Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Shankar, James Cameron of India

S Shankar, the low profile director, is now being called India's James Cameron, after the success of Endhiran (Robot). Gentleman came in as early as 1993 and introduced the nimble steps of Prabhudeva in the iconic dance number ‘Chik Paku Raile’. He then went on to direct Kadhalan ‘Hum Se Muqabala’ (1994), the ‘Muqabla Muqabla number’ is still regarded as A.R.Rahman’s best dance number ever; with ‘Urvashi Urvashi’ coming close.

In 1995, Shankar released India with a double role to Kamal Hassan; the film was India’s official entry to the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Category. He directed Aishwarya Rai in her second film ‘Jeans’ against Prashant, which was also selected as the Best Foreign Film to the Oscars.

Shankar struck consistently with Mudhavala(1999), Nayak(2001),Boys(2003), Anniyan(2005) and then went on to give Rajnikanth’s biggest blockbusters Sivaji-The Boss(2007) and Robot(2010). Nayak, may have been an average hit in Bollywood but it still continues to be the most repeated movie on satellite television.

Shankar’s movies are not only technically proficient but he has had the foresight of exploring some of the real Indian ruins, palaces, heritage sights and seven wonders of the world (he shot it first for Jeans) before other Bollywood producers began to cover them. You may be awe-struck by the Stan Winston special effects and action in Endhiran Robot and would love to believe, that Endhiran is the first Indian movie that truly graces Hollywood standards. It is not that his movies are mere technical razzmatazz, he works out on a solid plot in all of his films.

Nayak’s plot of a person becoming a prime-minister for one day looks straight from a school essay, but it has been so warmly received that when anyone talks about handling the reins of the state or country for a day, people compare it with Shankar’s Nayak. Movies like Nayak, Gentleman, Indian(Hindustani) were all about a common man taking on the system.

When tell Shankar that he is India’s James Cameron, he laughs, quotient.” “Stop pulling my leg. I don’t need any more spotlight on me than that is already there.” While seven of his films are among the biggest hits in the Tamil cinema, Endhiran is on its way to become the biggest Tamil blockbuster ever, poised to cross Rs. 250 crore mark.

Shankar,norn in a fairly affluent family in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu, e worked as a quality control supervisor till the movie bug bit him. On a telephone call he still introduces himself as, “Hi I’m Shankar, the director,’’ and when you incredulously ask him why he says that, he replies, “my films and I are twins, joined at the hip.’’ Though he is delightfully soft-spoken and does not throw attitude like other directors who are not even half his statute do, Shankar is the boss. Though he has worked with the best of the lot, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth, Shankar is not in awe of them but enjoys the process of working with them. He adds, , “Rajnikanth is the ultimate for any filmmaker. His demi-God status aside, he’s the most obedient actor I’ve worked with. He doesn’t leave the set once he reports for work...and he still maintains a childlike curiosity about everything related to a film.’"

One of his assistant directors says the secret of his success lies in his engineering background - he goes about fixing each nut and bolt step by step while filmmaking. Robot was originally planned five years ago with Priety Zinta and Kamal Hasan.

The monies didn’t drop at that point. It was then revived with Shah Rukh Khan. Story goes when Shankar went to Orange County (with his wife, son, daughters Aditi and Aishwarya and team of writers) to give SRK a detailed narration, he had every colour scheme, every frame and other minute details worked out. SRK was visibly impressed but the deal fell through and the Rajni came on board.

In personal life he’s a plain-dresser. Though he arrives in a high-end automobile (he earlier drove a Merc but after his association with SRK, switched to a BMW) he has no shenanigans attached to his name. He’s the kind of guy who has no hesitation to eat food at roadside joints, goes about his work-home-work routine and shuns parties save for the occasional awards function.

But his budgets are the opposite. Ask him about why his budgets always get more prominence than his  reviews, and he says, “I don’t know the intention of the press when it highlights the budgets of movies. In my movies the money has always been well-spent. In Robot, the animatronics used is of the same calibre of The Jurassic Park, Terminator and Avatar. And since it was also done at the Stan Winston Studios in the US, the SFX cost huge money. I only put my money where my mouth is. Robot needed high-end technical effects. If Indian cinema had a wider release, then I would have spent at least half of what Avatar did on SFX. However, I’ve always believed in bringing in something new via technology in every film of mine.  And it is because of the novelty element that my films have a repeat value.”

“I think it’s wrong to talk about my movie budgets constantly. There is an equal amount of blood and sweat invested in the effort. The film took two years to make and we had a huge foreign crew involved. Every member of my unit and the foreign crew has worked so hard on this film that the money pales in comparison to the effort put in.’’

t the films he patronises are vastly different from the ones he makes. A self-confessed Mani Ratnam admirer, the other three films that have left an indelible mark on him are Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Lagaan, Farhan Akhtar’s Dil Chahta Hai and Raj Kumar Hirani’s 3 Idiots.  “When I’m in between scripts the only things I make time for are watching movies,” he says.

And though his movies leave gadget freaks gasping, he’s technologically challenged in real life.  “All the technology is reserved for my films. I don’t even know what hidden features my cell-phone has,’’ he laughs.

As he gets into his vehicle to visit the local Chennai theatres for reactions, he adds, “People want to know what I’m making next. I usually have some idea stashed away in my head for my next film even before the earlier one has wrapped.


lisa said...

Shankar is a creative mass director,simply better than James.He making a single theme into so many plots and making each one a huge hit...its a good review of his work....Now Playing Film

Anonymous said...


Shankar is one of the worst director in the world. He shamelessly copy from others and call it as his own. You are comparing him with mastermind James Cameron. You must be joking. In fact, the whole article completely idiotic. Have you seen Cameron movies like Avatar, Aliens, T2, The Abyss? Come on, don't talk some cockamamie nonsense over here as what the editor of this topic did.

Shankar doesn't know the technique of directing. His approach is completely childish and idiotic. To be simple, Indian audience are the worst audience in the world. DOT

dinesh said...

Shankar ,James cameron of India ahhh?

Oye!samma Comedy sir neega!When James cameron said he had to wait 10-15 years to make Avatar it made sense because its james cameron who said that.But when Shankar says he had to wait for 10 yrs its complete crap!

Anonymous said...

Shankar is a humble and hard working director but definitely not the best in india.
I consider Mani Ratnam as finest indian director.
It is lame to compare an indian director with james cameron simply because indians dont have a vision of sci-fi like cameron or spielberg and these western directors dont have a vision of rural india without seeing an indian nonmasala movie.
How do we know if danny boyle(slumdog millionaire director)was not inspired by a mani ratnam film to make an indian actors but english movie?
Where do you think danny got a r rahman from? from the movies of mani ratnam.
An excellent director is one who visions an original story and not get inspired by remakes or copies.
I cannot say 100% of mani ratnam's films are original ideas from him but he will come close and definitely has way better original ideas than shankar.
Mani Ratnam would never copy a hindi movie recent blockbuster story but shankar would which is why I dont agree with this article.

One day we can live with the hope that an indian director will compete with cameron.

Anonymous said...

First make a 5 min short film and then speak abt Shankar sir ............Sreeram bullappan

Karthikeyan said...

Well said about shankar(reply to the first person). I or we have complete rights to comment or review on shankar and dont need to direct any short films for that. I think you guys might have not known who james cameron is. Dont support an indian, support the talent and do not compare milk and water(reply to the second comment to mr balraam naidu)

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