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September 11, 2000


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Kandukondain in cash row


There was much media excitement when big-budget producer Kalaipuli Dhanu and adman-turned-director Rajiv Menon teamed up for Kandukondain Kandukondain.

And within the industry, there were sceptical eyebrows raised and bets placed on how long the honeymoon would last.

Admittedly, it was for a very brief while.

Rajiv Menon was introduced to Dhanu by Prabhu Deva (Menon's star in his directorial debut, Minsaara Kanavugal, later dubbed as Sapnay in Hindi). But almost immediately thereafter, Prabhu Deva dissociated himself entirely from the project, which opened the door for Ajith to walk in, for a leading role in the film that costarred Aishwarya Rai, Tabu and Abbas.

By the time the movie was released, Ajith's name was added to the growing list of the disenchanted. In this instance because he was completely sidelined in the promos. But we are jumping the gun a bit here.

Disenchantment began earlier, during the release of the film's audio cassette. Rajiv Menon had decreed that all personnel connected with the film would turn up for the release function in white kurta-dhoti combos. Composer A R Rahman, however, landed up wearing his trademark grunge look, thereby irking Rajiv Menon no end.

At the same function, whiz director Shankar was invited, then pretty much sidelined, causing much heartburn to the producer.

The film's production seemed interminable. What was originally planned as a Tamil New Year's day release overshot the deadline by a mile. And the cat was finally set among the pigeons when the director shifted the blame to Rahman's shoulders, saying the music composer had not given him the score on time.

What's more, in an interview to an English film weekly, the director complained that the producer, Dhanu, had not paid him a single penny for his efforts spread over close to two years.

When approached for comment, Dhanu -- whose reputation within the Tamil industry is that of a quiet, retiring man given to minding his own business and staying away from controversy -- said he had no official comment to make. 'The film is over and done with, I have moved on to my next project, why rake up unnecessary controversy?' was the producer's only comment.

However, the accusation that Dhanu has not paid Rajiv Menon for his work as director on Kandukondain Kandukondain is on record. And when we began delving, we found a paper trail that is easy to follow -- and which tells a different trail.

The original deal between producer and director was very simple. Contractually, Dhanu would pay all expenses, while Rajiv Menon would be responsible for all casting, hiring of the crew and for direction. In return, Rajiv Menon asked for a 50 per cent share in all profits.

Dhanu, who has a reputation for pampering his directors, upped the ante and gave his director a 60:40 split in his favour, as per the contract.

Problems began almost immediately the film went on the floors. Aishwarya Rai, at the time of her signing, was considered an "unlucky" star. It was while the film was on the floors, in its initial stages, that she clicked with Taal and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

From there on, it became impossible to get dates from her. The matter went into arbitration, but the hearing went against the makers of KKKK because Menon had not insisted on a signed agreement specifying the dates requirements with the star.

Around the same time, the news broke that A R Rahman was slated to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber. On the sets of KKKK, Menon's crew made slighting remarks, pointing out that Mohammad Rafi had, at the peak of his popularity, taken a sabbatical to go on the Haj pilgrimage, and by the time he got back to active duty, Kishore Kumar had usurped his position. The moral of the story, as bruited about on the sets of KKKK was that arrogance would cost dearly.

A R Rahman was miffed.

Around this time, the deal-making began. Rajiv Menon first asked for the Bombay rights, and was given it as a bonus.

He then asked for, and got, rights to the distribution within Madras city. This, incidentally, is the first time in 15 years that Dhanu has made over the city rights to someone -- the producer normally keeps it for himself.

The theatre collections for the city were made over in the name of a company of which Kalyani Menon, the director's mother, is one of the directors. The box office take was collected in her name.

Further, Menon asked for, and got, international rights for the film, which he then sold at a whopping profit.

All told, the various rights fetched close to Rs 1.9 crore.

Interestingly, though the film worked in Madras, and went for a profit in Bombay, and the international rights were snapped up as well leaving the director in clover, the producer would appear to have been the only loser. As per consolidated box office reports and industry information, the film went along for 50 days in the city. The producer then 'made it run' for a further 50 days for the prestige value (the collections during this period were going, though the run was fuelled by the producer, were going to the director).

In the districts, the film limped along for 50 days, then was given a decent burial. Which, given the huge starcast and enormous purchase price, hit the distributors where it hurt. In other words, Dhanu, who had retained rights to the rest of Tamil Nadu barring Madras city, lost a packet (last heard from, he has been forced to sell his three-storey building in suburban Madras.

The Kerala market has been bringing in a lot of money for Tamil films of late. But KKKK was a complete disaster in this territory -- this, despite the presence of Mammootty. Industry pundits point to the fact that the presence of Mammootty was downplayed at the publicity stage, creating the impression that his was a walk-on role, and that in turn dampened spectator interest in Kerala.

Despite the above, Rajiv Menon, in an interview, went out of his way to paint his producer black, and has been helping things along with phone calls to various industry bigwigs, on the same lines.

Intriguingly, the vendetta appears to be taking on ridiculous directions. Thus, when KKKK was released in Bombay, producer Dhanu was blanked out of the publicity posters. Again, when the screenplay of KKKK was released in book form -- by Rajiv Menon -- all the credits were listed, with the conspicuous exception of the name of the film's producer.

Within the industry, though, word is that the smear campaign is not working. Dhanu, in the course of 15 years, has built up a reputation for fair play. And it is this which seems to be ensuring that the he-didn't-pay-me line of talk is finding no buyers.

The only question that remains is, why? Why is an impression being conveyed that is at stark variance with the facts?

Click here for earlier story on Dhanu

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