitting the small screen, in an upcoming serial that co-stars none other than his own son Prabhu.

Quite a pair, that. In Madras -- where sobriquets are attached to stars like labels to jam tins -- Sivaji is Nadigar Tilakam (the diamond among actors), while Prabhu is Ilaya Thilakam (Junior Diamond, to get literal).

The serial is called Meendum Gauravam. Interesting, because Gauravam was the name of one of Sivaji's megahits on the big screen. The story is by Vietnam Veedu Sundaram, a famous story and screenplay writer in his own right. Directing the serial is Bharat, who made his debut directing Sivaji on celluloid.

Incidentally, Sundaram avers that the serial has no similarity to the film. There's this, though in both the film and the serial, Sivaji's role is of a fiery, forensically skilled lawyer. Rubbing the similarity in is the fact that one of the backdrops used in the serial is a life-size photograph of Sivaji Ganesan in lawyer's robes, as he appears in Gauravam -- a still that now adorns the lobby of Shanti Theatre in Madras. By the way, Sivaji owns that theatre.

Another 'coincidence' -- Prabhu starred in Gauravam as a character named Kannan, which is the name of the character he is playing in the serial as well.

Still on trivia, the serial will also have scenes shot in Sivaji's own house in Boag Road -- recently renamed Chevalier Sivaji Road in honour of you know who. Seen in all its glory will be a stuffed tiger that, according to legend, was shot by the celluloid icon himself.

Given the presence of the icon, there was the predictable scramble for marketing rights. The winner -- Cuecom, the marketing division of Kavithalaya Films, which is helmed by doyen director K Balachander.

In passing, the serial will be produced by -- wait for this -- Sivaji Films, the production house that is owned and operated by Sivaji's son, Prabhu's elder brother, Ram Kumar.

And, in the wings, Balachandra Menon...

And while on big stars taking to the small screen, here's one more for the list -- Balachandra Menon, winner of this year's national award for acting (co-winner, that is, with Suresh Gopi, another Malayalam screen biggie), will shortly be appearing in a talk show.

Karyam Nissaram, Prasnam Gurutharam -- that's what the serial is going to be called. A reprise of the Sivaji 'coincidence', here -- Karyam Nissaram and Prasnam Gurutharam are two films of the light, frothy family genre that first shot Menon into prominence.

The format is light, chatty, humourous -- all Menon trademarks.

The talk show will appear on Surya TV -- the new venture being launched by Sun TV, the Madras-based television channel that holds an Indian record, with an estimated 95% audience penetration in Tamil Nadu. The channel is due to be launched on October 19, Diwali day.


Down south, producers and directors have been experimenting with innovative themes for a while now. Of late, though, they appear to be stretching the boundaries of innovation.

That Fazil did a little number, coming up with two different endings for his Mammootty-Mohanlal starrer Harikrishnas is, of course, the stuff of recent history.

It is now the turn of Chakravarthy to stretch the envelope. The bearded star of the recent Ramgopal Verma superhit, Satya, has directed -- and starred in -- a film with no name.

On the marquee, the movie will be identified merely with a '?' mark.

"A title creates preconceptions in the audience," explains Chakravarthy. "I want people to see my film with a completely open mind -- they can give it their own titles after they see it."

Now there's a turnout for the books, if you like....

Cyclone warnings

Chiranjeevi. Click for bigger pic!
And, to round off, one on Chiranjeevi.

We'd talked earlier of the Tamil practice of tacking on sobriquets to stars -- amend that, it is a trait that is shared by the Telugus as well.

Chiranjeevi, for instance, is known as 'Cyclone' Chiranjeevi, down in AP -- so named, apparently, for the consistent way in which he storms the box office.

Said cyclone, these last couple of years, had been reduced to a gentle breeze, as a series of flops took the wind out of Chiranjeevi's sails. However, of late, he has bounced back with four back to back hits, and 'Cyclone' warnings are once again being hoisted atop Andhra theatres.

His latest, Bavagaru Bagunara, has completed 100 days at 54 centres, and completes a hat-trick of hits for the enduring superstar. The film is also the third highest grosser in the annals of Telugu cinema, after Peddarayudu and Osey Ramulamma.

He could be winding up for another big one, with Sneham Kosam -- the Telugu remake of Narppukaga, a Tamil film that proved a superhit for Sharat Kumar. The Tamil film, incidentally, was written by Jyoti Krishna, the teenage son of A M Rathnam, the producer with a yen for making megabudget movies like Shankar's Indian.

The climactic scene apparently occurred to the lad while he was writing a school exam. Like we said, the climax -- and in fact, the whole film -- went over big with the audience, though we aren't sure if the boy was as successful in the exam he was supposed to be writing.

Must have been, I guess, because his mother told me the other day that her boy is now in London for higher studies -- in a subject unrelated, apparently, to films.

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