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   Movie Review: Jeans
   Audio Review: Jeans
         Interview with Ashok


Shankar would have never dreamed of all this fame and fortune, when he struggled to make ends meet as a factory worker.  He probably could not understand the fan anxiety over his very next move, when he first joined as Director S. A. Chandrasekaran's assistant. But this is Director Shankar's reality today. With three blockbuster films in Gentleman, Kaadhalan, and Indhiyan, cashing in the crores at the box office, Shankar is probably the highest paid, most sought after 'Masala Film' Director in Kodambakkam.

With the name "Shankar" spelling 'glitz and glamour' in Chennai, it probably does not come as a surprise that Ashok Amritaraj (a popular Hollywood producer) and Walter Soloman (formerly President of Warner Bros./Magnasound India) have ventured to produce the most expensive entertainment fare ever to be seen on Indian screens, titled Jeans. With Director Shankar at the helm, a lot of audience expectations and producers' money are at stake! The question is: Will Shankar meet the challenge once again?..

Lakshmi lit Kuthuvillakku

The Poojai.. Many (K.T.K. being one of them! :-) are eagerly awaiting Shankar to make a blunder this time.  After all, how long can this string of hits last anyway, right?  Regardless of how things turn out, the way Shankar began Jeans with a BANG, makes it 'Something (more) Special' from his other films.  A typical Jeans azhaippu idazh (invitation) was printed, wrapped in Jeans cloth and was hand delivered by Shankar to his close colleagues and friends in Chennai.  A mega-sized natchatra pattaalam arrived for the poojai ceremonies held in December '97.  The poojai by itself was the talk of the town as it poured cats and dogs on the day of the function.  Kamalahassan, Sarika Kamal and Rajinikanth all rushed into the ceremony trying to escape from being drenched.  Directors K.Balachandar, Bharathiraja, K. S. Ravikumar, R. C. Sakthi, Pandiyarajan and many others made it a point to come to the function to check out what all the hoopla was about.  Actress Lakshmi lit the kuththu viLakku, as Kamalahassan presented Shankar with the clapboard for the movie.  Actors Sivakumar, Thyagarajan (Prasanth's dad), Prasanth, Abbas, Ajeethkumar, 'Nizhalgal' Ravi, Karate Husseini, Senthil, Ganesh (from Shankar-Ganesh) and Actress Heera were all in attendance as well.  Aishwarya Rai, Prasanth, Balakumaran, Shankar and just about anyone else associated with the shooting of the film, wore their favorite pair of blue jeans to make it the highlight of the function.  A very interesting celebrity, who we so far believe has nothing to do with this film, was spotted at the poojai and again at the cassette release function: Director Subash Ghai. (Wonder what he was doing there!.. More on this soon!)

Prashant (Hero, Jeans)

The Stars & Technicians.. Given Shankar's choice of hero and heroine for the film, everyone in Chennai and around the world are still very skeptical about the whole Jeans affair.   After all, both Prasanth and Aishwarya have to date been labelled 'flops' by mostly everybody in the industry.  Then again, that was what was said about Arjun when he was signed for Gentleman (and nobody knew of Shankar's calibre at that time!) and with Prabhudeva and Nagma when they starred in Kaadhalan.   So far as Shankar is concerned, there are no 'lost causes or cases.'  Prasanth seems to have proven that even more with his participation in the film.  The role was first offered to Abbas and then Ajeethkumar, both of whom cited call sheet troubles for not signing the film.  When Prasanth was given a chance, (karumbu thinna kuliyaa!), he grabbed it before anyone else.  He cut his hair and changed the hair style all together, trimmed up his body, sharpened his mind and dedicated almost a year and half to Jeans (sacrificing seven films in the process), as he considered it 'a once in a lifetime opportunity' which would straighten up his career for good.  A few interesting side notes on Prasanth:   He is a real computer buff who has earned a degree in Computer Software, after a five year course in America.  He actually e-mails his fans and sends replies to their mails.  Aside from this, he currently learns carnatic music from Mohan Vaidya (Raj T.V.).  Prasanth hopes to sing a song or two in the movies some day.  Some good news for Prasanth and his fans (even before the Jeans release) is that he signed to star in Kavithalaya's Thillana Thillana recently.  Rumours are Simran and Meena are the two heroines scheduled to co-star with him.   

