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December 8, 1999


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He Ram! What's going on?

He Ram Few films have, during their making, been subjected to the kind of close scrutiny He Ram is receiving -- thanks largely to the controversies that keep erupting from time to time. Despite the intense interest, though, information still comes through only in a thin trickle.

The film, with 1999 serving as the vantage point, looks back at the turbulent period of 1946-48. At that point in Indian history when the word 'Partition' turned into the spark that set the country on fire.

Kamal Hassan plays Saket Ram, an archaeologist engaged in extensive investigations into the Indus Valley Civilisation, while Shah Rukh Khan plays his best buddy, Amjad Ali Khan.

When the Partition riots break out in its most virulent form in Calcutta, Kamal is swept up in the vortex, and the even tenor of his life takes a dramatic turn. Helplessly swept along by the conflagration, Kamal blames the politicians for the many miseries in his life, and gradually gets into a radical group that holds Mahatma Gandhi responsible for the trauma of Partition.

The key to the story is historical research which underlines that Godse was merely the successful -- but by no means only -- assassin. There were assassination attempts before Godse fired the fatal bullets and Kamal Hassan plays one such.

Om Puri, in a cameo, plays Subhash Goel, a Punjabi friend of Gandhi's. When Gandhi was assassinated, the crowds go amok and seek to hunt down the killer. Goel, true to his friend's ideals of ahimsa, steps in to save Godse from mob fury.

Other interesting characters are played by the likes of Girish Karnad, Vikram Gokhale, Nasser, Abbas, famed Tamil lyricist Vaali, Y G Mahendran, Sowcar Janaki (who is seen as a motta-patti, now an almost extinct -- thankfully -- species of women who, when widowed, renounced all their finery, shaved their heads and led austere lives), and Atul Kulkarni (who stepped in to replace Mohan Gokhale, who died in Madras where he had gone to shoot for the film).

Also in the film are Gautam, Kamal's real life nephew, and Shruti, his daughter. The leading ladies, of course, are Rani Mukherjee and newcomer Vasundhara -- and Kamal has passionate kissing scenes with both, a feature of his films for quite some time now.

Officially, this marks Kamal's directorial debut, though industry insiders insist that he was de facto director for several of his earlier movies including Apoorva Sahodarargal (Appu Raja in Hindi) and the silent movie, Pushpak. It will also be recalled that when Shantanu Sheorey was thrown out of Chachi 420, Kamal stepped in and directed the rest of the film.

The film reportedly has been budgeted at Rs 16 crore for the Tamil and Hindi versions alone. The production house indicates that different negatives are being taken for each of the languages and an estimated 400 prints are likely to be required of the film, which spans three hours and 15 minutes of celluloid time.

Kamal has put together an 'A' team for his production, with music by Ilayaraja (who stepped in subsequent to the L Subramaniam walkout), cinematography by Thirunavvukarasu, art direction by national award winner Sabu Cyril and editing by another national awardee, Renu Saluja.

Warner Bros gains ground

Warner Brothers, which has for a while now been eyeing the Indian film industry, is reportedly readying plans to produce six movies -- and the big news from down South is that Shankar, now in the eye of a political storm with his latest hit, Mudalvan, has been approached to direct for the Hollywood banner. These are early days yet, though, in the negotiations and so, for now, no further details on this one.

Rahman in Hollywood

Ashok Amritraj Meanwhile, Ashok Amritraj seems to have decided that the fickle ways of the Indian film buff are not for him. Amritraj Productions, it may be recalled, had produced Jeans, helmed by Shankar with Aishwarya Rai and Prashanth heading the cast, and Kaadhal Kavithai with Prashant and Isha Koppikar.

Jeans turned out to be an enormously expensive project, one song alone involving the crew and stars travelling to each of the seven wonders of the world. And after all the fuss, it didn't do as well as hoped -- a fair run in Tamil, hit status in Telugu and a flop in Hindi, being the returns.

Now, Ashok Amritraj has linked up with Walt Disney and MGM, and is busy announcing projects. One such will, word has it, be directed by Shekhar Kapur. Meanwhile, the youngest of the Amritraj brothers has already launched, with the traditional muhurats, as many as seven films -- and the star casts headline names of the order of Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Val Kilmer.

Interestingly, in one of the under-production films, Ashok Amritraj plans to introduce, to Hollywood audiences, a music composer who has swept the Indian imagination. A R Rahman, to give him a name.

Riding on songs

It is not only in Bollywood that song titles have been transformed into movie names -- the trend keeps cropping up, off and on, in Madras as well. Check out, for instance, Thirupathi Ezhumalai Venkatesa which, in its first avtaar, were the first three words of a Prabhu Deva song sequence featuring some nifty dancing.

