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Action Unlimited: The Anand Shankar Interview

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The Anand Shankar Interview where he shows no sign of being a debutant director; is quite confident about his upcoming Arima Nambi and has some strong beliefs about how action films work.

Director Anand ShankarAnand Shankar loves action. Fast, furious, mind-numbing action. He trusts his gut, and does not believe in waiting for things to happen.  Perhaps that’s why it took him only three films to graduate from being an assistant director to a director.  And naturally, his launch vehicle – Arima Nambi – is all about action. “It was on my mind for a long time. I started writing Arima Nambi immediately after Thuppakki in 2012. It took me two months. I wanted to make a film that made a lot of people happy- the producer, actors, the audience and of course myself,” begins the 27-year-old, who has a degree in mechanical engineering.

He also looks a lot like Manoj Night Shyamalan. Mention this to him and he smiles – “I would be happy if my debut turns out to be as sensational as his.”

The engineering degree was just a backup because he knew his calling lay elsewhere.  A course from the New York Film Academy was the beginning and it eventually landed Anand his first job as an AD for Sidharth Anand’s Anjaana Anjaani (2010) in Hindi starring Ranbir Kapoor. Shot extensively in the US, the movie was a learning experience for him. Predictably, he learnt fast.  “Working in Bollywood helped me a lot. The assistant director team is very powerful there and they are the reason behind many successful films. They’re are not relegated to standing a kilometre away to block crowds,” he tells me.

It was the Anjaana Anajaani’s cinematographer, Ravi K Chandran, who introduced him to Director AR Murugadoss. “Murugadoss sir would give me a lot of freedom, he would want us to treat the film like our own. That will make us better directors, he would say.” Anand had assisted him with Thuppakki and 7aam Arivu; and the bound script of Arima Nambi was shown to his guru first.“It was after sir liked what he heard that I narrated it to (producer) Kalaipuli Thanu. I was stunned when he offered to produce. He usually takes up only movies with top stars.”

Casting wasn’t much of a hassle. He wanted someone who was looking for an image makeover, and soon, Vikram Prabhu was on board. “Priya Anand came in with the deadly combination of someone who spoke good Tamil and could act well too,” he says, while stressing on the importance of knowing the language. His cinematographer RD Rajsekhar has efficiently captured the “feel of a fast-paced action film,” he adds. “I have realised you can’t fool the audience. They are more intelligent than the filmmaker. They are exposed to enough Hollywood movies to gauge what is good quality and what is not. Every action sequence has to be real and sleek,” he reasons. Though chiefly shot in Chennai, Anand recalls filming at the National Forest in Bangkok – a location he stumbled upon while working for 7aam Arivu. They trekked 3 hours to reach the place and he assures us that the song which was filmed there “is very real and doesn’t feature any graphics.”


Director Anand Shankarof Arima Nambi fameAction as a genre, Anand thinks,  is often undervalued in the industry. Lots of crooked theories and misconceptions, he adds for effect.  To start with, sample the notion that action films are easy to make. Or that heroes have to jump from skyscrapers. “Usually in Indian films, the camera is positioned far from the action. For instance, a car blast will be shot from a distance – for safety reasons – and also to picture the car entirely to get the money’s worth,” he details. But Arima Nambi  has been handled differently, he tells me. “We made sure the camera was always in the zone of heat.”

He betrays no signs of being a first-timer, and sounds confident that he has made the film he always visualised.  It’s the poise he gained from his stint as an AD for three big films. “Big directors don’t handle everything themselves. They make all the creative decisions. But they aren’t involved in logistics like setting up the shoot. An ideal first AD should take the stress off the director. He sets up the shoot so that the director doesn’t have to stress himself over props, artiste dates and other miscellany,” he offers.

And then, there were also those “special friends” that he made in the bargain – like actor Vijay for instance. “Vijay is very close to me. He is usually quiet on the sets. We initially used to wonder whether he is interested at all. While shooting a dance, he would look at the phone, stare blankly and we would be left wondering. But once he enters the sets, he would simply pick up the steps like a pro. That is not to say Vijay doesn’t do his homework, you can see him with the script a day before and he will be studying it thoroughly,” he gushes. Thuppakki was shot at 12 different locations in Mumbai and everywhere, he recalls, there would be hordes of Tamilians surrounding Vijay. They were working with hidden cameras, and so, Anand would relay instructions to Vijay on his Bluetooth camera. “Everything was planned on the dot and that’s what makes it convenient for the actors,” he admits. During 7aam Arivu, he recalls how Suriya lived with a circus player for two days to get those small nuances. Murugadoss taught him the value of dedication; for the director “worked from 7 am to 11 pm without distraction.”

Shankar’s Indian is a favourite of his as well, because it had “some real action”. “I love the way they shot Kamal practising the marma vidya on his opponents. That was stunningly captured,” says the director. He lists Planet of Apes, Avatar, Godfather (every single scene), Scarface and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the Bond series and some Korean films as his all-time favourites. The larger than life situations in Bond films make them exciting, he says.
His biggest grouch against the US is the way they watch films – in complete silence. They didn’t even clap for Avatar, he declares. According to him, a good action film should have something stimulating every ten minutes. A good background score is important as “the right percussion creates the right atmosphere”. That’s why, he roped in an ingenious talent like Sivamani, who debuts as a music director with this film.

But Anand also wants to experiment with genres, he adds. With different stories, great actors and scintillating music. He has a condition, though. There has to be some action in it. At least a tiny whit.

 Arima Nambi, starring Vikram Prabhu and Priya Anand, is scheduled to release on June 27.

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