Filmistaan, in the heart of Goregaon, Mumbai, is unlike the sprawling studios one is used to in Chennai and Hyderabad. Everything in the bustling city seems to be compressed horizontally even as it keeps growing, vertically. The parking space is a jumble of vehicles including the numerous caravans. Even though it’s a spread over five acres the studio floors are comparatively smaller. You find your way through the constant din, the snaking cables and the usual paraphernalia. A mountainous, menacing looking bouncer mans the huge studio door to ward off unwelcome onlookers. It’s dark inside with only one half, an elevated stage brightly lit. The background is barren because they’re shooting with a green mat. Films are no longer finished on the editing table but at the VFX studio. A song sequence is being shot and a group of girls clad in figure clinging costumes are rehearsing as a bit of music is played repeatedly. Things have changed on a film set. The technical crew -- be it the cinematographer, the choreographer and the director don’t move around but sit behind a monitor and use a microphone to instruct assistants. The production staff is equipped with walkie-talkies and it’s nice to see young girls working in all the departments. The towering ‘crane’ has been replaced by the more versatile and less cumbersome ‘Jimmy Gyp’. There has been a brief spell of rain but the humidity persists so it’s not ‘chai’ but ‘chaas’ (butter-milk) that’s served. Suriya, waiting to be called, looks dapper in a waist-coat and a contemporary hairstyle. With headphones hooked to his ears he’s listening to a song Rahman has just sent. He squints and then smiles in recognition. “It’s been one long, continuous schedule but we have a great team and have done some good work,” says the confident star who is in need of a hit. “This song Rahman sir has composed is mesmerising. It’s been on loop since morning.” Thiru is not happy with the amount of smoke on the set while choreographer Raju Sundaram is irritated with a couple of girls who just don’t seem to get it right. Suriya has an easy shot because he just has to pose with an arrogant look in his eyes. After Raju is finally satisfied with the shot, lunch break is called.
Technicians too get exclusive caravans these days so we troop into the one Thiru is using. The interiors are plush with a couch, a large screen TV and a clean toilet. Lunch nowadays is a spread worthy of a feast topped with fruits and ‘chikki’. Choosy about the films he signs, Thiru is satisfied with the way the film is shaping. “It’ll be an interesting and entertaining film,” says the ace cinematographer. In a few days the unit shifts to Poland where the film will be wrapped up with a couple of songs and a few scenes. ‘24’ will then be handed over to the VFX team who will fill in the visual blanks. The film will hopefully be Suriya’s Pongal gift to his fans.
Every film has its own destiny. Post the success of ‘Yavarum Nalam’, an interesting film with a hint of horror, Vikram Kumar the director announced ‘24’. Vikram was signed to play the hero. P.C. Sreeram was to wield the camera and Harris Jayaraj would be the music director. There were rumours that Ajith was replacing Vikram, but were quickly quelled by the director. Since the genre was fantasy, expensive sets were erected and shooting commenced. Ileana was making a comeback to Tamil cinema and there were positive ripples about the project. Things seemed to be sailing smoothly till the producer abruptly announced he was dropping the director. The reason cited was that the director had failed to provide the complete script even while production expenses were mounting.
Ironically, this was the reason Suriya cited for refusing Gautam Menon’s ‘Dhruva Natchathiram’. Anyway, even as allegations were exchanged the producer, unwilling to waste Vikram’s callsheets signed a different director for an entirely different film. This was about five years ago. Vikram Kumar moved on to direct two successful Telugu films, ‘Ishq’ and ‘Manam’. The latter struck an emotional chord with audiences, not only because it was Akkineni Nageshwara Rao’s swan song and starred three generations of the family. Vikram Kumar’s ingenious script other than being tailor made for the family was a heady cocktail of emotions, love and wishful thinking. Suriya was one of the many stars impressed with the film even suggesting collaboration with the director. ‘24’ was revived. Reeling under the failure of ‘Anjaan’ and ‘Mass’, Suriya decided to invest faith and fortune in the film. He would produce the film under his banner, ‘2D Entertainment’. Rumours that the film was a remake of ‘Manam’ were quashed even though Suriya is purportedly playing a triple role. Samantha is the heroine. Thiru, P.C. Sreeram’s most successful understudy, wields the camera while A.R. Rahman scores the music. Controversy briefly persisted with Anil Kapoor claiming the title was his, but it was amicably settled.