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The making of VIRUMANDI 

The word 'for the first time' is quite commonly used in the case of film actor Kamal Haasan.

Let's see the firsts first.

When Kamal Haasan commenced the shooting of his latest mega film 'Virumandi' in Madurai in April, 2003, the crowd swelled to over a lakh of people, a number unheard of at a shooting spot in the annals of the Tamil film industry. The movie generated so much interest that it became the talk of the town and the industry.

The inaugural function itself indicated that the film will best the trouble-makers and also prove wrong the Doubting Thomases. Attempts by some vested interests to halt the shooting made Kamal Haasan more determined than ever to complete it. The controversy surrounding the shooting of the film itself was unprecedented.

Again, it's the first movie where the ancient daredevilry bull-fight game of Jalli Kattu was shot live with real charging bulls and the never-say-die unarmed bull-fighters.

Although Jalli Kattu is very popular in places like Alanganallur and Tiruchi during the Pongal season, perhaps for the first time it was recorded live with all the accompanying action and bravery of the men for the benefit of the movie goers and for posterity as well. Over 50 choicest rugged bulls known for its toughness were specially selected along with trainers and bull fighters.

Not only the trainers, but the villagers who are familiar with the events were transported from the villages to the shooting spot to be part of the epoch-making event.

In all, almost 1,000 persons were brought from Madurai district to give an authentic flavor to the sequences. Several technicians risked their lives to capture live the realism involved in the bull fight which is going to be among the highlights of the film. It is bound to be action personified on the screen.

Two special Kangeyam bulls ever ready to charge were carefully trained with great difficulties for the movie, again a first in the tinsel world. The bulls were kept at Sivaji Gardens and trained. The lead actress Abirami and hero Kamal Haasan did their home work daily and spent time with the bulls as part of the familiarization process.

At the end of the programme, the bulls became like pet dogs of the two!. It's easy to shoot a car chase or a fire scene, but not so easy to shoot a live Jalli Kattu scene in a film. The production unit learnt the lessons the hard way.

This is perhaps for the first time two southern villages were transported live to the Campa Cola complex in Chennai. It was a metamorphism of a rare kind. The complex was transformed into bustling Theni and Madurai villages with people speaking the local dialect.

The complex had festivities and fun, frolic and festoons. It was hard to distinguish the sets from the streets. The Jalli Kattu Street was so natural that even people who took part in scores of Jalli Kattu competitions could not believe their eyes and felt that they were in their native village.

Kottala Devar home and Nallamma Naicker palace were artistically built with dexterity that is bound to take people down the memory lane. It was hard to believe that the sets werecreated in Chennai, be it Virumandi temple, Central Prison or police station. They were the cynosure of all eyes.

The sets could become another Stratford-upon-Avon of England where people visit to see the monuments of WilIiam Shakespeare. There are even requests to Kamal Haasan not to abandon the sets for at least six months but to throw open to the public for viewing before the release of the film.

Art Director Prabhakaran had re-created the typical village that even a local villager who passes by the set would think that he is setting foot on his native land. The sets stand testimony to the creative hands and brains that worked for the success of the movie. Prabhakaran is all set to become Tamil Nadu 's top art director with the release of the film, claims the unit.

In the arena of action, Kamal Haasan decided to use for the first time High velocity spear thrower, air pressure units in the stunts to give real-life effects. This was thought about for Marudanayagam. The speed thrower has an amazing grit to throw the sharp edged Vel to over half a kilometre distance.

It can help the object travel like the amazing speed. of a rocket or that of sound. This left the actor and the entire unit speechless. A constant learner and an experimenter himself, Kamal decided to learn how to drive a moped without using his hands.

Live sound recording system was used and forthe first time, the Neuendo machine was kept at the shooting venue. There were special cameras for fight scenes as well.

Another unique feature of the feature film is its narration. The style is so different and novel, it's bound to catch the eyes and ears of the audience.

There will be two different perspectives of the same story, one positive and the other negative. The double narrative kind is not one that the movie goers here have experienced so far.

On the business side, the movie has exceeded all expectations. Not only were all the areas sold even before the word Go but the enthusiasm of the distributors was evident from day one. The movie was not sold, it was grabbed.

The movie generated lot of interest across the seas too and frantic enquiries poured in from all over the globe. Kamal Haasan has not sold the overseas rights so far and is planning on undertaking global distribution himself after holding a second premiere in the US.

The audio cassette and compact disc release function held at the sprawling Camp a Cola complex attracted a crowd of over 20,000, again perhaps for the first time for such an event in the industry. The cheering crowds and celebrities acknowledged the high position Kamal Haasan enjoyed in Indian Cinema.

Soon after the inagural, some started cribbing about the title of the movie, initially named as Sandiyar. It all started with an interview given at Madurai about the film and soon assumptions and guesswork flew thick in the air.

