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June 7, 1999


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Rajni conquers Japan

Rajnikanth. Click for bigger pic!
Over there, they call him the Dancing Maharaja. And his movies sell hotter than sushi.

Rajnikanth, believe it or not, has taken over Japan. And so pervasive is his influence that anything even remotely associated with the swarthy star is welcomed with open arms.

Thus, Senthil and Gaundamani, the two Tamil comedians who are fixtures in Rajni films, have been dubbed the new Laurel and Hardy and every time they set foot in the land of the rising sun, are interviewed, feted, made much of.

And Meena, one of Rajni's co-stars, was taken to the Japanese bosom so completely that she has gone and fallen in love with the place, and now calls it her favourite vacation spot. In fact, the makers of a favourite Japanese drink wanted her to reprise the Thillana Thillana dance number from the Rajni-starrer Muthu to promote the drink in an ad. Meena didn't have the right dates, so now the song is being shot on Sanghavi.

Leading Japanese film critics say the "masala musicals" churned out by the Tamil industry -- the Aishwarya Rai-Prashanth starrer Jeans is expected to hit the Japanese marquee any day now -- are precisely the kind of feel-good stuff a Japan hit by recession needs to forget its own troubles.

It all started with Muthu, the 1995 release which hit the Japanese marquee last year and was seen by an estimated 125,000 viewers, netting the theatre more money than Titanic. Apparently a leading Japanese film critic, Jun Edoki, got hold of a copy of the film while on a visit to Singapore and liked it so much that he hawked it around, till the film distribution outfit Xanadeux agreed to release it.

Pep pills with Padayappa

A still from Padayappa. Click for bigger pic!
Meanwhile, you have of course noticed the trend of film magazines giving out freebies with each issue -- Teepol kitchen scrubbers and suchlike. The disease, apparently, is spreading. Music cassettes of the latest Rajni starrer, Padayappa, come with a strip of herbal rejuvenator capsule.

Apparently it is working and what's more -- the film was supposed to be Rajni's last as a hero, but now that it is an authentic superhit, that retirement plan (the star had said he would only do character roles from here on in) is in the deep freeze. Rajni's next is, in fact, already on the floors.

Ramakrishna -- which is what the film is titled -- will reprise a combination that films like Andha Kanoon, Geraftar and Hum made popular. Rajni, thus, teams up yet again with Amitabh Bachchan in a film that sees the former play a double role and Amitabh, reportedly, playing a 'mature' character.

The girls haven't been signed on yet, but the early word is that Ramya Krishna, whose character, Neelambari, in Padayappa is earning her huge raves, will be on the distaff side of the star cast.

Ajit's darker side

Ajit. Click for bigger pic!
Talk of negative shades, Ajit has just pulled off a corker with his latest release,Vali.

Those who are into Hindu mythology will recall the Vali-Sugreeva episode, the squabble between the two brothers which ended in Vali's death.

This is a modern day reworking of an ancient tale. Ajit plays both brothers -- the one is your typical clean-cut achiever, the other has a speech impairment and is deaf to boot. And it is in the way he has played the latter character, with its understated yet menacing villainy, that is earning the raves and drawing movie buffs to the theatres in droves.

The film also has Simran -- who, for the record, seems to be some kind of lucky charm for movie-makers; the girl is yet to produce an authentic flop -- wowing the audience not just with her oomph and dancing skills, but with an unsuspected flair for quality acting.

Twinkle in Telugu

Twinkle Khanna. Click for bigger pic!
Dimple Kapadia was one of the early migrants down south, having done Vikram for the Kamal Hassan banner, aeons ago. Now it is the turn of daughter Twinkle who will partner Venkatesh in a Telugu film.

Actually, it is a remake of Sollamallae the Tamil superhit movie starring Livingstone and Kausalya. Director Sasi, who made his debut in the Tamil original, will direct the Telugu version under the R B Choudhury banner.

Producer Choudhury, in fact, is on a good wicket, his Raja, starring Venkatesh and Soundarya having been declared a huge hit.

Rahul Roy, the nasty

Rahul Roy.
Remember Rahul Roy? The guy who was supposed to go to Hollywood and become the hottest thing after Big Macs? That particular dream had all the shelf life of dew in the desert, and he vanished without a trace.

Well, he's back -- playing a villain in Kesavan, the Sharat Kumar-Rambha-starrer currently under production. With this, he joins the ranks of Bollywood actors who have gone down south and snared baddie roles -- Amrish Puri, Om Puri, Paresh Rawal, Sharat Saxena and such being his precursors.

Exploring fresh avenues

Isha Koppikar. Click for bigger pic!
Isha Koppikar is going places -- her Kaadhal Kavithai and En Swasa Katrey both earned critical, and public recognition, and now she is due to star with Vijay, the man they call Junior Rajni orIlaya Dalapathi, inNenjinile.

