Shankar, the King of Magnificence is back. This time with a Robot in tow, writes malathi rangarajan

As the swanky car glides into his office compound, I look at my watch. “We'll meet at 4.30,” director Shankar had said. And, he is on the dot. Is this stickler-for-time approach one of the reasons for his rise from strength to strength? “Do I have a choice?” he laughs. “If you have to win, you must be willing to slog it out in meticulous fashion. As for punctuality, you should have seen Rajini at work,” he smiles. For an 8.30 schedule, he was always among the first to arrive at the spot. Charisma and popularity sit lightly on him. Surely he's one of the most comfortable heroes I've worked with.” Endhiran, the country's first sci-fi attempt, and the costliest Indian film ever, has taken nearly two years to make! “Considering the magnitude of the project, the time span is very less. Careful planning at the pre-production level helped us accomplish it,” says Shankar. He began working on Endhiran within a month of the release of Sivaji, and left for shooting only the following year after all arrangements were in place.

But, the plot of Endhiran had germinated in his mind a decade ago. “Yes, we even did a photo shoot with Kamal Haasan and Preity Zinta. But, for various reasons, it got shelved. The story is the same, but once the hero was decided upon I spruced up the screenplay with Rajini's pluses to make it a treat for his fans,” smiles Shankar. Deliberating on the cost involved, Shankar thought he would make it in Hindi. But, after the stupendous success of Sivaji he realised the viability of a Rajinikanth film. If his credibility as a director and the Rajini factor came together again, Endhiran would emerge unassailable, he felt.

Completely original

Where did the inspiration for Endhiran come from? “From within me,” he says. And, a little piqued by the poser, adds: “I've worked hard on every shot so that it doesn't bear even an iota of resemblance to anything you've ever watched before.” Shankar's work has harvested plaudits from Hollywood technicians, who have worked on the visual effects of Endhiran. “The line is so original,” they had chorused. Shankar has handled diverse themes, from pedestrian fantasy to larger-than-life projections. “So, why not a robot, I thought. The result is Endhiran. I can't repeat myself. I need challenges all the time,” he says.

Endhiran'smind-boggling budget must be keeping him on tenterhooks. “Not at all, because I know it'll fetch the investment and more. If you have a fresh subject, a saleable cast and entertaining features in good measure, and top it with a small message, you cannot but hit the bull's eye. Credit should go to producer Kalanidhi Maran; the confidence he has reposed in me is remarkable. Also, Endhiran will transcend language barriers,” avers the maker. The film, which will be released in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi, is also being subtitled in English.

The Bachchan bahu should be another promising scorer for Endhiran. “Surely, Aishwarya Rai is a significant part of the ‘E' factor. And, she is as dedicated and hardworking as a hero,” says Shankar. The storehouse of talent and beauty has come a long way as an actor since the days of Jeans, her first film with Shankar. “She needed to be taught things then,” remembers Shankar. “But now, she's a veteran who performs on cue. And, it's superfluous to talk about her mesmerising screen presence.”

Moving on to another asset of Endhiran, composer A.R. Rahman, Shankar says with a smile: “We share a perfect rapport. Our understanding is so good that just looking at me he knows whether I like a tune or want something more.” Their association goes back to Shankar's debut, Gentleman.

The imposing list of technicians features lensman Ratnavelu, late writer Sujatha and art director Sabu Cyril. “Sabu has come up with some splendid creations in the form of futuristic sets and robotic labs,” he says. Shankar cannot forget Sujatha's contribution either. “Being well-versed in the subject, his inputs for Endhiran have been incredible.” After Sujatha passed away, Shankar and Karky took over and completed the rest of the dialogue.

Endhiran will be a stunning visual experience … I hope,” he concludes, even as his eyes twinkle with confidence.