S. SHIVA KUMAR

Santosh Sivan is making a 12-minute film on AIDS awareness. He's busy, but anything for a worthy cause, says the celebrity director

Celebrities are perceived as gold diggers, which is not way off the mark. Everything they do or say carries a price tag (even if they're at the receiving end of rabid racist remarks) but it's odious to generalise. "Anything for a reasonably good cause," is actor Ramya's motto and is shared by many others. When you're afflicted unknowingly or inherit genetically, you can't help, but when you're infected thanks to sheer negligence, you have no one to blame. AIDS is a deadly epidemic that can be curtailed if you're careful is what Santosh Sivan is trying to say through a 12 minute film funded by Bill Gates, starring Prabhu Deva and Ramya supported by Jai Jagdish, Sadhu Kokila and the talented kid Skanda.It's nearing dusk when we drive down to a dhaba near the Lalit Mahal palace in Mysore. The place is just being readied and resembles a typical film set, paraphernalia strewn all over, the ground a tangle of cables and the crew in a blur of activity. Santosh is narrating the outline to Prabhu Deva who looks like he's been shaken off a deep slumber. Ramya arrives to chirpy Hi's all round clad in a garishly coloured sari and a backless blouse. She has glitter on her eyelids and extra rouge on her cheeks. She plays a highway street-walker.I approach Santosh who crinkles his eyes in faint recognition. I remind him we spent a couple of days together during the Dil Se shoot in Allepey. I mention that he looks much younger and trim "Meenaxi was the last film I worked on," says the maverick. "I've been busy directing a Hollywood film for the past couple of years. It's shot mostly in Munnar. I've been mostly in the US where post-production work is going on. I'm doing this film because Mira Nair requested me and it's for a worthy cause." The sky is darkening which is what he wants and the smile from his visage fades. He shouts for the lights to be placed, snaps at his assistant and mounts the crane in three minutes flat. The shot is ready. Prabhu Deva is supposed to alight from his truck only to find a stowaway, a kid at the back. The take is okayed after a couple of rehearsals and everyone is full of praise for the kid. Ramya pulls him towards her and ruffles his hair.The scene shifts. Orders among the crew fly around in loud Malayalam. Except for a lady assistant the others look like Santosh, tousled hair and bearded. Ramya jokingly refers to Santosh as a Jekyll and Hyde character. One minute he's admonishing an incompetent underling and the next he's standing with arms in "laughing Buddha" style joking around. He pulls furiously at his cigarette, sips chaya and his face clouds, meaning he's ready for the next shot. He's extremely assured about the shots he wants and detects the tiniest of flaws in the placement of lights or in the continuity. The next shot involves Ramya trying to entice Deva who acts holier than thou but seems to relent when she flashes a condom and assures him of safety. There's an interlude involving Sadhu Kokila who plays a pimp and Jai Jagdish who plays a cop. Though his directorial effort Pokkiri is a blockbuster, Prabhu Deva is humility personified. "I've great regard for Santosh sir," says the man with bones of rubber. Basically a Kannadiga, another reason that draws him to Mysore is his mother who stays there. Would he have done a remake if his second directorial effort, Pournami succeeded? "I really don't know. I've never been stringent about what I want to do. It's dangerous, but I have contributed and changed certain things for the Tamil version. I'm lucky that it's worked. You're absolutely right when you said doing remakes makes a man lazy and complacent. I'll definitely do an original in the near future." Chiranjeevi has requested him to direct the Telugu version of Lage Raho Munnabhai. " I adore that man. Anything for Chiru sir," says the dancing wonder.Time for the close-ups. Santosh's angry voice can be heard over the din. Absolute silence is necessary because the whole thing is being shot in sync sound. Ramya's work is wrapped up but there are still a couple of shots involving the now sleepy kid, Skanda. The term "creative exploitation of kids" comes to mind when I think of Skanda and Kishen! I'm tired, and bid farewell to a still energetic Santosh. "You watch it and tell me," says the director. The film, shot in Kannada will be screened all over the State.