Aishwarya Rai and Shankar in the sets of Jeans

Aishwarya Rai and Shankar on the sets of Jeans

Ms. Ice Rai, as we chellam-aa refer to her, is indeed the most highly paid actress in Indian cinema today.  Before you know it, her renumeration will be at par with Rajinikanth and Amitabh Bachchan.  When asked about her thoughts about her two debut flops in tamil, Iruvar and in Hindi, Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, Ice cooly replies that her role, acting and skills tested are the important things to her.  The 'hit' or 'flop' status of a movie is only 'incidental.' (Yendha kaalaththil irukkiraaro?)  In her interviews, Ice has divulged that she had a tough time in Jeans because of the longer dialogues she had to speak with many supporting actors in any given frame (whereas in Iruvar, most of her dialogues only involved Mohanlal and her).  The tamil language and the needed expressions thoroughly challenged her throughout the shooting.  But from day one, Director Shankar has been pouring 'Ice mazhai' over Ice for her dedication and perseverance on the sets.  The tiring and difficult make-up for the Chinese girl look for a song sequence, almost had Ice in tears, as her eyes has to be pulled back a bit to fulfill the requirements.  Since Aishwarya is busy until 1999 with Bollywood films, she has not given much thought to signing another Tamil film yet.  (There was talk that Cheran was trying to sign Ice for his Paaraseega Roja, it appears Ice might have refused.)  

Amongst the other big stars in the film are Senthil, Nasar and Raju Sundharam.   Senthil discovered a few things about himself during his trip to the United States while shooting the film.  He became more aware that there were a lot of black (African American) people in America who were proud of their skin color and were active at all social levels.  Senthil felt he blended right in and felt right at home in the U.S.A.  Whenever, he saw Shankar having a grueling day at shooting, he brought a chair and offered it to Shankar telling him that he could not bear watching him run around without some relaxation and rest.  It was the first time indeed that many saw that Senthil was a nice person just like everybody else.  Aishwarya seems to have also enjoyed Senthil's company when they cracked jokes and kept themselves entertained during the lunch breaks.  Senthil also appears to have visited a friend in the U.S. where he got to eat some good homemade food (Kozhi Biriyani etc. :-)   Nasar is working on a 'less villain, more supporting actor' emphasis these days.   With more films like Minsaara Kanavu coming his way, he has begun to enjoy acting in roles that are less likely to stereotype him permanently.  This is Mookkan's first Shankar film, he has a lot of reasons to be happy!  Paavam Raju Sundharam.  He was waiting for his debut film, En Jeevan, to begin filming and unluckily, that never happened.   Given a great chance to accomplish something in a Shankar film, Raju Sundharam has indeed entered the field with a lot of expectations attached to him.  After all, he is a talent dancer and choreographer in his own right and might have a few talents in acting like his younger brother Prabhudeva or might not like his youngest brother Nagendra Prasad.      

Graceful.. they always are.. the three women who grace Jeans with their honorable presence include Lakshmi, Radhika and Geetha.  Obviously, most of us are still in the dark about how Radhika and Geetha suddenly appeared out of thin air and into the cast list of Jeans.  Even now, the information is very sketchy about how these two heroines, who in recent time, have become more popular for their azhugai sessions in films, ended up in a 'happy-go-lucky film' like Jeans. On the other hand, Lakshmi has been on the cast list since the very beginning and had to leave rather suddenly during one of the shooting sessions as Sivachandran's father had passed away.  Lakshmi had a harrowing time compared to the others as the rumours were quite widespread. (More on this later, too!)

Being such a hyped Shankar venture, the experience would not be complete without a few replacements on the cast and technicians' front.  The first 'tata' came from S.P.Balasubramaniam, who had no choice but to leave for a number of reasons.  In came, S.V.Sekhar.  Ore kushi-yaana Sekhar was rather amazed that he would be called for a film with Aishwarya Rai.  Interestingly, when Ice saw him, she exclaimed:   "Neenga ennakku appa-vaa?  Ivalavu young-aa irukkeenga?  Ennoda aNNaN-a maadhiri irukeenga!"  Sekhar was not thrilled.. Ice's father or brother.. what's the difference?!.. No kiLu KiLuppu involved at all!!  The other substitution involved the cinematographer.  Despite popular belief that Shankar would again insist on Jeeva (Kaadhalan, Gentleman & Indhiyan) handling the camera, Santhosh Sivan (Iruvar, Indhira, Roja) was announced as the cinematographer for the film.  Something seems to have occurred between the time of the announcement and the finishing stages of the film, as cinematographer Ashokkumar appeared to be publicized as the official cinematographer for the film.  This was just the beginning of Jeans' troubles...   

