Director Shankar’s upcoming film 2.0 we hear, is going to hit the screens finally on the 29th of November, this year. This film featuring none other than the Superstar Rajinikanth has been awaited with bated breath by the director’s fans for quite some time now. That will be a in a long time that a Tamil film featuring a mega star is looked upon for the director rather than the star! In this, I must say that Shankar joins the pantheon of great filmmakers in Tamil like Sridhar, K.Balachandar, Bharathiraja, Maniratnam and in recent years Bala, whose films stood on the strength of their names! Recent testimony being the ad for the teaser for 2.0 slated for release in the next few days which doesn’t feature the Superstar!
This standing which Shankar has earned has not come overnight. He has earned a place for himself in terms of filmmaking style over a period of 25 years! As Shankar completes 25 years since his 1st outing – Gentleman this year, I am wondering if we can come up with a “Shankar” genre in filmmaking. His body of work since Gentleman has been super impressive. Here is a filmmaker who has an enviable success rate at the box office. In the past 25 years, he has done just 13 films of which, as per me, only two films can be classified as flops – the first being Boys and the other being Nayak, his own remake of Mudhalvan in Hndi! In Tamil, it’s just one failure in all these years! As a track record, I am not able to recall any other director except may be Rajkumar Hirani in Indian cinema with such a box office strike rate!
If one looks at Shankar’s films closely, there are a few common threads that emerge though, like any other film maker he has evolved organically in terms of filmmaking.
Shankar’s films can be classified as typical mass entertainer films meant for a very large cross section of audience. None of his films have been for a niche audience or “arty” kind. Be that as it may, they are not just pure masala pot boilers with some hare-brained themes. The subjects are well thought of, scripts and characters fleshed out properly to sound logical, though in reality may seem outlandish, bordering fantasy! So the 1st common thread is that his films have a relatable story line. Even in Yenthiran which is themed around absolute sci-fi, one could feel a believable thread in the way Shankar went about the script.
One major reason for Shankar to get the story line and script right is also because he believes in collaborating with quality writers. It’s not surprising that Shankar in his career has worked with ace writers like Balakumaran (Gentleman, Kaadalan, Jeans) and Sujatha (Indian, Mudhalvan, Boys, Anniyan, Sivaji the Boss, Enthiran). Co-working with writers of class I am sure, helped Shankar in getting his films grounded in realism and in so getting the knots, twists and the turns in the story right.
While on the story and themes in Shankar’s films, one cannot miss the common thread of citizen vigilantism across his films. Most of his films so far have revolved around the theme of common man getting frustrated with the system and finally deciding to take things into his hands (read as law) and fixing the system. In Gentleman, it was the hero trying to construct his own medical college by raising money in devious means because he was denied admission as a studious student. In the film Indian, it was a one man army taking cudgels against corruption. The film Mudhalvan was about a journalist becoming a Chief Minister for one day and demonstrating how to govern and fix the system. In Anniyan, Shankar shows the metamorphosis of a very pious citizen into a vigilante taking violent revenge on individuals who ruin the system. Shankar’s concern for social causes comes across in his films’ themes. So this common thread cannot be missed at all.
Probably Shankar was lucky in his initial films to get producers who had belief in his craft and provided him with enough budgets to sign up talented technicians as part of his crew. So A.R. Rahman has been part of Shankar’s most films right from the beginning. Similarly on the cinematography front, he has been working with the likes of P.C.Sreeram, Ravi K. Chandran, Ravi Varman, Jeeva K.V.Anand and so on – all big names in this field. Similarly other skilled technicians like Sabu Cyril and Resul Pookutty. It is likely that many of these names were not the hot-shot technicians as we know them today, when they worked with Shankar in his early films but, soon became such. A good film maker puts together a talented team and extracts the best out of them. And Shankar repeatedly proved to be one.
Today, when we speak of Shankar or his films, the 1st thing which comes to our mind is “Brammandam” i.e the grandeur of his films. Here, I feel that after his initial films like Kadalan and Jeans he fell into an image trap and is struggling to get out of it. Subsequently, all his later films have been made with humongous budgets and he has been pushing the envelope literally with each new film. Today, even if Shankar feels, it will be difficult for him to do a modest, low budget film without his usual mega trappings. In his last few films like “I” for example, I did get a feeling that Shankar was getting over indulgent and trying to live up to the “Brammaandam” image unnecessarily! The whole China sequence in “I” though visually brilliant, looked like thrust upon.
While we mentioned about Shankar’s penchant for getting the story and screen play right in his films, the other aspect where he works on a lot is song picturisation. This is in a way related to the big budget aspect, his keenness to make songs opulent but more importantly, his zeal to be different from song sequences of not just others films but also his own earlier films. The result is there for us to see. In Jeans, there was a song shot amidst the “Seven Wonders of the World”! In Anniyan, for the song Rantakka, we saw some exotic colourful street graphics of the rural villages in Tamil Nadu being showcased beautifully. Some art direction and SFX combo of the highest order in Enthiran for the song Arima Arima,… and so on.
Post Sivaji, Shankar has also been in the forefront of breaking technology barriers in his films. In fact, the SFX work of Enthiran can be compared to that of some Hollywood films. Here again, where required he has not shunned collaborating with the best names in the business globally.
Finally, the other hallmark of Shankar’s filmmaking has been his quest for perfection. He is known not to give up until he gets the best result which he had in mind for a shot/frame/scene/sequence. That probably explains why his films take a long time to complete. His record of 13 films in 25 years itself is a pointer to the fact that in his search for perfection he spends considerable time and energy at every stage, right from the script to pre-production to shoot to post production. In fact, his next film – 2.0 has been on the works for more than 3 years now and one of the reasons for the delay is the amount of effort being put on the post production front!
With this a clear pattern emerges which can be labelled as the “Shankar” genre in filmmaking. That is of mega budget, entertaining, visually well made, with a believable and strong story line mostly of a common man taking up a social cause and delivering justice by himself! So Shankar’s films as per me are not just about “Brammaandam” but behind that veneer are more fundamental aspects of filmmaking! One can now see that a few new age film makers like Atlee trying to step into this “Shankar” genre with films like Theri and Mersal!
Having established as a king of this genre, I do feel that Shankar has got trapped into this comfort zone! This probably could be the reason why Shankar is yet to be acknowledged as a great film maker outside of South India! To be fair to Shankar, Enthiran was not his usual vigilante film. But it fitted in his template. When you analyse the work of reputed filmmakers, one will also see a common template which emerges. But usually within that template, they do explore different genres. Though Shankar himself claimed that his film “I” was a love story, for the film goer it again was a film where an ordinary individual takes his revenge on a system replete with self-centred individuals!
With still a lot of films left in him, one hopes that he challenges himself to break further barriers to leave a mark outside of South India! From that point of view, after Shankar is done and dusted with 2.0 with Rajinikanth and his next Indian II with Kamal Haasan, I am eagerly looking forward to Director Shankar 2.0!!!