Emo meets tech

The director of '2.0' connects visual effects, social messages and an emotional core

Shankar Shanmugam

He’s been a whizkid filmmaker for 25 years now. It was in 1993 that Shankar Shanmugam aka Shankar, now 55, made his debut in the Tamil film Gentleman. His debut film’s commercial and critical success was just the beginning of a cinematic journey in which Shankar has always believed in a magical mix of visual effects with state-of-the-art technology behind and on screen.

But his key gift has been to always marry that to solid content with an emotional core and a powerful social message. Popular and State awards, along with a National award for Veyil (2006), and the Chevalier Sivaji Ganesan Award for Excellence in Indian Cinema in 2013 have been a regular feature of his long career as a director, writer, and producer who has also dabbled in acting and writing lyrics. Kaadhalan, Indian (of which he will now helm a sequel, Indian 2), Jeans, Mudhalvan, Anniyan,Veyil, Sivaji — The Boss, Nanban, Enthiran and I followed. With each film, the dreams, the vision, the scale, and canvas increased by leaps and bounds.

Big numbers

At many points, Shankar’s directorials were among the costliest Tamil ventures, but each time, the daring investments paid off handsomely. And at no time has this been more prominent than with 2.0, the Hindi-Tamil-Telugu sequel to his 2010 blockbuster Enthiran, known pan-India as Robot. The incredible budget of the new film is over Rs 540 crore and, reportedly, producers Subaskaran and Lyca Productions have recovered Rs 370 crore from various pre-sold rights.

Delayed by almost 18 months, 2.0 is Shankar’s third film with Rajinikanth, and his first with Akshay Kumar. What many including Shankar himself did not realise and Akshay did not know, was that he has come full circle — he began his career assisting director S A Chandrashekhar on Jai Shiv Shankar, a Rajesh Khanna production that never saw the light of day, which starred the late superstar and Dimple Kapadia, who are Akshay’s in-laws!

In Hindi films, Shankar has had mixed innings. Mahesh Bhatt directed the remake of his debut film, The Gentleman (1994), which flopped. The dubbed version of Kaadhalan, Humse Hain Muqabala, did average business, and those of Jeans, Anniyan and I were washouts. Hindustani (of Indian) was a hit. Enthiran itself was a delayed film, in the sense that Shankar had first planned it just after Mudhalvan with Kamal Haasan and a different title. It was shelved for various reasons and re-started many years later with Rajinikanth. So, when did Shankar think of a sequel?

What everyone wants

“As soon as Robot became a hit, everybody wanted a sequel!” laughs the director. “But I felt that any sequel first needs the right story, and a film should never be made for the sake of doing a sequel to a brand that has succeeded.”

He goes on, “Then about four or five years back, one visual just came to me suddenly — of a bunch of cell-phones travelling in a street. I don’t know why it came to me, but I found it extremely interesting. Why and how are they travelling, I asked myself, and slowly a beautiful story evolved!” “I do not start from technology,” explains the Mechanical Engineering graduate who first staged plays in college. “I first see a script, and then the technology it demands, including new technology.”

In this film, things like the “Cell-Man” and the bird that Akshay plays demanded a lot of time and budget. “After that was done, giving them emotions was a lot challenging.”

Most of Shankar’s films have messages, often delivered through vigilante-based subjects. The 2.0 tag-line “The world is not only for humans” has fired everyone’s curiosity, but Shankar says that it is all about keeping surprises for the audience and letting them make their own assumptions till they watch the film. “That’s how I would like to enjoy a film as an audience! There should be mystery!” he smiles before clamming up on the sub-layer of the plot.

Why is he calling the film 2.0, and not Enthiran 2 or Robot 2? “That is because in technology, the next level is always called ‘Version 2.0’. Also, in part one, there was a reference to this in one of my favourite songs, and I love that composition. So I thought 2.0 was a better option.”

With unmatched hype and a possibly unmatched success quotient, 2.0 is likely to be yet another pan-Indian game-changer. For as Hindi film presenter Karan Johar puts it, “The real crossover film must be first made within India.” And this visionary filmmaker has done just that.

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