Magazines came out with their own versions of the film. Some said it was based on Perungamanallur riots; while others dubbed it as a period film. While some uncharitable elements even questioned the script and called it plagiarism, Kamal Haasan went on with his work silently without much ado.

Gossip and pillion riding died down once they realized that the film had a different agenda and clarity. There were some controversies about the stunts too. The master stunt man Vikram Dharma was briefly hospitalized and till he recovered, he deputed his assistant and they worked for the film.

Vikram and Kamal Haasan had worked together for several films and have the same vibe and chemistry along with experience to make things happen. There is no doubt that stunts in this movie will be much talked about for years.

It is evident that Kamal Haasan and his team risked their lives many a time for the sake of producing a quality movie. One of the assistant directors by name Ravi who was working with the bulls got injured and was hospitalized with spinal cord injury.

It was no easy task to transport 50 bulls from Alanganallur, Tiruchi and Dindigul. Vadipatti drummers were specially brought to give the local flavor for the movie. Not only Vadipatti drummers but Vadugapatti crackers were used too.

A multi-faceted person that he is, Kamal Haasan has directed, acted, written the screen play, lyrics, sung, done choreography and made a whole lot of things to happen.

Maestro Ilaya Raja has not only scored great music for the songs but also had written lyrics along with Poet Muthulingam and Kamal Haasan. It was a marriage of melody and magic to say the least. Sai has taken pains to get the right kind of costumes for the artistes.

Nassar, Napolean, Abirami, Rohini, OAK Sundar, Shanmuga Raja, Pasupathi, Bala Singh, along with a host of street theatre artistes had lent their support for the success of the film.

Santhana Bharathi, the first assistant director, rendered valuable assistance in making the movie. Sangli Murugan took excellent care of the production unit.

Cinematographer Kesav Prakash who was trained in India and the United States was an assistant to Ravi K Chandran in Marudanayagam project and Kamal Haasan spotted him. Both Kamal Haasan and Keshav Prakash tried to make the film in high definition mode but had to abandon the project due to some technical snags.

However, it would not be long before they try their hands successfully in the area. The movie has been shot in cinemascope with technical excellence. Kamal Haasan was ably assisted by Santhana Bharathi. Kamal Haasan and his elder brother Chandra Haasan have produced the film.

The executive producer of the film is D.N. Subramanian, a pillar of the Raj Kamal Films International who has been with Kamal Haasan for over 23 years now.

The song "Karumathur Kattu Kulle" consumed a lot of time in the film and hence could be added only in the audio. It is sure that the song will be in the minds of the people for another 50 years.

Kamal Haasan wrote a song named "Unnai vida" and lIaya Raja wrote a cheeky song that is bound to ring in the ears of movie goers. Several poets and writers such as Gnana Koothan, Puviarasu and Dr. Gnanasambandam have appreciated the songs. Kandamani song has the lyrics of a folk lore. Besides composing, IIayaraja himself had sung a song.

After movies such as Rajaparvai, Kizhakke Pogum Rail and Sigappu Rojakkal, the maestro's dedication and involvement in the movie is visible. Editor Sudarshan's Final Cut Pro version 4. adds value to the film.

Veteran Producer and Director Ketan Mehta who wanted to see the shooting had all praise for the FCP editing. This helps Kamal Haasan to complete the editing process at the end of the day and carry on with his work the next day. There is no carry over and editing is done on a daily basis.

Many artistes have been pulled out of obscurity and their talents have been given due recognition in the canvas of this film. Also, many new faces have been introduced in a manner that is sure to make an impact on the audience.

Every talent, technical or performing, has been brought out in its entirety and has left every contributor to the film with a feeling of complete satisfaction.

Kamal Haasan, who has a penchant for scouting the right talent, has involved street theatre artistes in the movie in a very big way. Irrespective of the length of their roles, the commitment, sincerity and dedication of every actor and actress has been total and the kind of performance every artiste has delivered has an authenticity rarely seen in commercial cinema.

The involvement and integrity of every artiste and technician is something that has been greatly appreciated by the director, as he stated in public during the audio release function in Chennai. All the characters are performance-oriented and are neatly crafted by Kamal Haasan after extensive research and study, again rarely done in the commercial cinema. All the artistes and technicians put in long hours and never worked looking at the clock and this goes to prove their total involvement in the success of the film.

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Your comments reflects the co..... - subra, Kuala Lumpur, 1/13/2004
No doubt Kamal is extraordinar..... - Gopinath C B, Hosur, 1/12/2004

OAK Sundar, a leading character artiste of the small screen with 100 teleserials to boot, signed for six movies soon after he started acting in Virumaandi. "Acting in Kamal sir's movie is like getting an ISO-9000 certification. It enhanced my prestige and standing in the industry," he said.

Several artistes have publicly stated that doing a role in the movie would be a turning point in their career and eventually their life. Kamal Haasan has introduced several new faces in the film and they are bound to reach new heights once the film is released.

RR

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Published on 12th Jan, 2004

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