CHENNAI: With the release of the trailer and audio of ‘Ponnar-Shankar’ tomorrow, actor Prashanth is all geared-up to wow audiences.
“Adaptation of epics to the silver screen has not happened for many decades in Tamil cinema. One can recall films like ‘Chandralekha’, ‘Veerapandiya Kattabomman’, ‘Vanjikottai Valiban’, etc. There have been several attempts after that as well. But my dad and I can proudly say that we have successfully made an historical epic,” begins actor Prashanth, who’s plays a dual role in the historical epic, ‘Ponnar- Shankar’, directed and produced by Thiagarajan, his father.
Prashanth says their journey began in 2007 when he and his father walked into Kalaignar M Karunanidhi’s house. They expressed interest in adapting one of Kalaignar’s works for making a historical film. “I look upon Ayya (Kalaignar) as the Bheeshmar of Tamil cinema,” he says.
“Even now, at his age, he is very sharp and is able to recall dates and events from history. His photographic memory is outstanding. And he still finds time to script and add to literature.
At his house, there is a huge library, with an amazing array of books. He gave us a copy of ‘Ponnar Shankar’, which he had written and published in 1987 and said ‘go ahead’.”
It took them over a year to complete their research before they began shooting. “We went to as many as 16 villages in the interiors of Tamil Nadu. Before this, I did not have any knowledge about the history of the twin brothers,” he explains.
“We realized that this history dates back to 1,000 years or more but has hardly been documented. We also found that this phase in Tamil history was going through a transition. For instance, those days, only stone or rocks were used. This was the period when people began using clay to make utensils. Even the construction of houses was different. We also researched on their clothing, food habits, and the geographical conditions of the time.”
For the uninitiated, Ponnar and Shankar were the twin sons of a warrior couple from the Gounder community — Nellian Kodan (or Kunru Udiyaan) and his wife Thamari. They went on to become the rulers of Ponni Valanadu and to this day, they are worshipped by Kongu Vellala Gounders. “We even visited the temple, collected information about the annual festival and also on Arukkani, who was their sibling,” he says.
Scripting is one of the most important aspect of filmmaking but the actor says that the book was so well-written that they didn’t have to spend too much time on a script. “We had the complete story ready. We just had to ensure that nothing harmed the soul of the story — be it location or sets or props, there was not even a speck of the contemporary civilization anywhere in the film. But then again, we were making a film, not a documentary.”
After Shankar’s ‘Jeans’ (1995), this is Prashanth second dual role. “‘Jeans’ was a romantic film, the storyline was different. But ‘Ponnar-Shankar’ involves a lot of action. Even the brothers, though twins, had different mannerisms. One is a lefty while another is not. One is subtle, the other is hyper. Switching characters was the toughest challenge, and I remember changing costumes for as many as even 40 times in a single day.”
When shooting began in 2009, huge sets were erected at Valluvar Kottam, and many artists from ‘Chennai Sangamam’ were roped in.
“We constructed eight palaces, a temple and a fort, in which we shot for 40 days. Shooting also took place in many parts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan and Sikkim. We had to ensure that everything was lush, isolated and away from civilisation,” he says. “Even Isaignani Ilaiyaraaja, who composed only three songs initially, said he felt ‘motivated’ to compose a romantic number after seeing the visuals,” he says and smiles.
Bitten by a croc
Prashanth has been fencing and horse-riding since childhood and this helped him while shooting the action sequences of the film. “There are four war sequences but it was a breezy sail all through. I enjoyed every bit of it, except a small accident in Hogenakkal.” There’s a scene in the film which has Prashanth jump off a cliff that’s 200ft high. “The water below was infested with crocodiles. We had to wait before it cleared. After a while, when I finally made the jump, a baby crocodile bit me but it let me go suddenly. Of all the time I’ve done adventure sports, I’ve never been this scared.”