Setting the stage for stars

Six a.m., when most people are done dreaming for the night, is when the dream factory opens.

The golden globe perched on a pillar at the entrance, spins on to welcome us into the premises of AVM Studios and AVM Productions, with no other sign of business other than security guards quick to enquire what we need.

“The offices open only at ten,” they say as we ask for the reception. We are asked to meet the man in charge. The floor manager, A. Sekar, seems to have already been briefed about our visit to document the morning drill and the mood of the space where the magic is produced.

“Most films these days choose to shoot outdoors and in foreign locations,” says Sekar, offering us a reality check right away. “Though we get the occasional song shoot, most of our floors today have been taken over for TV shows,” he adds, as the cleaners get to work outside a building that says Central Jail.

That’s actually Floor No. 4 that Zee Tamil has taken over to shoot their game show Lucka Ticka. “We have four women to sweep and two cleaners who ensure that the floors and toilets are clean before the assistant directors or production managers for the day’s shoot arrive.”

Floor space

In the smaller floor next door, the crew has just arrived to prep for their shoot of the soap, Vairagyam. While the smallest of the floors is about 60 by 40 sq. ft., the other two air conditioned floors are 120 by 60 sq. ft. each, while the biggest is the monster-sized fully-air conditioned, 135 by 110 sq. ft. floor where one of the most expensive shows ever produced in the South is shot: the Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada versions of Kaun Banega Crorepati. Within a couple of hours, the floors will have about 250 people, but now, it’s just the technical crew setting up their gear.

Each floor is run by a production manager who makes sure that the early birds are well fed. We know there’s food around when the fresh smell of sambhar permeates the air. The caterer affiliated has brought idli, vada, pongal and coffee in a van that will later go back and fetch their lunch. And between setting up the lights, industrial fans and other production gear, one by one, they quickly help themselves to breakfast before the junior artistes arrive.

Today, the junior artistes need to be hired and paid by the shift. “When they are shooting the Tamil version, lots of college students show up to be a part of the audience just to meet Suriya. So they just need to be fed,” the floor manager explains, introducing us to the production manager for the shoot today.

It turns out that the air conditioning is not working in the caravan meant for Suresh Gopi, the host of Ningellukum Akam Kodeishwaran,(NAK) the Malayalam version of Kaun Banega Crorepati. The production manager excuses himself to tend to it.

A regular shift for a shoot begins at 9 a.m. and wraps by 6 p.m. The second shift is between 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. Most of the TV shoots go into the second shift, especially when they start late. One small mistake in prepping may lead to the shoot spilling into the second shift and double the day’s production budget. Understandably, the crew is always under stress to stick to time.

The production manager returns to take us into the NAK set. It’s the same set used for Neengalum Vellalaam Oru Kodi hosted by Suriya. Only that the Tamil logo has been replaced by the Malayalam text and the crew assembles for the morning drill, running through the checks and the sequences to be shot during the day.

As members of the crew walk around with wireless microphones and headsets mouthing instructions, an assistant director tells us that photographs need to be cleared by the management and only senior officials are authorised to talk to the media.

The floors are modified according to the needs of the unit by the production designer. This floor, fully sound-proofed with two doors, has inbuilt offices for the crew. There’s a production room, a graphics room (this is where the questions are fed in manually, depending on the profile of the participant), a video room (with monitors of every camera on the set), an audio room and a channel room.

Every room is neatly labelled with instructions — Please Switch Off Mobile, No Eatables Allowed, Keep Silence, etc.

The other floor that houses the dance show Maanaada Mayilaada has at least seven green rooms for make-up and costumes for the VIP guests and the participants.

As the crew at NAK shifts gear from prepping to production, we know it is time to leave. If this is where dreams come true, our dreams seem to have changed. From being entertained by larger-than-life heroes to watching our kind win and take home a crore.

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Printable version | Sep 25, 2021 9:37:44 AM |

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