When first-time Tamil director Anand Balki borrowed the title of a movie made ‘long, long ago, so long ago, nobody knows how long ago’, he probably knew that he would be stirring up a lot of interest and curiosity. After all, Server Sundaram, which starred the talented actor-comedian Nagesh, occupies cult status in Tamil cinema. And to get the veteran’s grandson Bijesh to star in the film was a kind of cinematic coup.
Balki paints a portrait of an unlikely candidate to occupy the director’s chair when he reveals that he is a hotel management graduate but with an abiding interest in films. “I have known Nagesh since childhood, he was our family friend, a godfather to me. Serve Sundaram is undoubtedly one of his best movies and so I thought of adopting the title for my film. Also, it is a transition for Santhanam from comic actor to leading man/hero, which was exactly the case with Nagesh when he played that iconic role eons ago,” says Balki.
When the director had his script ready, he knew he wanted Santhanam as lead. “At that time, he did not have the dates. But I was prepared to wait. We met later and everything clicked,” says Balki of Santhanam, who has been keeping the audience in splits in the void created by comedians Vadivelu and Vivek whose on-screen appearances have dipped drastically.
Of course, other than the title, there are no similarities with the 1964 Krishnan-Panju directed film which had K Balachander on board as writer. “The only similarity could be that the hero’s name is Sundaram. In the film, Santhanam is an engineer who inters under a chef,” says the 40-year-old.
Balki, who shares his name with the well-known director R Balki (where in both cases Balakrishnan has been shorted to Balki), brings along with him confidence and self-assurance in abundance, but no exposure to film-making as such. “I am a film buff, the ‘first-day-first show’ film-goer. Server Sundaram is my debut film and I have not worked as an assistant director or anything like that. I played a small part in Mani Ratnam sir’s Aaytha Ezhuthu and a second hero in K S Ravikumar’s Paarai,” says Balki, picking up tips along the way from directors whose styles are diametrically opposite to each other.
So was the inclusion of Bijesh, Nagesh’s grandson, the ultimate trump card? “It’s a family connect, I have known them for long, have interacted with Anand Babu (Nagesh’s son), but not much with the grandsons Bijesh and Gajesh. When I went once to Anand Babu’s home, I met Bijesh whose resemblance to his granddad astounded me. It was then I realised that something else was at work here. I believe that if you have a nice script, it will lead you to the actors,” reasons Balki, who has tried to shield Bijesh from too much publicity.
With shoots in Dubai, Thanjavur and Goa, Server Sundaram has been shaping up well with the director hiring an entire island in Goa. “It looks a good recipe for sure,” laughs Balki, adding that the film, which has generous dollops of comedy, drama and friendship, may see a September release.
Balki has a lot of plans for future. He wants to introduce new faces just like many other directors did in the past. Vinod is a comedian he has launched in this film as also Marathi theatre artiste Vaibhavi Sandilya, a Kathak and Bharatnatyam dancer. “You better watch out for this film. Comedy king Santhanam will make you cry,” concludes Balki.