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Shankar - The Common Man turned tech wiz!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 • Tamil Comments

Shankar - a name in Indian cinema, synonymous with grandeur and visual spectacles for the past 25 years had very modest and simple beginnings, surprisingly. As per an account of photographer Rajasekaran, when he had been to  meet the director at his T Nagar residence post the release of his 1993 blockbuster debut Gentleman, he was pushed aside by a lean youngster rushing with water pots, and when he had returned after fetching water only could he recognize that it was Shankar himself. It is the same simple persona that the master craftsman is maintaining till date, a virtue that lot of people let go after reaching heights. 

From his polytechnic days, when he performed before the governor to win the first prize, and later joining Thillai Rajan's drama troupe, and then joining as director SA Chandrasekaran's assistant, to presenting the biggest of entertainers to Tamil cinema audience, Shankar's rise has been perfectly complemented by his dedication, hard work, and never ending passion to learn and be the pioneer of his field. Right from the times of Gentleman, the maker has been always striving for perfection and presenting audience the best visual experience or something novel.

Gentleman at present could be briefed to be the tale of a Robinhood who robs the rich for his noble cause, and Shankar's thirst towards delivering a relevant social message was evident even with his debut effort, as he presented the scenario of the educational system being made a business oriented one, and that ruining the lives of youngsters. Besides his content being connected to the societal issues, he also made sure he presented his visuals interestingly, as it was evident in the Chikku bukku Rayile number. In a similar fashion, he made his next, Kadhalan (1994) as a simple tale of a college student falling in love with the governor's daughter, but brought in excitement and uniqueness with the way he presented the songs - be it  Ennavale or Mukkala, the songs were shot in a never before seen manner, making it a fresh experience for audience. 

Indian (1996) can be termed the elevation of Shankar to the next level, as he had joined hands with Ulaga Nayagan Kamal Haasan, the man known for his thirst to experiment and innovate, and the duo presented one of the best vigilante flicks of Indian cinema, and here too, Shankar delivered grand visuals, with the Akkada number presented in an MTV music video format, Telephone Manipol number being shot in exotic locales, the extensive use of VFX to present two Kamal Haasans in one frame, making Special effects designer Venky call it the most difficult project of his career then. With Jeans (1998), Shankar further raised his bar, as he shot his songs in the seven wonders of the world, and various never before explored locations, and also giving a glimpse of motion capture technology with the Kannodu Kaanbathellam number. 

And then came Mudhalvan (1999), which not just had a perfect screenplay with sharp dialogues by Sujatha, but also had colorful and appealing songs, with each of the songs with distinct and grand visuals, and extensive use of visual effects, especially the snakes of the Mudhalvane number.  Boys (2003) was a detour from Shankar brand of socially inclined entertainers, as it was a typical youthful entertainer, but even there, Shankar's tech wizardry was evident, as he made use of the time freeze technique in the Aley Aley song, shot the Girlfriend number with a computer generated 3D female throughout, a song with a set made of waste materials in Boom Boom, and made even his least commercially successful flick a visually unique one.

After facing a minor setback with Boys, Shankar returned with a vengeance in Anniyan (2005) based on a protagonist with multiple personality disorder, and he had recreated the Thyagaraja Aradhana for a sequence lasting just a few minutes, with perfection, shot the Kumari number in a large tulip arden near Netherlands, made use of nearly 125 cameras for the Matrix style time slice fight sequence of Anniyan with martial arts experts. and also presented an empty Nehru stadium as a completely packed, crowded atmosphere with visual effects.  Sivaji (2007) became the first collaboration of Shankar with Superstar Rajnikanth, and was the first Indian movie to make use of Dolby Atmos sound. As he was always known for his grand visuals, Shankar had Thotta tharani creating a Babylonian palace setup for the Vaaji number, which was shot in Super 35 motion picture format, and presented a fair, colorful version of the Superstar in the Style number by implenting  a background dancer's skin color onto Superstar's skin, in a classic case of computer generated imagery. 

