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    A battle of wills between two stars, a new girl and lots of drama. Director R Balki goes back to where it all began

    When R Balki was on his way to attend Amitabh Bach-chan’s 69th birthday in Mumbai, he didn’t have a gift in hand. “I didn’t have my wife to give me ideas. He doesn’t drink, so a wine bottle was out of the question and I hate giving flowers to a man. While stuck in traffic for two hours, I forced myself to think of an idea. And that is how Shamitabh came up,” begins the ad-man turned filmmaker. The Mumbai-based director seems to have just the ingredients for yet another memorable film. Besides actors Amitabh Bachchan, Dhanush and debutante Akshara Haasan, he has roped in cinematographer P C Sreeram and music legend Illayaraja. “Shamitabh is a complete drama. The story revolves around the clash of two egos and how nobody can make it big alone,” shares the director, screenwriter and producer, who has to his credit hits like Cheeni Kum, Paa and English Vinglish.

    The duo match
    Balki has been a huge fan of Dhanush right from his Kaadhal Kondein days. “I enjoyed his Aadukalam, 3, Raanjhana and I also liked his Padikathavan and Polladhavan stage. His latest, VIP, was brilliant. He is born for the camera,” observes the director. But how did the Tamil actor ente1r the picture? “Well, Amitabh and I were discussing possible actors in languages like Tamil and Telugu, and he suggested Dhanush. A lot of discussion went into this decision. We were looking at powerful actors and he fit right in,” says Balki, admitting that once on the sets, he had to force his protagonists to argue with each other. “Both Dhanush and Amitabh have tremendous respect for each other. One would praise the other and it would go on. I had to step in and say, ‘enough, now fight and throw cuss words at each other.’ But once they come in front of the camera, nobody can stop them,” explains the director, whose visualisation of the characters also included detailing Amitabh’s look. “I knew this character should have a pony tail, be unshaven, an alcoholic, rude and uninterested. Amitabh nailed it. It went to an extent where he would be rude all the time, even on set. It was like seeing the angry young man all over again. I have told him, only comedies from now on,” he laughs.

    Ideal launchpad
    The women in Balki’s films have always been strong—be it Tabu, Vidya Balan or Sridevi. It would be unfair to compare a fresher to these stalwarts, but Balki is all praise for Akshara. It was a spontaneous decision to add her to the star cast after spotting her outside an edit room. “She wasn’t planning to act. She is a lot like Sarika, who never decided to act and one fine day started off. Akshara is a very sorted and independent girl. I had to rehearse a little with her. But she was well prepared, just a little nervous,” he recalls.
    Shamitabh is scheduled to release on February 6.

     Mrinalini Sundar

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