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Challenges and Innovations: Director Shankar on Creating ‘Indian 2’

A word that has become synonymous with director Shankar is brahmandam (grandeur). This extends to his office as well. Amidst the scent of candles and floor-to-ceiling windows with drapes matching the furniture around, stands a 6-foot-tall illuminated robot from Enthiran. On a long couch sits the filmmaker, visibly unperturbed with mere days left for the release of Indian 2, his highly-anticipated reunion with Kamal Haasan. Here are excerpts from an exclusive interview:

After Indian’s release, Kamal sir was the one who shared the idea of wanting to do a sequel. Although I wanted to as well, I didn’t have a story at that time. I told him that we had delivered everything we had, and if I came up with another plot, I would run it by him. If he liked it, we could possibly do a sequel.

The challenge itself is the first part (laughs). We’ve shown everything in the first film — Senapathy’s character, background, his prowess in varma kalai (a martial art), his anger towards societal injustice, and even his family. The challenge was to come up with something new for the sequel. While his fight against injustice remains the same, the situations have changed and this transformation forms the core of Indian 2.

Indian 2 is a different narrative altogether. It explores what Senapathy would do in today’s modern age. The first film, much like a Scotch whiskey, has brewed well in our minds for a long time, and new ideas draw inevitable comparisons. Indian 2 carries a bigger thought; it spans nationwide events, unlike the first film which was confined to the state of Tamil Nadu, making the sequel naturally larger in scope.

Senapathy, often referred to as ‘Indian thatha,’ is an embodiment of anger. When I was in school, obtaining certificates like birth or income certificates was extremely challenging. I transformed this frustration shared by common people into a film. Senapathy is a product of reverse engineering that collective anger. The concept was to create a character justifying his anger, structured around a freedom fighter who once fought external enemies and now targets internal foes harming the nation.

Stories originate from our lives, turning into larger-than-life tales by placing the protagonist in ‘what if’ scenarios. This authenticity ensures they resonate with audiences. I believe that if even 0.5% of viewers experience a change of heart, I would be happy. Films do create an impact and pave the way for positive change.

Kamal sir has become more experienced and approachable. If you have a valid point, you can convey it to him and get the desired performance.

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. My favorite aspect is his passion for movies; he constantly updates himself with the latest films and series. He’s perpetually on his laptop, browsing and accumulating knowledge. My changes are inevitable; if I’m directing now, I consider today’s generation and their reactions to various topics, which keeps us in sync with times.

I narrated the story to Kamal sir before the shoot. During filming, we ensured he was comfortable, bringing in technicians and rigs from abroad. Our priority was his comfort, which he reciprocated by delivering his best.

For Indian, we took frontal and profile photos of Kamal sir, his father, and his brothers, which were given to the art director along with character descriptions. The initial prosthetics were thick, and promotional stills met with skepticism as they didn’t resemble Kamal sir. Advanced prosthetics now ensure you see more of Kamal sir in the sequel, courtesy of Legacy Effects.

Technology is vital in scenes, songs, and action sequences; it all depends on the script’s requirements. For instance, in Enthiran, I avoided CG in songs to keep it natural. For Indian 2, new technological feats include Unreal Engine, motion capture, de-aging, and performance capturing. Guru Somasundaram executed the performance and motion capturing for the narrative tool RK Laxman’s famous character, The Common Man, doing an excellent job despite not appearing in the film. De-aging sequences will be more prominent in Indian 3.

In some cases, producers demand songs even if unnecessary, as with ‘2.0’. In Indian 2, songs are crucial, and we consider the character’s perspective and the timing within the film. The ‘Calendar Song’ situated in Bolivia’s rare salt flats mirrors beach settings with blue skies; logistical challenges made this arduous, yet the visuals are stunning.

After writing the story, I collaborate with writers who enrich it with additional flavor. For Indian 2, I’ve teamed up with three writers: B Jeyamohan, Kabilan Vairamuthu, and Lakshmi Saravana Kumar.

If everything aligns, we anticipate three releases this year. Game Changer is almost complete, with only 10-15 days of shooting remaining. Indian 3 requires a few scenes and songs, and if completed swiftly, all should release consecutively.

Throughout my career, the audience’s support has been pivotal. If filmmakers genuinely care for the audience and deliver sincere work without gimmicks, the audience reciprocates with love and success. Balance between meeting expectations and storytelling is crucial. Indian 2 is set for release this Friday, marking another milestone in Tamil and Indian cinema.