Shankar: I don't like being known for grandeur

Director Shankar speaks about his upcoming release, Indian 2, working with Kamal Haasan, criticisms about Kamal's prosthetics in the sequel, and Velpari
Shankar: I don't like being known for grandeur

Beyond the unmistakable visual splendour, director Shankar’s films also have the distinct quality of seamlessly connecting the macro to the micro. Larger themes like corruption and civic sense will still be tied to the personal tragedy of the protagonist. In the 1996 film Indian, Senapathy’s violent crusade against corruption connects with the audience not through his patriotism, or his past as a soldier in the Independence struggle, but through the tears he sheds for his daughter’s death. While the first film showed Senapathy losing his only son and with Sukanya confirmed to not reprise her role as Senapathy’s wife Amrithavalli, one wonders how Shankar will humanise the legendary Indian thatha in the sequel. “Senapathy considers every Indian to be his family, that’s why this crusade against corruption is personal to him,” the filmmaker puts it succinctly.

Fight against corruption has been a consistent theme in Shankar’s films. Pondering upon this, the filmmaker gives us a reasoning as to why this is the case, “If a particular theme disturbs me the most I try to analyse it and then convert it into a story.” Even when his films echo a specific brand of social justice, Shankar is conscious about not delving into didacticism and focuses on the entertainment factor as well. “After I figure out what my film should be about, I focus on how to present it. I take the audience's perspective and make sure none of the scenes would bore me as an audience. I guess my films have been successful because I stay true to both my story and the audience.” Even with such a consistent track record, Shankar is no stranger to failures. On how he receives criticisms, Shankar says, “Even if the criticism is harsh, we have to learn to be objective, learn what we can from it, and adopt it in our work.”

On the topic of criticism, Shankar responds to the comments on how Kamal’s prosthetic makeup looks different from the one in the original film. “While designing Senapathy’s look in the first film, we took references from pictures of Kamal sir, his father, and his two brothers. That along with inputs about the character’s past in the military, were all combined together to create the look. However, as good as it was, the prosthetics in the original film were thick, so I couldn’t see the minute expressions. This time around, I wanted to bring out the actor and fortunately, advancements in technology have massively improved so we were able to make prosthetics makeup that is thinner.” Shankar reveals the irony of how, when the Senapathy look was revealed in 1996, there were some initial comments about how it did not look like Kamal.

He then reflects upon how Kamal's dedication remains unwavering, even after all these years. “Whether the prosthetics were thick or thin, it still took the same amount of time to put it on. He had to arrive on set by 4 AM. You have to respect Kamal sir’s dedication. He will be the first on one set and the last one to leave. We had scheduled 70 days to shoot his portions in the first film but he ended up finishing it in 40 days.” The director also goes on to heap praises on his production designer, T Muthuraj. “He is one of the best production designers in the country. Whether I wanted a mansion entirely made of gold, a futuristic set, or a period set, he could do anything. There are some amazing period sets you will get to see in Indian 3,” he says. As someone who is known to have extravagant production designs in his films, the director dislikes the tag that comes with it. "I don't like being known for grandeur alone. I don't go looking out for grandeur. The stories I like are grand in scale on their own," he says. Shankar continues his appreciation spree by then directing his focus on SJ Suryah. “I like how he never gets satisfied. Even if someone on the sets is a little apprehensive about his performance, he will relentlessly pursue a retake.” He then adds, “He has a very interesting and unique character in the film. He only has a short screen time in Indian 2, you will see more of his character in the next film.”

With Indian 3 set to release by the end of this year and Game Changer all set to release in September, Shankar gets candid about his upcoming projects. "After Covid, a lot of actors approached me for films. But, back then, I had only completed the scripts for Indian 2, Velpari, and a science fiction film by then.” Denying rumours about Suriya’s involvement in the film, Shankar adds, “But Velpari is a humongous task and it will need a lot of time, money, and effort to get off the ground. The science fiction film does not demand a bigger star and can be done with any actor. The circumstances are the hero and villain of that story. So I chose to do Indian first. And now I am excited to start working on the other projects.” With Indian cinema gaining a new spurt of global reach in recent times, we ask if he is working on a film for the global audience, Shankar replies, “Velpari is the perfect film for a global audience.”

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