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Kamal Haasan’s masterclass on the making of Michael Madana Kamraj – Part 2

Kamal Haasan interviewed by senior journalist Jyothi Venkatesh



Michael Madana Kamraj
Michael Madana Kamraj

Continued Part 2 Compiled by JYOTHI VENKATESH

Read Part 1 of this interview here: Kamal Haasan’s masterclass on the making of Michael Madana Kamraj – Part 1

Going further I would say that’s the magic of Crazy Mohan, Singeetham , Illiaraja and me. I wanted to make “Sundari Neeyum” tune like a BHAJAN and took the idea to Illiaraja. Originally we wanted to parody our peers .I was always troubled by the people dressed in white dancing in the background in most films and hence we said we will have many widows dancing for the first night sequence. The reasoning behind it being that the widowed grandmother was the only relative Thiruppu had. But it turned out that everyone was completely against it, though there were 2 people for it ; the one that conceived the idea, Singeetham, and without a doubt the other one was me.

Panchu was scared that it would create a negative response. Hence I decided to make the song like a Bhajan and since it was shot like we were in Markazhi Masam it would fit in aptly. I met Raja and sang the tune and he immediately said fantastic this is a tradition 1000yrs old and we should do it. We immediately got on to the making of the song and got a person who knew Malayalam and Tamil to write the lyrics. Everything for the recording was in progress and Raja was giving notes and it always happens during lunch time!

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With Raja if you miss the smallest of his note you will miss the star falling .You have to watch him like a shooting star. Suddenly Raja came up to me and expressed that he felt the tune was old but I stuck to my original thought on the tune and quickly reacted that we knew it was old and Raja was quicker to get back and quipped “But we are new” and he had set up a fully modern version complete with drums etc. I told him he was being modern for the sake of it but he asked me to trust him and that it had turned out really well and I should not stress over it. With the tune in place he added that all they needed to complete this blockbuster of a song was the right singer, and he had made up his mind on that too! I very quickly reacted and called out the name of Yesudas to which he shook his head in denial and pointed approvingly at me.

I was not ready for this and tried to get myself out of it, but he was very convinced that it was me who should sing that song and pumped that confidence into me. I did not know what he had in his mind about the background score. I still had only Margazhii in mind but he had added drums and made it modern and this was the only song that would fit into that mood. He came out of Prasad studio, retied his dhothi and added on a very excited and positive note that this is going to be a sure shot HIT! That is the magic not many people can create. I, Panchu , Illiaraja, Singeetham – all of us were able to create this because we were a community. Technique alone does not make a film. Democracy ,love and endeavor to make a project work was what we believed in .Panchu kept away initially ,he was unhappy that we did not involve him on any of the discussions because he was a writer himself but he understood it was not his style and that I was going towards another direction .

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Another very interesting story was Nagesh saw a shot of what we shot of S.N.Lakshmi and literally fought to play that role also. His point in argument was that if I could play 4 roles, so could he. He wanted me to remove her and give him that part also and S.N Lakshmi was aware of this too. He brought it up during Avvai Shanmugi and reminded me how he wanted to play the old woman and now I was doing it. Moorthy sir was another person who elevated his role as the suspicious stupid father adding his own quirks to it and making it so memorable.

By the time we reached the end of the film, it was constant impromptu improvisation and Khushboo was a person who shed all her stardom airs and got down to it and worked alongside me as an assistant director. That said now I am coming to my tricks. The cummerbund /belt she was wearing in the climax is unusual and wouldn’t usually be given to a figure such as hers. However I needed it as I was going to use it as a mark for a double exposure masking. I hence convinced her by saying it would double up the purpose and lend the corset look and she instantly agreed. I asked her to get me 6 similar ones that could be used as a belt.

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Subbu, the line producer, and she got the idea and ran around to get it organised for me in time to move on with what I wanted to do. My idea for insisting on it was because I wanted Subramanian Raju and Madhan to interact with Khushboo while the building was tilting and the question was how would we cut a mask while they were in close proximity, and remember we didn’t have CG where you rotoscope that to pull it off. So we had to cut her in the middle and that belt band was the Mark as we chose a most immobile part of the body when you are struck by gravity. This was designed by me and it was quickly understood by another who had worked as an assistant director in “Maya Bazaar”, which was none other than Singeetham himself.

The next of the challenges was about ‘how do you make a whole set move up and down ‘.Too many engineering problems were being discussed .Then I told them about the blotter that was on my father’s desk which was actually a see-saw and I suggested why not build a square set and move it and have tractions on either side with manual pulling and lock positions so that it can stay in one position whenever we wanted it. The art director Ranga Peketi had ancestry so none of the techniques baffled him. He built that set the way I had visualized it. Here’s the interesting part, most of the shots in the film don’t rely on masking as most of them are in pans and that also adds speed. I was very good at it from my experience of being a dance assistant and shifting to different locations without losing continuity, which can also be seen in “Manmadhan Ambu” where you stop block pans and B.S. Loganath, who’s also my guru, was a master of slow pans without panic.

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You could use the pan at the speed you require as long as you know the continuity. We used speed pans and if you look at it closely all the shots are “cut shots” but will look like one single shot like the mother coming to help the son and father teetering on the edge we changed from K to Madhan to Raju using once the mother as a frame wipe and Michaels walking towards the camera as a second wipe during that wipe we replaced Madhan the dupe to Madhan the real KH.

