Taking a leap

Taking a leap
Being a superstar’s daughter has offered her a few perks, but Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin is all set to create her own niche with her directorial debut ‘Kochadaiiyaan’. Rajiv Vijayakar talks to the filmmaker about the first-of-its-kind venture in Indian cinema.
 
Soundarya Rajinikanth Ashwin is not someone who will rest on her iconic dad Rajinikanth’s laurels. 

Rather, she would prefer to add to them while winning some for herself in the process! Grounded and radiating intelligence, warmth and a classy elegance, she is at complete ease in the ‘foreign’ surroundings of the Mumbai media.

The founder-owner of Ocher Picture Productions, Soundarya began her career as graphic designer for her dad’s Padayappa (1999), one of the films that made him a mega-star in Japan, and went on to work similarly on his Baba, Sivaji and some other movies. 

In 2010, she made an independent debut as producer with Goa and now turns director, besides being graphic designer, for Kochadaiiyaan. With this film, she treads path-breaking technological terrain, aptly casting Rajinikanth in a vastly different dimension. 

This is not only his first film with a woman director, but also his first 3D film.

A fresh perspective

And — the biggest feat — is that this is India’s first photo-realistic motion capture film.

Explains Soundarya, “This is a technology in which a body scan of an actor is done in detail. We measure exact distances, for example, between his chin and lip. And then the face is implanted upon animation created in the studio. This is a technology used in many Hollywood films like Avatar.”

Apart from Rajinikanth (in a triple role yet again, and as a father and two sons), Deepika Padukone and the rest of the cast had to have their facial performance captured. 

“And this is where a photo-realistic motion picture differs from plain motion capture, where the motion alone is captured, as in so many Hollywood films like Polar Express,” says Soundarya, flashing one of her frequent dazzling smiles.

Rajinikanth is cast as Kochadaiiyaan, the Pandyan king, and his two sons. 

The age differences were also worked out with the same technology, using precise guidelines. “We used the scan to change measurements and thus make his face look like a 25-year-old.

You can understand now that this technology is like clay — we can mould it anyhow. Increasing or decreasing someone’s age is thus quite easy.” 

Of course, old photographs of a young Rajinikanth were used for references and comparison.

Therefore the challenges, says the director, were all within the confines of the studio. 

“My father needed just six days of shooting time, while Deepika needed two. But the real work came afterwards, for everything else had to be created — their voices, their costumes, the backdrops, the movements and the finer details like dust — everything.”

Soundarya adds that her film is complete fiction, though the world of Kochadaiiyaan (literally meaning a king with lots of hair) was painstakingly created. 

“In that sense, this is a prequel to Rana, the film that I launched earlier and shelved, as Rana is one of his sons here. Rana had to be shelved because of my father’s health issues,” she reveals. 

And why was Sultan: The Warrior also not made? “The project did not work out to our satisfaction,” she says simply.

With her attractive persona, we wonder aloud why Soundarya did not consider acting as a career? “Well, my interest lay elsewhere, that’s all,” she smiles. 

“From childhood, I loved illustrations in books and reading comics. I got interested in cartoons and animated movies in a bigger sense than just watching them. That was the foundation. I am largely self-taught, and that means being continuously updated with what’s the latest in multimedia globally, in which I did a course. But this is a field in which you keep learning every day.”

Soundarya states that the real challenge in the making of the film was explaining the whole new process to all the cast and crew. 

“At a broader level, animation is still not understood in our country. Even cartoons are largely associated only with children. 

But a film like Pirates Of The Caribbean can be enjoyed by all, right? What we have done here is different from the plain VFX (visual effects, which is the contemporary term for special effects, as they are largely done digitally today), which is so easy because we just shoot actors against a green or blue screen. 

Here, we need an infrared camera on the floor and what are known as track-points for the scan that are on the body of the actor.”

Overcoming obstacles

A highlight here was creating a character with the face of the late famous comedian Nagesh. 

How was this feat achieved? 

“We used his footage and pictures to create his 3D model. But while this was tough, the real challenge was in getting a voice to match his. What many people do not know is that while a lot of mimics are there, it is very tough for anyone to act and speak like someone in an original new scene.”

Despite all these challenges, Soundarya and her team completed work in about 18 months “instead of the six or seven years such films take abroad.” 

Quips Soundarya, “Even now, some small issues need to be addressed, and people have failed to understand that this is the real reason why we have had to postpone the release date twice.” 

But in such technique-heavy films, there is a good chance that the story gets short shrift.

Shaking her head as a denial, Soundarya says, “I think the story is important and speaks for itself. This is a fictional saga and despite all the technology, I cannot forget the commercial element that is so necessary for dad’s fans. We have included a Rudra tandav in the film, as the king is also a Lord Shiva devotee. If you have noticed, my father’s early films were all performance-oriented. But now, we have to remember that his films are primarily entertainers, and we have to respect his audience. So, a script with a soul is absolutely important.”

She laughs off a question about how her father trusted her with such a mega-project? “I think you should ask him this question.” 

Getting into personal zones, what have been the pros and cons of being Rajinikanth’s daughter? 

“We are all blessed to be members of such a great man’s family,” she says instantly. 
 
“And I am specially blessed to be directing him in my debut film. The only con is that in any profession, right from the beginning, we are expected to reach the level that our parents reached. It took my father 31 years to become what he is, so they have to give me at least 15 years to prove myself.”

At a professional level, she also admires her father. 

“He is a thorough professional, the kind who asks for one more take even when you are happy. All he will say is, ‘Very good. But let’s do one more!’ His discipline and punctuality are exemplary. He will be at the studio at 8 am for a 9 am shoot and so we have to be there before him,” she laughs.
 
And how did she zero in on Deepika? Wasn’t it after several actresses could not do the film?

“That is true, but Deepika was to be the heroine in Rana, and it made sense in a way that she come in here.”

Finally, Soundarya is pragmatic enough to realise that she cannot do every film with her father. 

“At the end of the day, I am open to working with any star,” she says. 
 
 
 

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