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June 19, 1997


When friends fall out

Sharmila Taliculam

Upset: Shantanu Sheorey
The film easily grabbed the headlines.

It was a remake of the Hollywood blockbuster, Mrs Doubtfire. It featured the national award- winning actor, Kamal Hasan. And would feature as the directorial debut for glamour photographer and ad film-maker Shantanu Sheorey.

Three months later, two of the main players are washing dirty linen in public. 'Pals' Shantanu and Kamal, have fallen foul and the director, along with actress Ashwini Bhave, has walked out of the film.

Kamal had spoken to Shantanu about directing a film five years ago, but did not have a proper story. Mrs Doubtfire solved that problem and Shantanu got his chance to direct Kamal. It was also the beginning of the clash between the director and star.

The partnership eventually dissolved over certain songs Shantanu wanted to shoot in his style, with no flowers or extras dancing in the background. "Kamal is a south Indian and that could be why he had to have that sambhar flavour in the songs. But he has no idea of aesthetics and didn't understand what I was trying to say. I was not poking fun at him. My name is associated with this film and I had to put my foot down somewhere," says Shantanu.

Today, he seems more hurt than angry. Also, with the former friends now accusing each other of jeopardising the film, it is not clear as to who the real victim is.

Shantanu was also irked by Kamal's high-handedness. Kamal, apparently, would behave badly with his co-stars and technicians.

Ashwini Bhave
A fact that is confirmed by Ashwini Bhave who claims that, after her dates were not utilised properly, she was expected to accomodate them at the cost of other producers. "The behaviour (with reference to Kamal) was bad, but not as drastic as it sounds. There were other reasons that compelled me to walk out of the film. There was utter chaos and disorganisation on the sets. Once, I was even made to wait at the hotel for half a day. When I went to the sets in the evening to find out what had happened, they informed me that they needed me then. They were not courteous enough to utilise the dates which I had allotted them in advance."

When told that she had been accused of reporting late on the sets, she flared, "I come from a Marathi theatre background. I don't need to go to Madras to learn discipline. I get it all from the theatre here. I am a sensitive person. When somebody behaves badly, I get a bit worked up. In this case, it reached a point where I had no choice but to walk out of the film."

Shantanu, on the other hand, says that Ashwini walked out of the film because Kamal behaved badly with her during a shot. "If I was in Bombay, I would have hit him. In Madras, you can't touch him; you'll get hammered by the people. But that was no way to behave with a lady. You don't fly off the handle like he did. I could do nothing but hang my head in shame." Ashwini has now been replaced by Ayesha Jhulka.

Kamal Hasan
Meanwhile, Saab John, a long time associate of Kamal Hasan and the executive producer of the film, claimed the first half of the film was appalling and would have to be reshot. Which Shantanu ridicules as an impossible task. He even accuses Kamal of forcing this statement down Saab's throat. "Kamal has this habit of lying all the time and, to cover up one lie, he uses another. But he's contradicting his own statements. Initially, he said that I shot only for three days, then what extensive reshooting they are talking about?" he alleges.

Shantanu claims the make-up man, who was specially flown in from Los Angeles, has gone back. Also, the stars's dates were no longer available. "Why only Ashwini, even Tabu's dates were not used completely! We used only 22 of the 42 dates she allotted us; the rest were wasted."

All this happened, he claims, was because shoots would be held up for flimsy excuses like clothes. Or Kamal would be talking to some south Indian star, ignoring the others who were waiting for his shot. "My assistant would repeatedly remind him of a shot and he would be jabbering away to somebody about himself. It was always I, Me, Mine. He is on a weird, self-destructive ego trip. Probably, he's playing the star," says Shantanu.

Everyone in the Madras film industry knows that Kamal likes to ghost-direct his films. But Shantanu, a friend who has known him for a long time, claims he was not aware of this trait in the southern superstar. "I had never attended any of Kamal's shootings," he says, "so I did not know of this fact even when the film was being planned."

When the film was announced, many people, including journalists, warned him about Kamal. "I just thought," says Shantanu, "that journalists always say these things. So I didn't pay much attention. Now I realise that I was in bed with a ghost all these years."

Shantanu claims he continued directing the film because he did not want his friend to face losses right at the beginning. So, if he had a problem, he would either sort it out or ignore it. Shantanu even went to the extent of telling one of Kamal's assistants that he might quit, hoping he would pass the information to Kamal. "I thought he would come and ask me what was wrong. But he didn't bother and I was completely disillusioned. But I continued with the film because I was involved in it to a point of no return."

Shantanu is also sore that Kamal claimed the film's budget was Rs 80 million when it was only Rs 45 million. Of this, Kamal wanted Rs 20 million as his remuneration. He also pointed out Kamal was producing the film because big financiers like Bharat Shah didn't want to finance a Kamal Hasan venture.

"If he is the producer, if he says his films sell, then why does he want a fee? The fact is, there are no takers for his films. A Kamal Hasan film does not get more than Rs 50 million. Border cost Rs 80 million. Hero No 1, which was made in Rs 50 million, looks much grander than this film. How on earth does he expect to budget his film at Rs 80 million, when there is nothing to show for that amount. Finally, Kamal had to go to the south to get his finance," says Shantanu.

He feels that Kamal's films do well in the south because of their gimmicks. "The dwarf in Appu Raja, the mentally unhinged tantric in Guna, the old man in Indian and the woman in Avvai Shanmughi are nothing more than gimmicks," says Shantanu. "Kamal can't do straight roles any more because nobody will accept him in such a role. The national award, which went to the old man and not the younger one in Indian, proves this."

Besides, says Shantanu, none of the south Indian directors or cinematographers want to work with Kamal. Two senior cameramen reportedly told Shantanu they would not do the film because of Kamal. "They told me this in my office in Bombay. I believe Shankar stopped shooting Indian in 7 days and told Kamal to behave. He could afford to do that because A R Rathnam, and not Kamal, was the producer. Unfortunately, I was not as lucky."

Kamal, meanwhile, has accused Shantanu of being technically incompetent. When he first saw the rushes, the actor did not like the way he looked in the film. Shantanu, for once, agrees, pointing out that Kamal himself was responsible for his look in the film. "It's true that Kamal looks bad. And that's because he did not listen to me. He says that Amrishji looks better than him. I have chosen everything from Amrishji's suit to his boots to his tie for him. Kamal wouldn't listen to me when I did the same for him. He has no concept of what looks good on him."

Shantanu blames Kamal's wife, Sarika, for this mishap. "She would not only choose his clothes, but rewrite the dialogues that Gulzarsaab had written."

At this point, there seems no possibility of a reconciliation between Kamal and Shantanu. Professionally or personally. Shantanu is still open to the idea of discussing the whole thing and sorting out the mess. But Kamal, according to him, doesn't feel that way. "I came to Bombay and tried speaking to him. Before I could say anything, he yelled at me saying that nobody leaves his sets like I did. Well, there is a first time for everything. I just hung up and we have not spoken since."

The film is now being made by Kamal and cameraman Jehangir Choudhary. Shantanu doesn't want his name in the credits; he says he wants his name associated with a good film and not with a hit or a flop.

"This film has been badly made because of Kamal's interference. I will withdraw my name from it," fumes Shantanu. "The new title for the film, Stree 420, suits him fine; that is what he is."

Photographs: Jewella Miranda

EARLIER STORY:Kamal Hasan returns to Bollywood