There was no blue matte then and hence the Ooty background had to be real so once again we built the set on a real location and the my most trusted lieutenant Vikram Dharma had the stunts taken to the length as I kept narrating . The climax rocking hilltop set was built in 3 locations. The first was inside the studio to capture the “rocking” effect ,second in the actual location at Conoor and then we created a 30 feet model after a lot of mathematical calculation at “campa -cola grounds” where Kameshwaran and other characters were made as little puppets. Some of the puppets were being handled between the art director and me and we shot it in slow motion from down and it was a controlled situation .

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There were 2 people who really enjoyed working with the miniature building and they were none other than Singeetham and me , as we Iove the feeling and effect of “make believe”. I did bend over backwards to make it extra realistic. Moving to the interior of the cabins here occurred a big blooper and we couldn’t go back to correct it and it still stays with the film. You have 2 people standing on the left of the frame then there is a doorway and then there is a window. Towards the climax there is this man who moves cuts across the doorway and comes to the window and another character the same man enters across the window and comes to the door. In the meanwhile he moves to a middle position and then moves again.

This man moves in to the middle position. So it’s a mask crossing mask .I had received great appreciation from K. Balachander when I had done it earlier .This half way through a running mask while you are shooting the other side you just remove the mask so that somebody who crosses goes out and comes back and it’s astounding. You Mask both sides do one exposure finish with it and then make him exit and just do the whole exposure and you still have footage left here you rip the mask on the left and he walks across the frame he’s crossed the cardinal line that defines a double exposure and we wanted to do this twice.

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It so happened that one of the Asst Directors forgot to pin the curtain down so it jumped and you can still see it. These tricks can be emulated by the next generation film makers by just Googling to their assistance and this could be outwitted by collective conscience and collective wisdom. But what you cannot get and what I am too proud, call it bragging, about is getting these great talents together. What it takes bringing them together is not power, just humility. I will beg, borrow, but not steal and I will talk to each and everyone in the unit to pull it off and there lays my biggest strength.

Singeetham and I have fought together and made films together as comrades and that staying together is the magic a film maker needs to learn to work and that does not come with a Phd degree, it comes with humans who love art and share the same thoughts. We missed P.C.Sreeram but our cameraman B.C.Gowrishankar was fantastic and we had worked with him earlier in Pushpak too. Hence we understood each other’s line of thought and there was no panic and he was cool and composed.

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We brought Lal for masking. Very few cameramen know the art of masking and our cameraman willingly accepted that he was not good with it. I had worked with Lal’s father and he was a daring man who would rip masks as we were shooting. Our editors had a big job to pull off in a short time Vikram Dharma was very careful that I don’t get into any accidents as I had suffered many before and hence he did not let me do the glass breaking shot in the toilet.

But irony had something else in store for me, as when the dupe finished that shot I had a piece of glass on my face just by watching it and I looked at him cheekily with a mind voice he understood that said “You should’ve just let me do it”. The toilet fight is mention worthy as it was so well choreographed and all artists had to stand by till it got done with and because of the training we had in Aboorva Sahodharargal we pulled it off without any stress. There lies the true magic .Moving on, a whisk pan can knock away most of the details in continuity and that’s the reason ramping became famous.

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When you did not have enough assistant directors if you ramp the whole scene to the high point all mistakes are concealed and the suitcase can go from the right to left hand, you can wear a different dress without having to care about continuity, drop the cigarette you had in your mouth for the previous shot and it will still make sense. So they started using it as a cover up but we used it with a purpose to make SN Lakshmi’s be catch fire a precious talent older person but they all do operated.

You can see her back smoldering and I think one of our best comedies together (Singeetham and me) was not our most successful child “Mumbai Express “We did not do a film after that but well that’s a good enough climax and that’s magic . Magic of cinema you can pull off ,the lesson of the degree any student should look for is to understand the democracy in this art. You cannot be Van Gogh do your paintings get upset with it and cut off your ears. You have to keep your ears, nose your brush and the canvas in a swirling storm and still complete the picture and that’s the magic of MMKR.

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So many people worked their way to the magic The bonnet/hood of the car that clips off with the wind was created by this gentleman Sahadevan an engineer himself who also created Appu mechanics for us. I borrowed the 3 brothers from Nayagan because I cast them in that film .The genetic reality strikes you hard and I wanted to give them another face a crazy one this time, with one of the brothers missing .(write the names of the brothers)(write about the background of the brothers) We had nazar who wanted to know about the masks as he wanted to be a director.

Ananthu my guru did one scene with Nagesh he just came because he wanted to be a part of this. Crazy Mohan last but not the least was an excellent addition to the film. Another child of mine though much senior was so willing to participate willingly to everything we did Typist Gopi and Usiilamani .They were fantastic. Call Manorama my daughter or mother Call Nagesh my son and godfather Wonder if I left out any names as each and every one of the ensemble cast were part of the magic.

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Without these all techniques would fail. If masking is AK you wanted to learn then see “Maya Bazaar “where Mr.Singeetham was only an asst director. We learnt from great masters whom we’ve worked with Marcus Bartley ,Vincent master ,G.K.Ramu and many more. That’s the lineage I belong to and that’s the shine ,that’s the genetics that’s showing and this is the only place which seriously does not look at caste community or color but only talent .and that’s the magic of any film and MMKR. I believed that while great artists like Gogain and Picasso and more worked on white canvas, we the film makers worked on black canvas. We painted with lights so any point in the frame missed by light seems like magic for the audience, a student of cinema or just an ordinary man.