As the shooting was soodu-pidichchu-fying, the FEFSI - Tamizh PadaippaaLigal shandai began brewing in mid-97.  Since the Jeans' shooting schedule was set in India to its conclusion, it was completely crippled because of the strike.  In the midst of this, faithful FEFSI supporter and member, Art Director Thotta Tharani, who had served in the film until that time, refused to sacrifice his position in FEFSI in order to continue filming Jeans.  Without much choice, Shankar signed a newcomer Bala (some magazines indicate his name as 'Balu'), to take over the set design and art work for the film.   To date, both Thotta Tharani and Bala are mentioned under the Art Direction 'credits.'     

Among the less-troubled is definitely Venki, the special-effects director for the film.   As it is, everyone claims that Jeans has the most number of minutes (thirty) of special effects amongst any film made so far, including Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park.  The film also holds the honor of having the effects created by the Pentafour company in Hollywood.  Some insiders who have seen rushes of the film say that the 'two' Prasanths when they stand beside each other, look like two 'real' people and not like the usual rash and ugly 'cut and paste job' seen in earlier tamil films.  To a certain extent, it is true that money brings more merit and perfection.  Atleast in Shankar's case, we hope this is true.      

Shankar with technicians on location

The Shooting.. In the belief that everything starts with a clean slate, Shankar, Producers Ashok Amritraj, Michael Soloman and Dr. Murali Manohar began the Jeans project.  They realized rather early that the clean slate was going to be loaded with plans, locations, shooting schedules and big bucks like they have never seen before.   Shankar, for one, had a lot of great experiences shooting this film all over the United States and across the world.  Just about any and every significant and beautiful location in the U.S. seems to have found a place in Jeans.   While shooting in Las Vegas, Aishwarya Rai was honored with a Key of Las Vegas, commemorating her celebrity status and her visit to the city.  A real life shooting incident also occurred closed to the Jeans shooting spot, where a helicopter, police cars and gun fire created a huge scene in the middle of the night, which shocked the cast and crew of the film.  By policy, Universal Studios does not grant permission for foreign films to conduct shooting there.  Lucky for Jeans, with a little influence from Ashok Amritraj (for sure?!), they were able to obtain special permission to film a few scenes inside.  Besides the King Kong set, Jeans was also shot in the 'simulated earthquake experience' sets. 

Aishwarya Rai in Jeans

While in Los Angeles, a lot of crowds gathered to watch the Jeans filming and the police had to be called in eventually to control the congestion.  Jeans was also picturized at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, where they had to hire a few helicopters, which cost a huge bundle.  Other Jeans shooting locations include the Valley of Fire, Manhattan Beach, Malibu Lake and many scenic spots throughout California and the United States.  Recently, Shankar mentioned that the song Columbus was picturized at the shores of Venice (he was probably referring to Venice Beach, California) with some foreign male and female dancers.  Shankar also had a few memorable moments in New York at the World Trade Center when Michael Salmon and his wife, Luciana Balusia (who acted in the James Bond film, Thunderball) visited the sets of Jeans.  Salmon introduced Shankar as the director of the film to his wife, for which Balusia commented: "He looks like a baby."  Embarassed Shankar tried to grow a beard in an effort to look more mature, but he later admitted that he dropped the idea by stating, "en mugaththil dhaadi vaLara marukkiradhu." :-)

Prashant and Aish at Great Wall of China in Jeans

After a tough 45 day schedule in the United States, Shankar and co. returned to India only to realize that they had a vibareedha-maana aasai that had to be fulfilled thorough this film.  When Shankar read the lyrics to the song Adhisayam, he began tossing the idea in his mind about picturizing the seven wonders of the world for the song.  From that inspiration, came another thirty day trip around the world to the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, Niagara Falls, Grand Canyon, Statue of Liberty, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Orange Orchards in California, Empire State Building in New York, Pyramids in Egypt, Taj Mahal in India and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  Though Shankar wishes he could have collected shots of all the world's wonders, he is happy while saying: "azhagaana visuals-ai kiLLittu vandhirukkom.  (Adhisayam) romba special treat-nu ninaikkiren." It was during the shooting in Paris that news of Princess Diana's death shook the world.   The cast and crew of Jeans found that they were only a few blocks away from the deadly accident and took the rest of the day off trying to get over the gloominess and depression.  A stunt sequence was also shot near the Pyramids in Egypt, when a bomb blast occurred in a bus nearby.  For the most part, Jeans was surrounded by world events of all sorts and for Shankar, the cast and crew of the film, the experiences were tremendously vivid and memorable.

iLamai-yin AdaiyaaLam... Jeans