From a film set | Movies

Raai Laxmi escapes a CGI tiger in ‘Miruga’

Raai Laxmi being lowered into a tunnel by ‘Miruga’ film crew

Raai Laxmi being lowered into a tunnel by ‘Miruga’ film crew   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

We visit the set of Raai Laxmi-starrer ‘Miruga’ at Mani Mahal in Chennai, where we observe the crew filming CGI sequences Kollywood style

Ever wondered which location in Chennai acts as a stand-in for the police Commissioner’s office or the district magistrate’s court in Tamil films?

The place is Mani Mahal, and it is in Wallace Garden. Coated in bright red, the portico of this once palatial residence is used by filmmakers to hang the ‘Commissioner’s Office’ board in Tamil films. It also doubles up as a Government hospital for Malayalam films, evidenced by the boards and red cross symbols dumped on one side of the building.

But right now, Mani Mahal is where a portion of the climax sequence of Miruga, a movie starring Raai Laxmi and Srikanth, is being filmed. Produced by B Vinod Jain of Jaguar Studios, the film, directed by debutant J Parthiban, is a thriller, and has story, screenplay and dialogues by its cinematographer MV Panneerselvam.

As we walk into the rundown building, whose interiors have been modified several times over by film crews past and present, we meet Shaktikumar, who is the co-director.

“[Miruga] is not entirely a thriller film. The subject has been given a different treatment,” he smiles. Shaktikumar explains what is being filmed on the day. “There is some patchwork left. But we’re also filming some crucial scenes that are part of the climax,” he adds.

The shoot location — Mani Mahal in Chennai

The shoot location — Mani Mahal in Chennai   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

For the latter, the crew intends to wait until dusk because there is too much light now, and it would impact the night effect shot.

It’s raining money

Panneerselvam is filming a sequence with Raai Laxmi, even as Shaktikumar leads us into the shooting area.

It is a dimly lit room with barely enough space for four people. But, there are at least a dozen men — light men, boom mic person, camera men and assistants — crammed into it, and in front of them is Laxmi decking a cupboard full of cash!

Once the shot is over, Laxmi hurries back to her vanity van for a change of costume.

Meanwhile, Srikanth enters, and is led into the same room. This time, we follow him.

A creaking, winding wooden staircase takes us to a viewing area. There’s hardly room for two people there, but five of us make space to observe Srikanth once the camera starts rolling. A makeshift pulley on the ceiling helps cast a mild, yellowish light from a bulb on the actor, and Panneerselvam says ‘Action’.

Cinematographer MV Panneerselvam

Cinematographer MV Panneerselvam   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

Srikanth climbs down the stairway in a hurry, opens the cupboard and has a shocked reaction on his face on seeing it full of cash. He then proceeds to load the money into a gunny sack, before the word ‘Cut’ is called out.

“He is discovering that Laxmi’s character has been hiding this cash all this while from him,” explains Panneerselvam, who has handled the camera for films such as Housefull, Roja Koottam, Shock and Velli Thirai among others.

On the subject of Miruga, he elaborates, “The story line is that man is the most dangerous animal in the world because an animal only hunts for two reasons — food and survival. But man will attack for anything — greed, lust, hunger, or power,” he says.

Panneerselvam then heads out for a break, and we catch hold of the ‘cash guy’, who is in the middle of unloading freshly-minted currency notes of ₹500 and ₹2,000 denominations from the cupboard. We take a bundle of currency to examine them, and it becomes clear as day that these are notes printed on plain paper (it felt like A4 quality).

‘Miruga’ film crew handing fake currency on the set

‘Miruga’ film crew handing fake currency on the set   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

“We obtain special permission from the Government to print them for movies,” says the man handling fake currency, who did not want to be named.

Cool as a cat

By this time, Laxmi is back after a change of costume even as the filmmakers prepare to shoot a tunnel sequence. She is brought to Mani Mahal’s central stairwell where the crew has put in place a makeshift structure that will be passed off as a tunnel in the film.

The sequence, we’re informed, involves Laxmi attempting to escape from a CGI tiger with her baby.

Stunt master ‘Thalapathi’ Dinesh is choreographing these portions, and he shows Laxmi what the first shot constitutes. The actor must lift baby Dwitha S and lower her into the tunnel. Laxmi repeats the sequence multiple times before getting it right, and through it all the four-year-old Dwitha remains cool.

The tunnel is a 15 feet drop from the first floor but even as she is held by Dinesh, her legs dangling with no protection below, she keeps smiling at him. “This is my second film,” says Dwitha, who is accompanied by her mother Varsha Sharan. “[Dwitha] has done a small role in Kadaram Kondan. This is actually her first film where she has a lot of screen time,” Varsha says.

Baby Dwitha S

Baby Dwitha S   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

Once the sequence is filmed, the crew calls for a break, and we strike up a conversation with Laxmi.

“Such scripts impress me because it is something new. It has CGI, and it is also my first time playing a mature woman,” she says, adding, “They have shown me as a young mom. [The role] comes with different responsibilities, and this is not a typical hero-heroine subject. It doesn’t focus on whether Srikanth and I play a couple but there are different shades to our characters.” She then heads to her van for a break, as she had been shooting non-stop on the day.

As we head out, there are a few men dressed in khakis hanging outside. We ask Shaktikumar, if the crew planned on using cops for the final sequence that was to be filmed late evening, and he goes, “Actually, these are real policemen!” The cop, who overheard our conversation, interrupts... “I’m the Thousand Lights station inspector. Vinod (the producer) is a friend. I’m here to see him,” he says, smiling.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 8:53:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/raai-laxmi-escapes-a-cgi-tiger-in-miruga/article28822380.ece

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