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November 8, 2003

Prem Panicker

ONE day in early 1989, we -- Kamal Haasan, director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao and I -- were sitting around in chairs, chatting.

It was an outdoor shooting locale, on the Chennai-Mahabalipuram road: a sweep of close-cropped grass, leading to a little lake in the middle of which was an island.

The second unit, headed by the assistant cinematographer, was canning a minor shot. A white Ambassador car would come racing down to the edge of the lake. A bunch of goons would tumble out and race across the rickety wooden bridge over to the island.

Kamal seemed distracted, not quite there while Rao and I chatted about the film under production.

After a while, he jumped up and went off to where the action was. We watched as he engaged in animated discussion with the cinematographer and crew.

Various people hurried away. A while later, one of them materialised with a shovel and everyone, Kamal included, took turns to dig a trench, about six feet long and a few feet deep.

Once the trench was dug, Kamal grabbed the camera and jumped in, then stretched out flat on his back. From that position, he talked the cameraman through the shot he had in mind.

See, he said, the camera shoots up at the sky, fringed by a few tree branches in the foreground. Then, as the car rolls over the trench, it blocks out the view, everything turns dark. Then, if you rise with the camera as the car is rolling past the trench, you will get this big white blur, and as it rolls away from you, the blur will gain definition, and be recognisable as a car.

The shot could end from that same ground level position, with the doors opening and feet spilling out on both sides.

It might be more fun to shoot that way than to have the same boring long-range shot of a car driving up, Kamal told the cinematographer.

So that is how they finally canned the shot, for Apoorva Sahodaragal (Appu Raja, in Hindi), that leads into the sequence where the bad men force Srividya to drink poison, resulting in Appu being born a midget.

The Kamal I know continues...

Also Read: Kamal's day!

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