The film is to be directed by Vijay's father, S A Chandrasekhar, a director of long standing on the Madras marquee. And initial word is that, this time, Vijay moves away from the lover-boy avatar to do a more action-oriented subject. He will play a job-seeking youngster while Isha, who hails from Bombay, will play a Tamil girl settled in the megapolis.

Star spawn aim high

Ria Sen. Click for bigger pic!
Taj Mahal is nearing completion -- and when it hits the marquee, it will signal the debut of two youngsters with filmi pedigree. One is Manoj, son of famed Tamil film-maker Bharati Raja, while the other is Ria, daughter of Moon Moon Sen.

They've pulled out all the stops on this one, and even erected an exact replica of the Taj Mahal on Marina beach in Madras for a song sequence.

Meanwhile, Manoj can't seem to make up his mind what his name should be. He switched from Manoj to Manibharati and, last we heard, has switched right back -- apparently his papa and others figured that the name Manibharati has a literary, rather than heroic, ring to it.

Ravichandran on a roll

Director Ravichandran, who debuted with the Prashant-Simran starrer Kannedirey Thonrinaal, is one more in the brat pack of Tamil directors who signalled their arrival with a superhit.

And now he is ready with his next -- Sanditha Velai with Karthik who plays a car-racing buff while Simran and Isha Koppikar share the top billing among the ladies.

Meanwhile, the Hindi version of Kannedirey Thonrinaal is slated to go on the floors in August.

Mani's one-song wonder

Mani Rathnam.
Mani Rathnam has this thing of keeping his forthcoming projects under wraps -- with just a little trickle of information coming out every now and again.

Here's the latest trickle. Alai Payuthey, his latest, will feature Shalini -- formerly Baby Shalini -- in the lead opposite the Bombay-based Mahadevan, who at present features on Ghar Jamai. This time, there is no terrorism as underpinning, the accent being firmly on youth. And what is more, the buzz is the film has only one song in it.

Khusbhoo also plays a major role in the film. There were rumours doing the rounds that Mammootty or Mohanlal would also feature prominently, but that is now scotched -- and word is that Mani's personal favourite, Arvind Swamy will join the lead pair in the credits.

Mani, not generally into quickies, plans to finish this one off in a month.

Some hurdles for Swamy

Arvind Swamy. Click for bigger pic!
While on Arvind Swamy, his En Swasa Katrey with Isha Koppikar (a desi version ofMission: Impossible) did okay, without being the superhit they were hoping for.

Another Swamy-starrer, Engineer -- supposedly a hi-tech caper which stars him opposite Madhuri Dixit -- has meanwhile run into snags of the financial kind. The latest word on that is that hit-hot director Shankar, himself busy with his next film Mudalvan (Arjun-Manisha Koirala), has stepped in with the finance to help complete Engineer.

While on Mudalvan, meanwhile, it is interesting the kind of sparks that Shankar uses to ignite his films. On Sun TV, there is this equivalent of Hard Talk, wherein leading public figures are grilled by an interviewer. In one such episode, the interviewee, harassed by a stream of questions, blurted out, "Hey, it is okay for you guys. You only have to ask questions, it is we politicians who have to sit here and answer them."

That apparently set Shankar thinking. And the result is the tale of a television interviewer who, through a curious concatenation of circumstances, rises to become a political figure. Watch this space for more details.

AK-47 to fire later

Shivraj Kumar. Click for bigger pic!
Regulars of Southern Spice will remember that we had mentioned AK 47, the Kannada film with Shivraj Kumar in the lead.

Though this was originally intended to be his 50th film, Vishwa has now supplanted it as the 'golden' film for Dr Rajkumar's son. Vishwa also stars Anant Nag.

Opposite Nag is Kamal's niece and Mani Rathnam's better half, Suhasini -- who these days has been appearing in Kannada movies with some frequency. In fact, her Amruthavarshini, which paired her opposite Sharat Babu in a tale of love between husband and wife, was a huge hit.

Suhasini also stars in Vanaprastham, the latest offering from Malayalam director Shaji Karun, which was shown to much acclaim at the recent Cannes Film Festival in the non-competitive segment. Interestingly, this makes a hat-trick for the cinematographer-director; his earlier films Piravi and Swaham were also well received at that festival.

Vishwa's cast also includes a certain Suchitra Krishnamurthy -- yeah, that's right, Shekhar Kapur's biwi, who has been making the odd return to the south. She had in fact appeared in the teleserial Chinna Chinna Asai (produced by film star Revathi and her husband Suresh Menon), in an episode directed by Suhasini.

That in fact was the real hook in that serial -- various episodes were scripted and directed by big name actresses, and critics aver that all of them did a better than fair job with the megaphone.

The episode in question actually paired Suchitra with adman and film-maker Rajiv Menon. Rajiv, in fact, had been invited by Mani Rathnam to act in Bombay, but refused. He however handled the cameras for that film, and went on to win awards. Rajiv, who is now busy with his own second film, has also played a small role in the Fazil superhit Harikrishnas which teamed Mohanlal and Mammootty opposite Juhi Chawla.

-- Rajitha

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