Sivaji, the most anticipated film starring superstar Rajnikath is all set for release on May 31.
And for the man who got to shoot the film, the anticipation is doubly heady.
National award winning cinematographer (Priyadarshan's Thenmavin Kombathu) K V Anand recounts his experiences of working in the film in this interview. Excerpts:
The offer to shoot Sivaji
I had missed out doing the last few films of Rajni including Baba and Chandramukhi. When Ram Kumar asked me to do Chandramukhi, I was in the middle of my first directorial venture Kana Kandein.
I had done two films for Shankar; Mudalvan, and Nayak in Hindi. But I couldn't do his last two films; Boys and Anniyan. That was because of my prior commitment with Rajkumar Santoshi. I was doing The Legend of Bhagat Singh when Shankar called me for Boys and I was doing Kakhee when he called me for Anniyan.
It was in August 2005 that Shankar called me for Sivaji. I was already feeling bad for missing out on the last four films of Rajnikanth and the last two films of Shankar. So, when Shankar told me Sivaji would be a Rajni film, I was ecstatic. I set everything aside and accepted Sivaji.
First day of shooting
I've been a big fan of Rajnikanth since my younger days. Watching a Rajni film is akin to watching a Superman or Spiderman film. In Sivaji, you will find Shankar's concern for society, Rajnikanth's style, action and comedy too. I would say it is a complete Rajni film by Shankar.
You wouldn't believe it, but we did a make up test with Rajnikanth. And he was so humble about it.
After all the pre-production work and talks we started shooting in December 2005. I can't say I was nervous on the first day of the shoot. He had seen my first film Thenmavin Kombathu and appreciated my work. As you know, it was remade in Tamil as Muthu. He had also appreciated my work in Kakhee.
The first day shoot was the Vaaji song, which we shot at Ramoji Rao Film City in Hyderabad. The sets by Thotta Tharani (National award winning art director) was awesome. Rajni was dressed like a king and the song was fantastic. We shot it for eight days in Super 35.
Songs in Sivaji
Shankar had Raju Sundaram, Prabhu Deva, Lawrence and Brinda as choreographers so there was variety in each song. It was wonderful to see Rajni dance. He dances like a 25-year old. Unlike the other big actors he rehearses on his own.
I read somewhere that Rajni used to rehearse for a dance on the same day that it was scheduled to be shot. On the sets of Sivaji I saw him doing just that. I have seen only dedicated newcomers doing that, and here was a man who was acting in his 100th Tamil film, and still practising it.
Next to Vaaji, the song I enjoyed picturising the most was Sahana. I am sure people will appreciate both the songs. Again Thotta Tharani had set up a huge glass house, which made shooting very difficult as the glass kept reflecting the lights.
We had to do a lot of homework before coming to the sets. For three days, I was there on the sets planning how to light the glass house. Finally everything came out well.
Working as a technician
Any technician would love to work in a big film like Sivaji because you get to shoot on a grand scale.
Small budget films are not hero oriented so you get to experiment a lot.
In my career, I have always been alternating between small and big films. I started with Priyadarshan's Thenmavin Kombathu, a small budget film shot in 32 days. My third film Kadal Desam (Tabu, Vineeth and Abbas) was for Kunjumon where he had created a set for one and a half crore and each shot had 200 to 300 junior artistes. It was a very big film.
After that, I didn't accept the big Telugu offers but shot Nerukku Ner, a medium budget film by Vasanth starring Surya. After that I did Josh, a big film with big sets with Shah Rukh and Aishwarya Rai. Next was Susie Ganesan's first film Virumbukiren and then Shankar's Mudalvan.
Rajnikanth, the super star
Rajnikanth is the most professional artiste I have come across in my life. He is always 10-15 minutes ahead of time. If we say ready, he will be the first person to come and stand on the sets. It had always been like this throughout the shooting.
I have seen that these days, most of the artistes go to their make up van the moment their shot is over. Though we can set everything in five minutes, they would vanish from the sets, and we have to send someone from them.
For a cameraman, these are tense moments because the light may change by the time they appear from the van. All this started after the advent of the vanity vans. You can understand them going to the van if there is a make up change but these days it has become a habit for all artistes to go to the make up van after each shot.
But Rajnikanth is not like that at all. Once he comes out of the van with make up at nine, he does not go back till lunch time. He also carries his own umbrella unlike other stars.
What is great about this man is his simplicity. He treats everyone with respect. I have not seen him lose his temper with anyone.
That is what is enduring about Rajni.
Rajnikanth, the actor
Rajnikanth is one actor who would respect the suggestions of even my assistants. He is also one actor who has maintained his body very well.
Rajnikanth, the man
A few times he joined the entire unit for lunch. There was total silence and he must have felt that we were uncomfortable around him. After that he ate his food in the van.
Shankar, the director
Shankar is the most dedicated director I have seen in my career. His friends change with each film. What I mean is, his friends are those who work with him at a particular time. He is not one person who moves around with a set of friends.
His passion is films and even while eating, he would discuss only films. I have not seen him wasting time talking to his friends or family over phone while shooting a film.
And he is one director who is open to new ideas. He is always ready to listen to anyone who has got something new to say.
He is clearer about what he does not want to shoot rather than what he wants. That is how he simplifies everything.
Everybody talks how big Sivaji is. Do you know how many days we took to finish the talkie portion of the film? 65 days. We shot Sivaji for 14 months but the rest of the time was spent shooting action sequences and songs. People expect excellent action and songs in Shankar's films.