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October 20, 1998


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Bill Se

Mani Rathnam
All right, guys, remember you read it here first.

Dil Se, based on terrorism in the North-East, may have bombed big time at the box office, but Mani Rathnam is busy planning his next project -- and you'll reckon he's onto a winner when you hear what it's about.

Like, would you believe the 'love story' of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, as the base plot for his next celluloid offering? Peccadilloes in high political places, that's the ticket the hotshot director hopes to ride to box office success.

Now to see who gets to play the central characters. As the ad line goes, watch this space. Watch it very closely!

The king romances again

Gemini Ganesan
Well, heck, it ain't for nothing that they called him Kaadhal Mannan -- the King of Romance -- in his celluloid heyday.

Gemini Ganesan, all of 70 years old, has just remarried -- proving that romance is ageless. The bride is Juliana, a Bangalore belle who will live in the Ganesan residence off Nungambakkam High Road, Madras. Keeping her company will be the erstwhile star's first wife, Bobji.

Bobji, in fact, has seen them come and go. As witness Savitri, who married Gemini when both were at the height of their fame. Interestingly, if Gemini was Kaadal Mannan, Savitri was Nadikayar Tilakam (the crown jewel of actresses, if you like). They had a son and daughter, before Savitri died at the end of an extended coma.

There is also Pushpavalli, number three in the chain -- her main claim to fame being that she is mother to a certain Rekha Ganesan, enduring Bollywood legend.

Ganesan's brood also includes Dr Kamala Selvaraj, the acclaimed gynaec and pioneer of artificially induced pregnancy, and Dr Jayalakshmi, who, as 'GG', acted in just one film, Ninaivella Nitya, opposite Karthik, before completing her medical studies and marrying director Sridharan.

The ageing bridegroom is far from bashful. "What is so strange about an old man marrying, they do it very often abroad, look at Nelson Mandela," he says.

Yeah, but why? "I needed company," is the response.

In passing, just to give you a fix on the guy, it was Gemini who played, in Avvai Shanmughi, the role of Kamal Haasan's father-in-law, which was later reprised by Amrish Puri in the Hindi version, Chachi 420. And just to round it off, if Gemini was Kaadhal Mannan, Kamal, when he first hit the marquee was known as Kaadhal Ilavarasan -- the crown prince of romance.

Making big waves

Soundarya would seem to be the latest meteor in Mollywood, judging by the way she is taking off.

There is her pairing opposite Rajnikanth in Padayappa, for starters. And now she has bagged, as co-star, no less than Amitabh Bachchan. The two will head the cast for the Hindi remake of the Sharat Kumar-starrer Suryavamsam.

And to add to her status in Tamil and her emergence in Bollywood, there is also the fact that she goes over big in Andhra Pradesh as well.

Sivaji returns

Sivaji Ganesan.
During his halcyon days on the Madras marquee, Sivaji Ganesan was known for exaggerated make-up, a very voluble style of dialogue delivery and pronounced gestures and facial mannerisms -- a relic, perhaps, of his early days as a theatre actor.

The advent of the Rajnikanths, Kamal Haasans et al coincided with his eclipse. But just when one figured that Sivaji has passed into the realm of nostalgia, Bharatiraja pulled him out of retirement, signed him up for Mudal Mariyadai and, perhaps for the first time, showed the audience a quiet, restrained Sivaji, sans makeup, sans hammy gesticulations -- a performance, in short, that won rave reviews.

Sivaji didn't seem too inclined to cash in on the resurgence of his popularity. Then came the 'Chevalier' award, an even higher profile than before, and suddenly, Sivaji was back -- with the Vijay-Simran starrer Love Today, in which he plays the former's father.

In this film, Sivaji appeared pretty much as he is in real life -- the pointed beard with the dagger-shaped black streak in the middle offsetting the surrounding white being his latest trademark. His character in Love Today was of an old man pining for his wife -- and cleverly, the makers of the film use a heart-tugging number from an old Sivaji-starrer to underline his angst.

The film worked, and had the audience asking for more. More Sivaji, that is. And he seems willing to oblige. Besides the father roles, Sivaji even essayed a folk dance in the Murali-Suvalakshmi starrer, En Aasai Raasaavae.

Now, as then, Sivaji is a stickler for punctuality -- to the extent that he was the bane of his son Prabhu's working life. The two have adjacent, and permanent, dressing rooms at AVM Studios, and Prabhu, on days when for one reason or other was late for a shooting schedule, has been known to tiptoe in and out of his room in order not to alert his father.

Tabu hits bigtime down south

Tabu. Click for bigger pic!
For Tabu, there's another Malayalam outing -- opposite her Kaalapani hero, Mohanlal.

This time, Mohanlal's own banner, Pranavam Arts, has signed her on for its next venture, as yet untitled. This would seem to make Tabu the favourite Bollywood personality for southside directors and producers -- she has had Kaadhal Desam (opposite Vineeth and Abbas) in Tamil (with Premadasam, its remake, an equally big success in Telugu).

