Director Shankar on ‘Indian 2’, challenges of a sequel, employing new technology and more

Watch: Director Shankar on ‘Indian 2’, challenges of a sequel, employing new technology and more 

Veteran filmmaker Shankar talks about reuniting with Kamal Haasan after 28 years for ‘Indian 2’, where his brand of stories stems from, and completing 30 years in the industry

Updated - July 12, 2024 03:01 pm IST

Published - July 10, 2024 05:43 pm IST

A word that has become synonymous with director Shankar is brahmandam (grandeur). This extends to his office as well. Amidst the scent of candles and floor-to-ceiling windows with drapes matching the furniture around, stands a 6-foot-tall illuminated robot from Enthiran. Seated on a long couch is the filmmaker, visibly unperturbed with mere days left for the release of Indian 2, his highly-anticipated reunion with Kamal Haasan. Excerpts from an interview :

Director Shankar with Kamal Haasan from the sets of ‘Indian 2’

Director Shankar with Kamal Haasan from the sets of ‘Indian 2’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

We heard you had a plan for a sequel immediately after the release of ‘Indian’ (1996). How different was that compared to the upcoming ‘Indian 2’?

After Indian’s release, it was Kamal sir who shared the idea of wanting to do a sequel and though I wanted too as well, I didn’t have a story then. I told him that we have delivered everything we had and if I do get another plot, I will run it by him and if he likes it, we could possibly do a sequel.

You’ve already done a sequel in the form of ‘2.0’, but that was just eight years after ‘Enthiran’. The gap between the two ‘Indian’ films is 28 years and the first film has achieved cult status. How challenging was it to come up with a sequel?

The challenge itself is the first part (laughs). We’ve shown everything in the first film — how Senapathy is as a person, his background, character, his prowess over the martial art of varma kalai, his anger towards societal injustice and even his family. The challenge was to come up with something new for the sequel. What he deals with stays the same but the situations have changed and what he does forms the story of Indian 2.

A still from ‘Indian 2’

A still from ‘Indian 2’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Kamal made Tamil cinema’s first sequel — ‘Japanil Kalyanaraman’ and also did ‘Vishwaroopam’ recently. Both that and ‘Ponniyin Selvan 2’ did not get the same recognition the first part got. The ‘Indian’ sequel is also split into two parts, so how did you go about it?

Indian 2 is a different story altogether. It’s about what the character of Senapathy would do in today’s modern age. The first part of the film is like a Scotch whiskey. It has brewed well in our minds for a long time and no matter what fresh ideas we come up with, comparisons will be inevitable. The thought Indian 2 carries is bigger than the first part; it’s a pan-Indian thought. The first film happens within the State of Tamil Nadu but the sequel covers events across the country and naturally, it’s bigger.

Senapathy, unlike other killers, is someone who truly believes that the killings he does are for the betterment of society. How did you write his character initially and how has it evolved in the sequel?

Indian thatha is an embodiment of anger. When I was studying, I knew the struggles and lengths I had to go to to get a birth certificate, income certificate or community certificate. So, when I became a filmmaker, I wanted to turn that into a film. It’s the same sense of frustration every common man shares. Senapathy is a product of reverse engineering that anger.

The idea was to show a man who could justify the anger he carries. That’s how we cracked the freedom fighter angle; he’s someone who fought for the country. He is someone who has saved us from enemies who came from outside and now that he has spotted such nemesis within us who are inflicting harm to the betterment of the nation, he wants to take them down as well.

Stories come from our very own lives and we turn them into larger-than-life tales. We put the protagonist in a ‘what if’ scenario and come up with a plot. When stories come from within us, there’s a sense of authenticity to them and they resonate with us. A belief is that if 0.5% of people watching the film can have a change of heart, I would be happy. I strongly feel that films create an impact and pave the way for positive change.

The first time you worked with Kamal, it was your third film and your biggest project then. How is it to collaborate with him after all these years?

Kamal sir has become more experienced and approachable. If you know you’ve got a valid point, you can go up to him, tell him and get the sort of performance you want. My favourite aspect of him is how more than an actor he’s a movie buff; he keeps himself updated with the latest films and series. He’s always on his laptop, browsing and accumulating knowledge. My change is inevitable; if I’m doing a film now, I need to keep in mind today’s generation and how they react to various topics, and when that happens, we automatically get updated.

Director Shankar

Director Shankar | Photo Credit: Thamodharan B

You have often spoken about how you tweak the scenes according to the lead actor and during promotions, you had mentioned an anti-gravity scene from ‘Indian 2’ which was difficult to shoot. Do you discuss these scenes with Kamal before finalising it?

I narrated it when I told him the story and went ahead with the shoot. During the shoot, we had to make sure we discussed the scene and made sure he was comfortable. For that, we had to bring in technicians and rigs from abroad. Our priority was to make sure he was at ease and he reciprocated by making sure he gave his best.

You mentioned earlier how prosthetics have come a long way since you used them first in ‘Indian’...

