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April 7, 1999


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24 hours

Shobha Warrier

Iswarya in a scene from Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
They are very quiet places now, the film studios of Madras. The industry is going through a dark phase now. And those days when stars fluffed around and the technicians busied themselves under those steamy lights are gone.

Not gone altogether, for suddenly there was hectic activity on for 24 hours on April 5th. And when we reached there, we could see workers, all eager to work after the lull, hauling rusted lights and cranes to the shooting area. All those present were smiling beatifically -- either at the prospect of getting back to work or at the thought that this film was to break a world record -- that of the fastest film ever made.

Besides the staff and some stars ever willing to talk to the press and journalists from various parts of the world, bemusedly watching Indian stars gyrating to some odd beat. But everyone was smiling.

Producer Giridharilal Nagpal decided to make the film, Swayamvaram, in 24 hours. He announced his intention in January and people raised quite a few eyebrows. But he believed it could be done and has felt it for the past 14 years. It was just now that he decided to put the plan into practice.

Prabhu. Click for bigger pic!
And so it was that at 7 am, 14 directors, 14 cameramen, 14 editors, 13 heroes, 11 heroines, 8 comedians and villains gathered at 14 sets and 15 film units and 21 locations to meet that challenge.

Maybe for the first time ever, all the stars were very co-operative and lacked the airs usually associated with them. And though everyone was relaxed, there was an electricity about it all.

Even G K, the art director who was co-ordinating all the 21 locations, looked excited. He raised his mobile phone and spoke quickly, "See, we are not late by even a minute. Everything is moving according to plan." Sounded like James Bond.

If there was a small cloud over anyone, it was Giridharilal's son Vinay, who was scooting from location to location.

What about the cost, I asked him when he stopped a minute to grab a breath.

On the sets of Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
"We have no idea. We are just pumping in money," he said.

"We are really happy that all the studios in Madras are busy today. See, it's happening after a long time," said Prabhu happily. Many other artists also appeared relieved that something was happening finally.

Inside the Vahini studios, the handsome Arjun was shouting through his mike to bring order to the unit. Though an actor, he's wielding a mike this time.

"It's really nice to be a part of a project that's going to create history. Yes, I am directing a part of the film -- the climax, to be precise. And I play the cop too. In the end, there is going to be a lot of action!

"Yes, it's more challenging than directing a full-length feature film since your part should gel well with the film. For a change, everything is moving very fast. I don't think we have ever worked so fast. But it is a good feeling."

Looking pretty contented Arjun went back to his complete his work and we left the set. Behind us, we could still hear him shouting orders.

Roja on the sets of Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
It was hot at the next set, burning hot. But poor Prabhu was swaddled in a black suit and dancing. Iswarya, who was clad in the barest minimum, compensated for Prabhu's overdressed state. Much of Iswarya's skin was exposed to the sun but she was far better off than Prabhu.

There was loud music blaring in the background, and several junior artists were jumping up and down, stomping the ground with a great deal of energy, and then jerking their waists around as though trying to snap them. Prabhu, sweating profusely and panting like he'd just been rescued from the Sahara, stopped the dancing exercise for a few minutes to talk to us. Someone surged ahead to shield Prabhu from the sun.

However hot he was, Prabhu was chivalrous enough to accommodate us under the same umbrella.

"Was everyone on time?" I asked him.

"Yes, for a change, everybody came on time." Prabhu laughed.

Manjula and Vijayakumar. Click for bigger pic!
"The greatest feeling is that we are all coming together and working together. That doesn't happen very often. I don't think so many artists have worked together before. It's fun, great fun. Above all, we are happy that we are part of an event that's going to make history.

"We are doing it for a good friend. It's true that all of us have to share the two-and-a-half-hours. So it's different from a usual movie. So what? It is not the quantity but the quality that counts," he says, leaving us a little bemused. "There may be a healthy competition among all he artists but who is bothered about all that? All of us are having great fun. I'm enjoying every moment of it." That was when Abbas joined us.

"This is great fun. So many artists working for one movie, so many people working together... It has never happened before. And working at this speed? I'm getting an opportunity to work with many senior artists. It's a great feeling. I was given the script yesterday, I came prepared for the shoot. We cannot waste any time in this project. More than anything else, I'm enjoying myself." While that may sound a little repetitive, there is truth in what he's saying -- everyone's looking as if they are enjoying themselves.

There's no tension, no anxiety, no stress in the air. Even the directors also looked unruffled and unperturbed by the pace at which they are working. Director C Sundar who shot the opening scene of the film was in high spirits.

Director C Sundar. Click for bigger pic!
"Fourteen of us are directing one single movie -- which, of course, is a new concept. It is more challenging in the sense that each of us gets only a small portion to direct -- like one episode of a television serial. I don't think the different styles of the directors will clash, that the film will be an eyesore. We had several sittings together and had planned everything in advance."

P Vasu, who shot to fame with the huge success of Prabhu's Chinna Thampi, also pooh-poohed the idea that the directors and artists were competing.

"You just see the film and tell us how it is. We're confident it will be good. All the directors were constantly in touch with each other so there wouldn't be any jerks in the film, that one scene smoothly merged into the other."

At the next location, some poor, unkempt gypsies sit huddled together in and around the 'huts' made for them. The kids in unwashed clothes ran around like they always did; their nose ran and their knickers slid down. Picked up from the road,t hey looked indifferent, disinterested and least bothered about the attention the film stars got. Most of them had not even seen in film in their lives. Perhaps they just waited for the fee meal offered to them.

Roja and Prabhu Deva in Swayamvaram. Click for bigger pic!
Away from them, in the middle of the film crowd stood Khushboo, dressed like a gypsy. Unlike the real gypsies, her fair skin glowed, her jewellery glittered, her face was heavy with layers of pink make-up, her mouth was stained a deep red with lipstick and she wobbled on four-inch heels. That is the urbane, rich gypsy you never get to see. Although she looked didn't appear too awed, Khushboo said she was thrilled to be a part of this film.

Unlike Khushboo and the gypsies, Satyaraj, who was shooting with Khushboo appeared very enthusiastic, and was more than willing to share his views with the journos.

"If all our movies were made like this -- in a day -- how wonderful it would be! We used to work for days and months to finish a move; for Swayamvaram, we are working for only a day. And if we get the same amount from a day's work, life will be wonderful!"

Finally, at the end of the day, after 24 hours, a relieved Vinay Nagpal, son of Giridharilal Nagpal said, "Yes, we could finish the movie in 24 hours. In fact, we shot more than we expected. We are satisfied. None of us has slept for the last 24 hours."

Now they can, in peace.

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