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In the pipeline

IT WAS time to talk about Mouli's current passion and obsession, "Nalla Damayanthi". And understandably he was raring to go.

"There is a lot abuzz about "Nala... ." being a full length comedy. Probably the surmise is because Kamal and I are working together. But it's wrong," begins Mouli. "It has a strong and very different storyline. There is a serious slant to it and humour is just one aspect."

Kamal Haasan wrote the story nearly five years ago and related it to Mouli, whose association with Kamal has been a constant factor, though each has been busy with his own career. The story revolves round a not very educated Palghat Brahmin youth (Madhavan). Chance transports him to Australia. "His experiences are those anyone can identify with. And the film has its compulsory commercial angles too — of course with realistic touches and logical twists in the treatment," he goes on.

Kamal Haasan decided that Rajkamal would produce it and Mouli would take charge of the screenplay, dialogue and direction. "Madhavan and Kamal struck a perfect rapport with each other during the making of "Anbe Sivam". Madhavan had also expressed a keen desire to work with me and thus things began to fall in place," says Mouli.

Though the producer and director zeroed in on the hero easily, the heroine hasn't been too easy to choose. There's hardly a fortnight left for the crew to fly to Australia for a month long schedule, but the elusive heroine has been hard to find. "We are looking for a new face, with the style and substance of a perfect NRI. But it's proving tough. Our announcements over the radio in Australia did bring in a lot of applicants. But till date we've found none to fill the bill," says Mouli.

They have tried to be as authentic as possible, in their effort. "We have just shot a wedding sequence and we've seen to it that nearly all of them, including our junior artistes have their roots in Palghat."

This kind of dedication and accent on authenticity should pay rich dividends. "Shooting this sequence was also a different experience for me ... rather a nostalgic one. It reminded me of my childhood days when I attended such weddings, watched orthodox women busily running around and the various wedding rituals with interest," Mouli smiles.

Then there is Srutika, Madan Bob, Delhi Ganesh (a Raj Kamal constant), `Bombay' Gnanam, Vaiyapuri, Anu Haasan, Sriman and also Kaviyur Ponnamma's sister and character artist T.P. Madhavan from Kerala. These actors will be joined by a couple of Hollywood talents that include Bruno Xavier, a Sri Lankan, and a physically challenged child who will face the camera for the first time. Apart from the action coordinators from Melbourne, stuntman Vikram Dharma and dance choreographer Brindha will fly to Australia with the crew.

The technical credits too have a few new faces. Composer Ramesh Vinayakam, gets the break of a lifetime with "Nala... " "When I introduced Ramesh as a music director in Telugu films I had told him that as far as Tamil was concerned, he should make a mark before I gave him a chance. He's done just that with "University" and "Yey! Nee Romba Azhaga Irukkey". Kamal was impressed with Ramesh's work and Raj Kamal has welcomed him with open arms. "We've already shot his first number, (lyrics are by the inimitable Vaali) and we are very happy with the song," certifies Mouli.

Siddharth, the cinematographer's commercials and commitment drew Mouli and Kamal to him. "He has worked with the likes of Govind Nihalani", Mouli informs.

Kamal Haasan, they say, interferes too much in the filmmaker's work... Mouli gets defensive.

"I would like to set things straight. This is too unfair a charge. I know of so many heroes who make their own rules on the set and in front of the camera. But definitely not Kamal Haasan". The refutal is emphatic. When Mouli tells you that it's not just a couple of song sequences but nearly 85 per cent of the film that is to be shot in Australia you understand the magnitude of the project.

"More than a month in Australia and about 10 days in Palghat before we wrap it up... " adds the ace planner. Will it be right then for Kamal to stay out of the acting department of "Nala... " completely? "As of now he has no intentions of making even guest appearance, but I insist he does. Mainly because, I love to direct him." And surely viewers too would wish the excellent actor to be part of the fare, if not in the main course, at least as dessert.


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