Then there's a film opposite Nagarjuna in her native Telugu, which was reprised in Tamil. Priyadarshan's Kaalapani in Malayalam, which was brought out as Chirachaalai in Tamil and Sazaa-e-Kaalapani in Hindi. And she's also figured in a Kannada hit -- which completes the round up of south Indian languages.

Another hot favourite down south, come to think of it, is Urmila Matondkar. Way back in time, when she was still a teenager, she starred opposite Kamal Hassan in the Malayalam thriller Chanakyan.

That film was produced by Appachan, who had earlier cast her in the teleserial Bible Ki Kahaniyan. Later in time, Jijo (Appachan's son), who directed India's first 3D film, My Dear Kuttichathan -- brought in Urmila to jazz up his revised version of the film with a peppy song and dance number.

Urmila, of course, was recently in the limelight with the Ramgopal Verma superhit Satya, which paired her opposite Chakravarthy. The two have, earlier, had a hit in Telugu with Anakaoku Rozu. And, of course, she also featured alongside Manisha Koirala and Kamal in Shankar's Indian.

Second chance for Kishen

Kishen Kumar
For those who thought his film career ended pretty much the day Bombay gangsters gunned down doting elder brother and music tycoon Gulshan Kumar, news is that Kishen Kumar will play the papa in Papa The Great, being directed by K Bhagyaraj. Opposite him, playing mama to his papa, is Nagma. The film is being produced by Super Cassettes, the family enterprise.

Actually, Bhagyaraj himself had played the 'papa' role in the Tamil original, Vetiye Madhichu Kettu, opposite the same heroine. In that film, the son who completes the family was played by Bhagyaraj's real-life son Shantanu opposite KB's wife, former actress Poornima Jayaram.

For Bollywood junkies who need a fix on Bhagyaraj, he is the guy who directed Amitabh Bachchan in Aakhri Raasta, again a remake -- Kamal Hassan having starred in the Tamil original, Oru Kaidhiyin Diary, under Bharatiraja's direction.

And while on the subject of Mr Bachchan, the megastar in need of a hit is going back to basics -- or, to put it another way, he is acting yet again under the direction of S Ramanathan, the man who gave him his first hit in Bombay to Goa, seeing which Prakash Mehra gave him the role in Zanjeer that catapulted him to stardom. This latest film pairs him with Vijayshanti, Karisma Kapoor, Arshad Warsi and Anupam Kher.

A Shilpa with fins

Shilpa Shetty. Click for bigger pic!
And speaking of Bollywood babes in South films, there's Shilpa Shetty. Who played the mermaid, opposite Venkatesh in the Telugu version of Splash.

She also figured opposite Prabhu Deva in Mr Romeo, a film where she matched steps with the rubber-jointed dancing star. And now she is due to star in a Kannada movie, which brings her close to her mother tongue, Tulu.

Shilpa thus will feature in Pirikoduthapa -- and will dub her own dialogues, in Tulu. She stars opposite that evergreen icon of Kannada cinema, Ravichandran -- who, incidentally, was the guy opposite whom Juhi Chawla made her debut, aeons ago.

In praise of Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Preeti acts in Malayalam.

Preeti who?

Preeti, who paired with Abbas in the video of the Milind Ingle hit, Chuimui Si Lagti Ho. And then did an encore in Ingle's sequel, Kudi Jach Gayi.

Mazhavil pairs Preeti opposite Vineeth and 'Kunchako' Boban and is currently being shot in locations spread through Austria, Germany and Switzerland. An unusual love story, the plot line originally appeared in Telugu -- the Malayalam version is, we are told, liable to be a slightly adapted remake.

Being directed by Dinesh Babu -- who is humongously big in Kannada cinema -- the film had an unusual kick-off when the unit went to pay homage to Wolfgang Theophilius Amadeus Mozart, at his birthplace in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Abbas, after successes in Tamil and Telugu and a projected appearance in Hindi, also moves to Malayalam cinema in director Rajiv Kumar's Kannezhuthi Pottuthottu.

Opposite him is Manju Warrier, perhaps the first Malayalam heroine in decades to merit author-backed roles, with the entire storyline revolving around her.

This film -- like the recent Summer in Bethlehem -- is one such, though the producer and director are pretty cagey when it comes to revealing details.

And while on Dinesh Babu, a film of his -- Hendthigehelthini, starring Vishnu Vardhan and Suhasini -- is displaying good legs at the Kannada box office, running smoothly towards superhit status. Interestingly, the same director made a film with the same name in the late eighties, this time with Anant Nag in the lead, and that was a bit hit as well. A year ago, he again stormed the box office with Amudhavarshini.

When he is not making waves in Karnataka, Babu lives in Thiruvananthapuram. Besides being a director, he is also a top-notch cinematographer with the likes of The King, Commissioner and suchlike on his portfolio.

-- Rajitha

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