Prashanth is a picture of excitement as he discusses his soon-to-be-released magnum opus Ponnar Shankar with Malathi Rangarajan
All of a sudden, actor Prashanth's camp is a beehive of activity. Ponnar Shankar, his home production, directed by dad Thyagarajan, has been scheduled for a March release and publicity campaigns are on at a feverish pitch. “It's the culmination of two years of diligence, excluding a year of research and another of storyboarding and planning. Having gone about the task without ado is proving to be our strong point because the promotional blitzkrieg we've begun to unleash as we gear up for the grand entry, is creating quite a ripple,” Prashanth sounds elated. “Mammoth is the epithet that describes PS best,” he adds.
At a time when filmmakers are struggling to make viable projects, here's a production team that has gone in for a historical on a mind-boggling scale and is extremely confident about its result! Touted as the “most expensive film in recent times,” it is based on M. Karunanidhi's well-known literary work on the warrior brothers, Ponnar and Shankar. And Prashanth plays a dual role, in keeping with the trend of twin-role tales that Tamil cinema now abounds in. “PS will be different from everything that's been associated with on-screen historical forays. That goes for the dual role themes you mention. Even earlier, in Jeans, I've played two characters. That isn't the point. But I wish to reiterate that PS will be a rare experience for viewers,” he avers.
M. Karunanidhi, whose oeuvre of films in the genre is remarkable, suggested the story of Ponnar-Shankar to the father and son. “He also took charge of the script and dialogue,” says Prashanth. Production, screenplay and direction are Thyagarajan's. “A few filmmakers have attempted the subject before but without success. Personally, I feel privileged to have enacted the lives of two legendary heroes, who are considered demigods.”
The film is set in 1000 A.D. much before the time of the Mughals and the British. “Ponnar and Shankar are still deified in the Southern belts of Coimbatore, Madurai, Erode and the neighbouring areas. People living beyond Chingleput know a lot about Ponnar-Shankar,” Prashanth informs.
The tours de force of PS are plenty — the luminaries in the cast, for instance. Prakash Raj, Jayaram, Napoleon, Nasser, Raj Kiran, Vadivelu, Riyaz Khan, Sneha, Seetha, Khushboo, Lakshmi Ramakrishnan … you name them, they are there! Hence it's surprising that Thyagarajan has gone in for debutantes to play heroines — model Divya Parameswaran and Miss India 2009 Pooja Chopra. “We needed two beautiful girls who resemble each other enough to play sisters and also pass off as princesses. Divya and Pooja were chosen from among 60000 faces from all over the country,” explains Prashanth. A mind-boggling selection drive! “Sure, it was,” he nods.
Any given scene includes around 15 artists, besides Ponnar and Shankar, who are together throughout. An incredibly tough proposition! “True, but even the actors who walked in with scepticism were convinced when they watched dad's work on the sets.” Tackling a celebrity cast and their date clashes couldn't have been easy. “It wasn't. But the meticulous preparation helped. Every schedule was planned at least three months ahead,” he says. PS has been filmed in opulent sets, erected in Kerala, Karnataka and Rajasthan, besides Tamil Nadu.
“Working under dad's direction is an amazing experience,” says the son. With every passing year Prashanth's adoration for his ‘appa' seems to be growing. “Naturally, anyone handling so many things at the same time would lose his cool. Not him,” he defends.
The duo's next
The duo of director Thyagarajan and hero Prashanth is returning after a hiatus. Their last outing was the commercially successful Shock. But now they plan to come back with a bang with two releases in quick succession — Mambattiyaan should follow PS.
Prashanth, a wizard on the computer from his early days, and also trained in VFX, has set up his own state-of-the-art studio and has supervised the entire visual effects for PS.
Muthuraj's artwork and Shaji Kumar's cinematography should be the other accentuating aspects, and of course, the music of Ilaiyaraja.
Does Prashanth have duets? “Definitely, I do. How can you even think I will not be romancing my heroines,” he shoots back with a guffaw.
A leviathan, literally
The fight sequence shot in Perambalur, near Tiruchi, went on for 28 days with 30000 junior artists as soldiers, and 3000 horses!
Again in Warangal, when another huge action scene was filmed, the place was a veritable war zone. “Moving the actors from one place to another and meeting their food and stay requirements was like taking an entire town of people with us,” smiles Prashanth.
While carting heavy weapons and set properties all the way along with thousands of people, several problems are bound to crop up. “No, thankfully nothing untoward happened,” Prashanth heaves a sigh of relief.