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March 21, 1998


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Of Jeans and bottom lines

V S Srinivasan

Shankar. Click for bigger pic!
It is an odd distinction -- being the producer of the costliest Indian film ever. But producers J Murali Manohar and Amritraj-Solomon Productions of Jeans now share that honour in Indian cinema.

There have been other films that upset their accounts departments, notable amongst them being Mughal-E-Azam, Roop Ki Rani, Choron Ka Raja and, most recently, Ishq, which cost Rs 180 million. And now Jeans has upped the ante. To Rs 190 million.

Shankar, the director of the bilingual film, was never known to be a showman, though none of his earlier films, Gentleman, Kadhalan and Indhiyan (Hindustani), came cheap.

In fact, he spent over Rs 10 million out of Hindustani's Rs 100 million budget on the song Latka. But he does not think spending more on a film necessarily speaks well of it.

Prashant and Aishwarya Rai in Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
"It's not true that because I've spent a lot of money, the masses are going to come and watch my film. We didn't spend that amount because we wanted it to be the most expensive film. What we spent was necessary when you look at the scenes and the context of the film. We are not in the habit of breaking records for spending money," says Shankar.

But what pushed up the cost? Shankar says it the film's attempt at authenticity is to blame.

Jeans, starring Aishwarya Rai, Prashant, Radhika, Nasser and Lakshmi, has been shot all over the world. And one particular song, says Shankar, has been filmed at the "seven wonders of the world", or rather, seven historic spots across the globe.

Says the director, 'We did not film the movie there to establish a first. In the film, Prashant plays a boy staying in the US who constantly craves for excitement. He has already seen much of life and had lots of fun. Now, the most exciting thing for him is to see the seven wonders of the world." That's how the protagonist's dream became the accountant's nightmare.

Of course, Shankar had the option of shooting on an Indian set using a backdrop from an exotic location. But no, he preferred the original. The Tamil version of the film -- and maybe the dubbed Hindi version -- is to be released in April.

Shankar. Click for bigger pic!
The music by A R Rahman with the Hindi lyrics by Javed Akthkar, is already out. Shankar at least saved money by deciding not to remake the film in Hindi as he usually does. But he picked Javed because he didn't just want someone who would translate the songs but a lyricist who'd provide the feel of the lines instead of just the meaning.

While songs are very important to his films, Shankar says a movie cannot run on a song alone.

Kamal Hasan once had complained about the film Hindustani: "I do not know why the lyrics Telephone dhun mein hasne wali, Melbourne machli machalne wali was written just to suit the lip sync." This is how Shankar has avoided the problem occurring again.

Shankar says every aspect of the film -- the script, the songs, the editing, the cinematography -- all have to mesh seamlessly into a cogent whole. And he thinks that the big budget is worth it.

Says he, "Before I make a film, I plan out every little detail, as well as how I am going to recover the sum of money. So the risk isn't that great." And soon he hopes to put his money where his mouth is, getting into production himself.

On the sets of Jeans. Click for bigger pic!
"When you are working for someone else, you have certain constraints. You are always bogged down by many things. So, if you are your own producer, it gives you a certain freedom."

Shankar doesn't believe there should be a message in every film. "But if the script demands that there should be a message for society, then so be it," says the usually taciturn director.

And why did he title the film Jeans?

"It is a film is about young people and pertains to a certain lifestyle. Young people are associated with denim wear and so Jeans is an apt title."

Shankar is satisfied with Tamil cinema, with no immediate plans to shift to Hindi, though three of his last films have figured Bollywood heroines.

"I've had a lot of offers. But I'm not aiming so high. My ambitions are small. I am not even looking at an overseas market. I don't think where my film will go. I just make it. And when I make it in Tamil, it gets dubbed in Hindi anyway... So it doesn't matter after all."

And what about the consistent use of Hindi film actresses?

Shankar with Kamal Hasan on the sets of Hindustani. Click for bigger pic!
"See, in Indhiyan, I needed a heroine who was sensitive when it came to animals... and Manisha Koirala was just right for that -- Kamal suggested her name. In this film, Prashant falls in love with a girl. Love is a beautiful thing. Aishwarya is one of the most beautiful people in the world..." Savvy, romantic, or both, is our Shankar.

Aishwarya had some trouble with the Tamil in Jeans, so she wrote the dialogues in English and mugged them up as it was.

"I had faith in her ability, hence I asked her to go ahead when she said that she wanted to dub the film in Tamil herself. In her first Tamil film, Iruvar, Ash had spoken in a borrowed voice.

Back to the bottomline of Jeans. While there appears to be little doubt that the film will do well in the south, its run in Bombay is uncertain. Going by the spectacular mounting the cast, and Shankar's track record, the film certainly will draw in the crowds initially.

But Rs 190 million is a big price. And if that's not recovered, there is going to be hell to pay.

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