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February 6, 1998


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Directing force

Sharmila Taliculam

Sangeeth Sivan. Click for bigger pic!
He likes words like simple and sensible. But his woeful sense of diplomacy leaves one with the distinct impression that Sangeeth Sivan is of compulsion a very honest man, the kind who just wants to make some 'sensible commercial films'.

He has had some mixed luck in Bollywood during the making of his first Hindi film, Zor, which is due for release next week.

Both Sunny Deol and Sushmita Sen, the stars of his film, are not known to be very accommodating, but Sangeeth finished the shooting bang on schedule, despite his hero being laid up with a bad back. Sangeeth claims he is happy with the film; he hopes the audience won't disagree. And around that uncertain parameter -- the audience -- revolves his future in Bollywood.

Sunny Deol in Zor. Click for bigger pic!
Sangeeth had made eight films in Malayalam when producer Vivek Kumar offered him Zor but made it clear the stars would be Sunny and Sushmita. So Sangeeth watched all of Sunny's films and decided that a judicious blend of weep and wallop would do him the most justice any film could. And once he had a script ready, he trotted over to Sunny to tell him the story:

A good friend of the protagonist, a journalist, comes to live with him and his family. After some time, the friend does something (so heinous that even Sangeeth can't bring himself to mention it) that tears the family's reputation to shreds. The hero is responsible for restoring the pride of the clan. In the process he realises that the crime he has to contend with affects not only his family but the entire nation. Well, to make a long story short, Sunny cleared the script.

How was it directing Sunny? Did he interfere?

"Sunny," he says, "is a director's actor. He does exactly what you ask him to do. And I didn't face any problem." He speaks further and messes up the earlier effect of a director in total command.

Sushmita Sen in Zor.
"It depends what you think of as interference and involvement. Whatever suggestions Sunny had were made before we went in for the shot. See, if he is uncomfortable doing a scene then it was my duty to make him feel comfortable. But that didn't mean that I changed every scene he asked me to."

Like most directors, though, Sangeeth was upset at Bollywood's lack of discipline and the way stars turned up when they felt fit.

"When I made films in Malayalam, I didn't waste a single day. My stars and the other character actors were booked together and we finished work at one go. Here once you get all the actors together, you have to wait for another three months to get them all together again."

He is talking from actual experience for Sunny's back gave way during the shoot of the climax. Sangeeth had to wait three months before they could shoot again. And then too, the stars turned up at 12 for a 9'o'clock shift.

"Still when we went on location everybody was on time, even at three in the morning. A K Hangal, who is over 80 and who recently underwent bypass surgery, was there on the dot."

Click for bigger pic!
For one song Sangeeth had to go to Switzerland, though the song did not demand a foreign location. Happened Sunny was shooting there for another film. "He asked us to come there and finish the song. So we went," says Sangeeth.

What he's saying gave us the distinct impression that the stars were dictating how the film went. He tries to correct the impression: "When I started this film, everyone told me that five years of my life was gone because Sunny was very difficult to work with. But I have had no problems with him at all, everything went smoothly." We dropped the subject.

How about Sushmita? Apart from the Miss Universe title, she had little else to show when she got the role.

Sangeeth apparently had no choice once he took the job.

"She is very easy in front of the camera. Also, very spontaneous. She doesn't require much thought to act. That helped." We'll never know if that was tongue-in-cheek.

Sushmita Sen in Zor. Click for bigger pic!
The only problem Sangeeth claims he faced was the lady's daunting height. He had some difficult times convincing her to wear long dresses and less make-up.

"We had to cover her height. And her skin is good; she doesn't need all that make-up... Sunny and she make a good pair." Sushmita plays a light role, that of a journalist from a rival paper.

"That doesn't mean her role is not important," Sangeeth says quickly. "She has a good role and she will be appreciated in the film." So did he think actresses had to actually act, be something beyond a glamorous add-on?

"See, my film is very heavy in the second half and I had to have her for comic relief.... Actresses are not only for glamour, but, still, I go by the kind of film I'm making. This film is a Sunny film," he says resolutely.

Sunny Deol in Zor.
Coming from a family of film-makers, Sangeeth took to cinema like a whale to water. His father used to make documentaries, brother Santosh had already made his name and his third brother too was into films.

"We trained with our father. In fact, I used to watch these Hollywood films and freeze the frames to see where the cut was. That's how I learnt direction and editing."

It was during such a session he saw a film called Golden Child starring Eddie Murphy. Which gave him the idea for his superhit, Yoddha, a "different" film on martial arts.

"I saw this film and decided to take up the subject of the kidnapping of a child. I wove a story around that. Everybody worth his salt in Kerala said that this film would flop. The only person who had the confidence was my hero, Mohanlal."

The film ran for over a hundred days, a good hit by Kerala standards. His other films ran for between 75 and 80 days. And everyone worth his salt in Kerala ate crow.

Cut. What about Santosh? Why hadn't Sangeeth dragooned him into doing the cinematography for Zor since he never depended on anyone else earlier? Well, Santosh apparently had better things to do.

Click for bigger pic!
"Santosh is fed up doing commercial films. He was doing Darmiyaan and felt it gave him more scope because it is a period subject. In fact, he told me that I should try someone else now to do the cinematography since he might not do many more commercial films." Which is why Sangeeth settle on
Jeeva. So is he, like many south Indian directors, dependent on a crew from the south.

"I don't believe in cliques. I have people from all over working for me," he says, adding that he was comfortable with everybody. But then, like most southern directors, he has some complaints about Bollywood.

"The south is very disciplined. When you announce a film, your stars are finalised, your theatres are booked and everything goes according to schedule. Here it's a different story." Did he find it difficult here where a star decides his co-star, even the director. How did he cope?

Sangeeth takes umbrage.

"Are you saying that directors are just puppets in the stars's hands? A director is the captain of the ship, whatever you or anyone else might say. They hold the film together and give it a certain flair that is their trademark. Only I have a vision of how my film will finally look. I know how my film should be shot. Cinematographers, fight directors and choreographers... all are part of the team. But film-making is a team effort."

Sunny Deol in Zor.
Film-making is also time-consuming. When Sangeeth was in Thiruvananthapuram it made little difference; in Bombay, it is a problem. During the vacations he gets his children over. But he doesn't like to stay away so long, especially since his parents are alone, and so he plans to think carefully about the number of Hindi assignments he hopes to take on.

Of course, he'd like to continue making movies, and experiment some more. And, naturally, earn some more money.

"If my film is a hit, then naturally I get more money and that means less films to think of, I can concentrate on one film at a time," he laughs. In Kerala, he gets only about a film a year, because there aren't many films being made there anyway.

Sangeeth likes making films which a family can watch together, David Dhawan's films being a good barometer. Not for Sangeeth the risque and the ridiculous.

According to him, good films are good entertainers. "Virasat, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge and Border were clean films. And they did well at the box office too. Good films will always be hits. You don't have to be vulgar to make a good film," he tells you.

Which, apart from the fact that his father demands that he do it once a year, is why Sangeeth makes films for children too. So in 1996, Santosh made Halo; last year, Sangeeth made Johnny. He's yet to decide on the children's film he'll be making for the Children's Film Society this year.

If he's put it on hold, it's because he's nervous about Zor. "My future projects depends on this. I think I have made a good film... It should do well. Let's wait and see."

Sangeeth Sivan's photographs: Jewella C Miranda

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