For Indian, we took frontal and profile photos of Kamal sir, his father and two brothers. We gave them to the art director along with the character description and story to derive the sketch of the look of Senapathy. Back then, the thickness of prosthetics was high and when the promotional stills came out, there were talks on how it didn’t look like Kamal sir. This time, the prosthetics have become advanced. Legacy Effects did the work this time; I showed them the first film’s sequences and said the actor’s face didn’t show much because of the prosthetics. Because of how thinner prosthetics have gotten now, you can see more of Kamal sir in the sequel.

Technology is something you’ve always used as a tool in your films. How have they come in handy with ‘Indian 2’?

Sometimes you need it for scenes, songs or even action; it depends on the script. If a scene requires a certain technique, we have to find out what it is, where we can get it, who’s the expert in it and how we can access it. The same strategy works with songs as well. In Enthiran, I wouldn’t have used CG in songs because the film is filled with CG scenes. Because I wanted it to be natural, we shot it at Machu Picchu.

In Indian 2 we used Unreal Engine, motion capture, de-ageing and performance capturing. RK Laxman’s famous character, The Common Man, has been used as a narrative tool. To do the 3D animation, we needed someone to execute the performance and motion-capturing, and Guru Somasundaram has done that. Even if he doesn’t appear in the film he has done a great job with it and has even voiced that character. The de-ageing portions will be seen in Indian 3.

Speaking of songs, they are something expected from you every time and they have also evolved in your films. How do you approach them?

For 2.0 we did not need songs at all. But the producers asked me to come up with some and even if there’s no space for them, use it in end credits. That’s how ‘Endhira Logathu Sundariye’ happened. In Indian 2, we required songs and for that, we had to consider the situations, which character’s POV it’s coming from and when in the film it’s going to appear. Based on that, we have to think from the character’s shoes and imagine if it’s something done in a dream sequence or a live location. That’s a thought process and where that imagination takes me, I go with it. To execute that, we need to figure out if it involves VFX or going to an exotic locale to shoot it.

For Indian 2, we have the ‘Calendar Song’. Songs for calendar shoots are generally captured in blue water beaches, but since that’s already done, we needed an alternative that still gave the beach and blue sky feel. When we searched, we spotted the salt flats of Bolivia but it’s not a place we could easily go and shoot. Only once a year, in February, after a spell of rain, water is deposited on the salt flat. If the amount of rainwater on the ground is too little there won’t be a reflection and if it’s too much, walking through it will create ripples that kill the reflection. With so many cast and crew members along with logistical issues like visas, we could not wait it out like a wildlife photography project. With a lot of planning and a little bit of instinct, we cracked it. The sunlight there is intense and it’s difficult to even keep our eyes open, but the visuals that we got are stunning.

Be it with Sujatha or your recent collaborators, you have worked with quite a few writers. How does that process work?

After writing the story and deciding on the scenes, I narrate it to the writers who usually recorded it in cassettes back then and via email now. When our stories go through the minds of writers, they come out more beautifully with a lot more flavour. I then have to tweak it to make it viable for the film medium and it’s a long process. I’ve teamed up with three writers for Indian 2 (B Jeyamohan, Kabilan Vairamuthu and Lakshmi Saravana Kumar).

Considering ‘Indian 3’ is also almost ready, for the first time, can we expect two films from you in the same year?

If it all works out well, it will be three releases this year. Game Changer is also almost done; we have completed Ram Charan’s portions and only about 10-15 days of shoot are left. For Indian 3, a few scenes and two songs have to be shot and if they are done fast, they all should release consecutively.

A still from ‘Indian 2’

A still from ‘Indian 2’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With ‘Game Changer’ you are also making your Telugu debut...

I’ve never done a straight Tamil film. My Tamil film Gentleman’s dubbed Telugu version became a big hit and I should thank producer AM Rathnam for it. He bought the rights to my second film Kadhalan for a huge price even before we went on floors and made it a bigger hit. He produced Indian and even released the dubbed version of my films like Mudhalvan and Jeans. He made the Telugu audience enjoy my work while I did nothing except go to an audio release. It was such a sight to see people’s affection and how they consume our films, and I wanted to do a Telugu film. I tried to do something earlier but it didn’t work out and I’m glad it finally paid off with Game Changer. I enjoy watching mass Telugu films and I wanted to make one as well, Game Changer will be one such film with the elements the audience expects from us. Karthik Subbaraj has written the story and I have converted that line into a film.

And with 2024, you are stepping into your 31st year as a filmmaker. How has the journey been and how do you keep yourself updated?

I cannot believe it’s 31 years (smiles), it only feels like a decade or so. It’s because of the audience; if we care for them and cater to them without any gimmicks, they reciprocate with love and success. When they do, the only way we can repay them is to give something better the next time and that also increases their expectations of us. We can’t just give in to those expectations or stick to what we have as a story and make sure both of those aspects meet at a certain point. We should have a great story that’s liked by both us and the audience. If we sincerely work on it in every film the masses will never give up on us.

Indian 2 is scheduled to release this Friday

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