And then followed Endhiran (2010), his dream project which he had earlier wanted to make with Kamal Haasan as Robot, this time reuniting with Superstar himself, and joining hands with Legacy effects, presented one of the biggest visual spectacles of Indian Cinema, which involved 3D storyboards for all the shots of the movie. Shankar had made use of Doom light stage to perform a complete scan of Superstar's face in 3D digital format, for creating Robots with the appearance of the Superstar. Next came the only remake of Shankar's career, Nanban(2012), which though was a remake, had Shankar lending his creative touch to the visuals, say for instance, the Asku Laska song where he had a train painted colorfully, for a few minute sequence, presenting the audience a colorful experience. I (2015) was a simple tale of love and revenge, and the USP of the film happened to be Vikram's stunning makeover, and Shankar collaborating with Weta to give a distinct look for Vikram in a hunchback avatar, completely contrasting to his dapper looks as model Lee. 

It was after I that he returned to make the sequel to his 2010 blockbuster Endhiran, titled 2.0. making it the third collaboration of the maker with Superstar Rajnikanth. Revolving around the war between the andro humanoid Robot Chitti which is revived to fight Pakshirajan who's out for revenge against mankind, 2.0 is the first Indian film to be shot natively in 3D, and collaborated with Legacy effects for the animatronics and VFX works of the movie. If 2.0 wasn't enough, Shankar has surprised the audience giving mini surprises in the form of minibots 3.0, and the stadium confrontation between 2.0 and Pakshirajan is the highlight of 2.0, which is a visual marvel achieved by Shankar's tireless efforts and unique thought process, combining technology with a socially relevant theme.

The USP of Shankar's films have always been the grand canvas, the visual effects, and the expensive sets, all incorporated into a gripping screenplay with a social message/ theme. It is his strong conviction that made KT Kunjumon believe his abilities and made him invest on Gentleman, and then Kadhalan, and post his hattrick with Indian, Shankar had literally become unstoppable, making himself synonymous with big budgets. In fact, the producers are willing to risk the expense, thanks to the proven track record of Shankar with the success of his biggies, and his earlier successes with relatively smaller stars was what elevated him to work with the likes of Superstar and Ulaga nayagan repeatedly. As said by his protege Vasantha Balan once, Shankar is a wild horse who cannot be controlled or convinced by anyone. As he also rightly said, Shankar's has made it a habit to make smaller things look grand and rich on screen ultimately converting his movies into unique visual experiences for all sections of audience. Besides, as pointed out by Arivazhagan,another disciple of the ace maker, it is Shankar's perfect mix of fantasy and reality, with a clear thought process and execution that makes him appeal to the masses. 

As said by the creative director's assistants, his striving for perfection is attributed to his engineering background, as he follows a step by step process in film making, and his constant thirst to learn. upgrade himself, implement new things, and be the pioneer. Apart from this focus on the technical aspects of his work, Shankar has always been a tough taskmaster, as said by people close to the maker, as he always emphasizes on values like punctuality, and is always uncompromising on such aspects. While at the outset, Shankar's films look like he makes extreme investments, the maker comes up with justifications for each of his flicks, as well spent, detailing on the aspects that required the monetary investments, besides also the time, energy and human effort involved in channeling the resources to deliver a high quality product for the audience to celebrate and rejoice. 

Over the years, Shankar has been growing as a maker displaying his immense abilities, and he had been supported by the talented Sujatha, who was instrumental in the success of flicks like Indian, Mudhalvan, Anniyan, Sivaji and Endhiran, and despite a section of audience pointing out that the director misses a writer of Sujatha's calibre to strengthen his presentation, Shankar has yet again proved himself as a master maker who can present a larger than life script with stunning visuals with his latest outing 2.0, which has already amassed more than 400 crores, with unanimously positive reviews, reasserting the words once said by a film personality about Shankar, that, he is the Rajnikanth of directors.

There's an interesting event behind his name itself. Even as Shankar was in his mother's womb, his mother had been watching a movie, and with the due date nearing, she had decided to name him Shankar, after Sivaji Ganesan's character name in the movie she was seeing. And it was pure destiny that Shankar went on to direct a movie named after the legendary Sivaji, directing the biggest of stars Superstar Rajnikanth, working with a huge banner like AVM. Being a constant learner, Shankar always had the push in him to learn new things for his movies, and it was one such wish to learn that made him learn Carnatic music during the times of Anniyan. With constant feedbacks from his fans, wellwishers and the industry, let's hope Shankar strikes back stronger with his next journey with Ulaga Nayagan in Indian 2, and surpasses the success of 2.0, repeating his most loved habit - besting himself and setting new benchmarks.  

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