On Location Movies

What is happening on the sets of ‘Hostel’ starring Ashok Selvan and Priya Bhavani Shankar?

Ashok Selvan with director Sumanth Radhakrishnan (center) and Sathish

Ashok Selvan with director Sumanth Radhakrishnan (center) and Sathish

In a short period of time, the team of Tamil film Hostel, a campus comedy starring Ashok Selvan, Priya Bhavani Shankar and Sathish, have finished filming and dubbing the movie.

It is significant considering how only a few days earlier, we were on the set of Hostel , in Chennai’s T Nagar — where a prominent shooting location called ‘Aachi House’ was deployed to stand-in as a private hostel. Movie buffs may identify Aachi House in several films — it served as the Chennai police station where Inspector Duraisingam (Suriya in Singam ) is transferred to.

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At the set, we spot Ashok and Priya (who is wearing a burqa) each approaching from opposite ends of a dimly-lit room; walking backwards, they bump into each other, before yelling in fright. “ Neeya ?” asks Ashok, as Priya lifts the burqa to reveal her face. Priya repeats the same query. They then proceed to climb the stairs to a creepier-looking part of the mansion.

Is this a horror-comedy? Director Sumanth Radhakrishnan disagrees. “A tinge of horror may be there. This is a story set inside a hostel; the heroine is stuck and the characters around her are all college students. It is an out-and-out comedy,” he says. On casting Ashok Selvan and Priya Bhavani Shankar — the duo is also part of another film — the filmmaker says, “It is a youthful subject and so we needed actors who can carry it forward believably both in terms of looks and acting.”

The right match

The chemistry is great off screen as well; evident from how the actors rib each other while interacting with us during a break. Ashok had piled on the kilos at the time of his last release, Oh My Kadavule in early 2020; he had just finished filming for Ninnila Ninnila , a Telugu film where he played an overweight chef. “I weighed 110 kilograms,” he begins, before quipping, “I am a bit uncomfortable revealing my weight loss journey with Priya around.” To which she says, “You better be uncomfortable!”

Priya Bhavani Shankar with director Sumanth Radhakrishnan

Priya Bhavani Shankar with director Sumanth Radhakrishnan

It took a lot of “workout, diet, hard work, dedication and determination” — his long list broken by the pair breaking into a laugh. “Anything else?” asks Priya, and he responds: “Yes, constipation as well!” Ashok adds: “In the lockdown, I was fat because there was no motivation to work out. Then I joined a 25-day silambam camp in a village next to my hometown in Erode.”

The actor insists playing a college student is not particularly difficult. “It doesn’t require any preparation”, he remarks, adding, “We can just dip into our own memories [as a student] for reference.” For Priya, who has completed filming two Telugu projects besides Hostel , it was an easy choice picking the film since “the director didn’t want us to act, but be ourselves”.

She, however, insists she is not the type of artiste who prefers remaining in character between breaks. “I switch off easily. The moment someone says ‘Cut’, I’m out of [the role]. I cannot even bring myself to cry by feeling the character’s emotions. I can only do it with glycerine,” she says. Her honest answers may be frowned upon by people who prefer to think of actors as people always capable of becoming one with the roles they play. “Listen, I didn’t mean for it to happen this way. Maybe for others, it is different but I cannot drown myself in a character. Even the seasoned actors I have worked with have told me that this is a good thing.”

Adapting to times

We are joined by Sathish who plays the comic relief in the film. He, too, looks to be in good shape. Ask him whether playing a college character while in his 30s poses a challenge and he says, “First, we must believe that we are apt for the role. Only then we can carry it off convincingly.”

Sathish’s career trajectory has been an interesting one in the last decade: from playing the solo comic relief in a big star film ( Kaththi ) to being relegated to the sidelines in his last release ( Bhoomi ), he has gone the full circle in Tamil cinema.

He explains the position that comedians of his ilk face in modern day Tamil cinema thus: “Most of the times, the story won’t have any scope for comedy but someone in the team would say that it may be nice to insert a comedian for the sake of it. When that is the case, there isn’t much I can do to make the most of the situation. Besides, the first thing filmmakers do these days when the film runs too long is to cut the comedy scenes.”

On adapting his comic timing to different scripts, Sathish remarks, “The director may ask different things but I will do the same thing only. It is a bit like Mirchi Shiva’s dancing skills. No matter what the choreographer says, he will only dance what he can do, but that will be fresh.”

For director Sumanth, however, “this is a new genre”. Would a generational gap make it impossible for today’s students to connect with a story that is being told by men in their 30s and 40s? “Generations may have changed but hostel life is still the same,” says Sumanth, adding, “It has been a long time since we had a fun, hostel-based movie. I am sure audiences will be able to relive their college lives watching it.”

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Printable version | Jul 4, 2022 6:35:21 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/humour-in-the-hostel/article34138529.ece