Now, it is the name of a movie, with Vadivelu, S V Shekar and Prabhu playing Tirupathi, Ezhumalai and Venkatesa respectively while Kovai Sarala, Urvashi and Roja are their respective pairs. Directed by Ramnarayanan as a full-length comedy, the under-production film has already been drawing good reports within the industry.

Behind the camera

Sharat Kumar Sharat Kumar -- who, to sobriquet-struck Tamil fans is Supreme Star, as distinct from Rajnikanth, Super Star -- hops nimbly behind the cameras for Pattali. Not out of inclination, but need. The film, which features Devyani as his co-star, has been delayed for so long that most people had forgotten about it. Finally, the former Mr Madras decided that the only way it would be completed is if he took over the direction as well -- so that is precisely what he is doing now.

Action! Cut!

And while on delayed films, there's Saasanam, an NFDC-funded film directed by Mahendran. For one thing or another -- mostly, money -- the film, with Arvind Swamy, Gautami and Ranjita in the lead, kept getting delayed. In the interim, Gautami got married, even had a baby, and now looks completely different from what she looked like in the early days of the film's making. So on balance, this is one project that seems headed for the long slide into oblivion.

Blessing in disguise

Delay, though, need not always be a bad thing -- vide Ooty, the Murali and Roja-starrer that was slated to be a Diwali release. It was delayed thanks to a dispute between Arvind Swamy and Nikaaba Films, the producers. Nikaaba had earlier produced the Arvind Swamy-Isha Koppikar starrer En Swaasa Kaatre, first in Tamil and then in the dubbed Telugu version. However, they omitted to pay Arvind Swamy dues going upto lakhs, and the star promptly got a stay order on the release of Ooty.

The matter was amicably settled and the film finally made it to the marquee a few days later. By then, the hype surrounding the year's Diwali releases had died down somewhat, so Ooty found itself doing quite well at the turnstiles, thank you very much. A highlight of the film is an intensely patriotic, Vande Mataram-type ditty.

More success for Ajit

Ajit and Shalini in Amarkalam Close on the heels of the superhit Vaalee, Ajit came up with an encore in the Sharan-directed Amarkalam. Regulars of this column will recall that it was during the shooting of this film that Ajit first met, then fell in love with, and later got engaged to, his leading lady Shalini.

The film, which went the 100-day distance and more in Tamil, is now being dubbed in Telugu, as Adhbutham, with V Satyanarayana producing. The music, by Ramani Bharadwaj, has already proved a big hit, the standout being a Breathless-style, 89-line song by S P Balasubramaniam.

Hi-tech Romeo and Juliet

Simran Kalisundram Raa, to be directed by debutante Uday Shankar, has Venkatesh and Simran heading the credits, while S A Rajkumar provides the music. The story? Errr... love between two warring families! Romeo and Juliet, now in a theatre near you, about sums it up. The use of graphics is a highlight, with word being that the film has some spectacular effects.

Mega bucks

Rs 25 crore is expensive as films go. And if it is a Kannada film we are talking of, then it is doubly expensive -- simply because a Kannada film plays over a smaller territory than Tamil and Telugu films do. But Rs 25 crore is what O Premave, with Ravichandran and Rambha in the lead, has been budgeted at. A song sequence has already been filmed in the Kiwi Islands, and the production work is proceeding along.

Another Aishwarya seeks success

Years ago, Mohanlal and Aishwarya -- no, not Rai, we are talking of actress Lakshmi's tall, long-limbed daughter here -- had paired in Butterflies, a Malayalam film with an unusual storyline.

Then life caught up with Aishwarya -- a marriage that went sour, a flirtation with drugs, a baby, a drying-out period as she fought to come out of the self-inflicted haze and, finally, the first tentative steps towards a comeback.

She's been acting in a whole heap of teleserials down South and did two cameo roles on the big screen -- as a member of a bomb squad, in Parthiban's national award-winning Houseful, and in Swayamvaram, the film that was, to much attendant publicity, shot in the span of just 24 hours, where she plays Prabhu's love interest.

Now she gets her first full-fledged film. Opposite -- talk of wheels coming full circle -- none other than Mohanlal himself. Shaji Kailas helms the film, which has been titled Narasimha.

Sonali takes over from Juhi

Sonali Bendre Switching to Kannada for a bit. Sonali Bendre stars in the remake of Darr. Preet Se is directed by remake specialist Rajendar Babu, and the male credits are Shivraj Kumar, son of Dr Rajkumar, and Upendra, two of the biggest names in Kannada cinema.

-- Rajitha

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