Shooting a film is a bit like a film itself, especially to the filmmaker. The artistic mind is at work even as one deals with the practicalities of mounting a production. Is the mind allowed to relax when there is so much to worry about (the matter of the availability of actors, the budget allotted to the jimmy-jib team)?  If not, how will the creative juices flow, and seep into the film he is making?

Tamil filmmaker CS Amudhan is currently shooting Thamizh Padam 2, starring Shiva, Disha Pandey and Iswarya Menon. For our new Director’s Diaries series, he will send us 5 fortnightly dispatches from the sets of this sequel to his 2010 hit comedy, taking us through the panic-stricken, testing but ultimately rewarding process of a film shoot, in a language that is distinctly … cinematic.

 

4 February, 2018

The phone rings.

Your eyes open to thick blackness.

Immediately you are confused, the ringing is from a landline. There is no landline in your bedroom!

Panic! Where am I…?

Then slowly it all comes back. You are in a hotel in a remote small town that straddles the Tamil Nadu-Andhra Pradesh border. You are here to shoot a song and a few scenes for Tamizh Padam 2.0.

You pick up the phone, it’s your 5.30 am wake-up call. You ask for a coffee and head to the shower. The hot and forceful shower drives away the grime and exhaustion of yesterday. Just as you are tying the laces of your sneakers, the coffee arrives.

Coffee in hand, you step out on the patio.

Immediately a breathtaking, wild landscape confronts you and you wonder how much difference 40 kms makes to the terrain. The soil is redder, the horizons longer, the trees taller and the bushes denser than we usually see in Tamil Nadu.

It’s like you’ve been transported to the plains of Serengeti in Tanzania. Huge black-maned lions and giraffes would not be out of place here.

Your driver has not arrived yet so you go for a walk. Apart from the hotel there is nothing man-made as far as the eye can see, it seems to be pastoral land with cow-dung all over the place. Could it be bison..? a stammering voice in the brain pipes up and you hastily return to the hotel.

Your driver has arrived; your DoP Gopi Amarnath is also ready and raring to go. The shooting location is 8kms/20 mins away. As you ride, you discuss the day’s agenda with Gopi.

It’s going to be a big day. 300 junior artists have been brought in and accommodated in various wedding halls in the area. All kinds of special equipments like Jibs, 3-axis gymbals and rain-effect have been employed. You start blocking the scenes on paper and discuss the shooting order.

The road you are driving on now is a dusty, red, dirt-road that swirls off into the distance. It’s forest on either side. While it’s beautiful to look at in the morning light, you remember how scary it was when you returned from the location the previous night.

By the time you arrive at the location you are excited but nervous. There are 36 shots scheduled. Many of them featuring hundreds of junior artists, and rain. A lot of money is riding on today. Many artists’ dates are not available after today. Can we finish all the shots by end of the day? Fingers crossed!

As you enter the shooting spot, you see more than a thousand people milling around! The entire village has gathered to watch us or rather to watch our Akila Ulaka Super Star (Actor Shiva)!

The whole town-centre set is grey and sooty because we burned it down yesterday. Don’t worry, it was deliberate and part of a scene.

You take the scene paper and settle down under a skimmer to review the shots. Immediately, panic!

It seems like the first planned shot should have been shot before the set was burned. There is no way it can be shot now. It is a pivotal shot without which the entire sequence will make no sense. If you ask for a reset, art-director Senthil Raghavan, already under fire, will have a heart-attack. It’s moments like this when a director feels like the most lonely man on earth. With a steadily growing heartbeat you pull aside an associate director and ask if we missed this shot yesterday. He casually says that it was the first thing we shot yesterday! You had forgotten! You are almost collapsing with relief when on cue a production assistant brings you a bottle of water. You almost gulp down the whole thing, he looks at you strangely and walks away.

The day unwinds slowly, everything is going according to plan. All the technicians seem to be in good form especially the jimmy-jib team, which is kinda a rarity. Nizhalgal Ravi, the veteran actor is giving out acting lessons with his performance; Chethan and George, the other character actors, are nailing their parts and needless to say Shiva has the whole village in splits with his dialogue delivery. Even the cops who are providing us security can’t stop smiling.

You break for lunch. You find Gopi munching on an Andhra variation of the bajji. He says they are very tasty and offers you one. This guy knows you are on a Paleo-diet and can’t eat it. You politely decline but curse him in 3 languages under your breath.

Finally the sun is about to set and we prepare to shift location to another village nearby for the night shoot. The shot is set in the courtyard of a mud-house. When we land there, we find about 40 cows tied in the courtyard with no sign of the owner! Immediately managers and ADs are dispatched to find an alternative house. As you sit around waiting, you see one of the village folks point at you and tell her companion “Ivaru Big Boss la vanthaaru illa?” (Wasn’t this guy one of the contestants in Big Boss?) I can only hope she was thinking of one of those handsome young contestants & not…..well never mind that.

Finally we make alternate arrangements, albeit much later. Now it’s a race against time to finish by end of call sheet, which is 2 am. Hooray, we do just that!

All 36 shots accounted for. Pack up.

Tomorrow the song-shoot starts and you are relieved that Kalyan, the choreographer, will be here to take over the reins.

Tired but happy you get into the car and let Ilaiyaraaja work His magic.

It’s back to the hotel through the eerie road. Just for kicks we stop the car in the middle of the road and turn off the headlights. It’s pitch black and deathly silent. You tell Gopi you can hear salangai satham (anklets). He says can we STFU and leave.

It’s 3 am by the time you crash into bed. The phone rings.

Reset and play.

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