Utpal Borpujari

October 10, 2008

Mohanlal’s Nair San with Jackie Chan cameo to bring alive forgotten hero

 

The superstar is excited about his latest assignment to play Nair San in a biopic to be shot in India, Japan and Mongolia, reports Utpal Borpujari

 

 

Mohanlal, Malayalam cinema’s superstar and one of India’s finest actors, has essayed many a fascinating character in his long screen career, working with some top directors. So, when he says that rarely does an actor come across a role like that of Nair San, one has to sit up and take it seriously. Indeed, Nair San, a film in Japanese and Malayalam to be directed by Chennai Film Institute alumni Albert has all the potential to be great cinema.

 

To be shot extensively in Japan as well as India and Mongolia, the film also has action superhero Jackie Chan in a cameo, and while Mohanlal will obviously act in the title role of Nair San, the film’s makers are considering Mumbai star Anil Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Lara Dutta and Japanese actress Koyuki for major roles.

 

Nair San’s is a story waiting to be told. Like so many great heroes of India’s Freedom Struggle whose stories have never travelled outside their respective regions, his story too has remained restricted mostly within Kerala. Addressed as Nair San by the Japanese, Ayyappan Pillai Madhavan Nair’s life story is a captivating one. A highly-respected industrialist in Japan, Thiruvananthapuram-born Nair had gone to Japan as an engineering student during the Freedom Struggle. The story goes that he was sent so that he was kept away from his rebellious activities back home.

 

But in Japan, he got in touch with the likes of Subhash Chandra Bose, Rash Behari Bose, Pratap Singh, Barkatullah and many others, and, in fact, went on to become Netaji’s Japanese translator as well as a key member of the Indian National Army. Though he actively campaigned against the British from Japan and some other Asian countries, he kept himself away from politics after India’s Independence. He was awarded the order of Merit of the Sacred Treasure by Emperor Hirohito in 1984. And not to be forgotten, it was he who had raised a protest when after India won the 1964 Olympics hockey gold in Tokyo, the Pakistani national anthem was played by mistake.

With scope to perform a great character like this, Mohanlal is visibly worked up. As he says, “See, I am from a place called Kerala, and once is a blue moon, actors like me get the chance to do a film like this.” Around 160 days shooting of the film will be done in Japan and Mongolia, he says.

“Nair San’s is a story that deserves to be told in such a big scale, as his life was an extraordinary one. I am sure Albert will be able to bring him alive in an international standard film,” Mohanlal says.

Albert, whose debut film Kanne Madanguka in 2005 was screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa as part of Indian Panorama, got the idea to make the film when he tried to find out about the Nair San Hall near his house at Mudavanmugal in Thiruvananthapuram. He found out more details about the man from a Tamil translation of Nair’s biography, and was immediately taken in by the persona behind the man. In his director’s note on the film, Albert says, “The topic is so thrilling that it will surely capture the mind of the cinema lovers all over the world.”

With music by A R Rahman, the film with an estimated budget of 12.5 million dollars will surely be a film worth waiting for.

 (Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 10-10-2008)

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September 29, 2008

Shooting in J&K: Indian cinema’s love affair with the Valley

By Utpal Borpujari

The opening shot of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir probably depicted in the best way how the ties between Bollywood and the trouble-torn state snapped. As the screen lights up, we see the picutre postcard image of a shikara on an idyllic Dal lake – and then, suddenly, the shikara explodes, shattering the calmness.

Hindi films, as also some from southern India, have had alwasys captured Kashmir’s “heaven on earth” image – chinar-clad dales, rosy-cheeked dames, snowy-white mountains, et al.

In the 1960s, Kashmir was the place which the camera would instantly zoom onto as soon as the hero and the heroine felt like running around the trees and singing a ditty.

The highly-energetic Shammi Kapoor, whose “Yahoo” as he slid down the snowy slopes in Junglee (1961) created many a clone in the subsequent years – take Joy Mukherjee for example – whose films with similar love stories would be shot in Kashmir.

Sharmila Tagore, discovered by the great Satyajit Ray, got instant nationwide fame as the Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), as she played the innocent Kashmiri girl role to the hilt. Films like Jaanwar, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon and Aarzoo reflected the fascination of filmmakers for Kashmir’s natural beauty, and countless filmmakers since then shot their films in the state.

But as militancy started in 1989, everything changed. For long years, nobody ventured into Kashmir to shoot a film, even if the storyline was based there. The most glaring example of this is Mani Ratnam’s superhit Tamil film Roja, which became an even bigger money-spinner when it got dubbed into Hindi. The film’s storyline emerges out of the situation in Kashmir, but not a single shot was taken there. Instead, Ratnam chose to shoot almost the entire film in Manali area of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

In fact, with the rise of militancy, not many filmmakers thought of even venturing near the state, preferring to rather follow the footsteps of Yash Chopra to shoot their songs and scenes in European and other exotic locales. And a few films with Kashmir as the backdrop, continued to be shot in other locations – Jahnu Barua’s under-production Butterfly Chase in Sikkim and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa in far, far away Poland.

But now, some filmmakers have started returning, though they are no more depicting the innocent charm of the state. One way or the other, these films are to various degrees reflecting the current scenario of the state. Shoojit Sircar’s Yahan is an example of this. Though a mainstream film, it provided a realistic depiction of the situation there.

Other films partly shot in Kashmir include Chopra’s Mission Kashmir and Sanjiv Puri’s Agnipankh which had around 60 per cent of it shot in the state. From the South, Mohanlal-starrer Keerthi Chakra, a Malayalam and Tamil bilingual directed by former Army man Major Ravi, has been shot in Kashmir in recent years, as also the Kannada film Chaitrada Chandrama produced by Bhagyawathi Narayan.

Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan is a rare film which has been almost entirely shot in the state after a long gap, though he did not shoot it exactly in the Kashmir Valley, choosing Pahalgam in the larger Jammu region. Quite clearly, even though the J&K government website assures one that “Mumbai and Southern film shooting resumed in Kashmir, cinema business resumed in Srinagar”, filmmakers in general are not yet confident enough to return to there.

For the record, though the state government is making its best efforts to get the film shooting teams return to Kashmir, even hosting high-profile teams of producers and directors from Mumbai, only a few have actually shot their films there.

(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 07-09-2008)

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