While one of them is making the Indian Karate Kid, another originally began as a hospital ward boy. Leading fight choreographers in the Tamil movie industry share their story.
FROM theatrical fist and sword fights to gritty and realistic sequences, pyrotechnic spectacles and CGI wizardry, action in Tamil cinema has come a long way. Back in 2005, the Vikram-starrer, Anniyan, saw the actor in an iconic fight sequence, featuring over 100 men, kung fu, the firebending technique, a human snake formation, knives, poles, the usual kicks and punches, and a chase, all in seven minutes. Since then, movies like Pokkiri, Mankatha and more recently, Thuppakki, have made an impact with their stunt choreography. The average movie-goer has now begun to expect Hollywood-style action on a Tamil movie budget and filmmakers have begun roping in experts from other countries to give them an edge when it comes to mixed martial arts, advanced technology and more. Vietnamese Peter Hein worked in close to 100 films here before he moved to the Telugu industry. The aerial fight scene in Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam, was choreographed by Hollywood stuntman Lee Whittaker. The helicopter stunts shot in Georgia for Billa 2, that cost close to `50 lakhs, were courtesy German Stefan Richter. And Rajinikanth’s Enthiran saw stunts by Yuen Woo Ping of The Matrix fame. But our heavy-duty action films are mostly crafted by home-grown choreographers, who are developing a style that is finding an audience in Bollywood as well (think Ghajini with Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar’s Holiday and Salman Khan’s Jai Ho). We speak to five of them about their projects, challenges and why action will never go out of fashion:
Silva | 41
upcoming : Anjaan
Well-built and rugged, with a personality to match, Silva ‘master’ is a fan of Jackie Chan and has choreographed top stars in the South and Bollywood. He began as an assistant to Peter Hein, who was riding the wave with movies like Run back in 2002. “I worked under him till 2007 and then decided to start on my own,” says the Thoothukudi native. Silva’s entry into films is interesting. “I tried studying medicine but did not have enough money to continue. I worked as a ward boy at Stanley Medical College, which was when a director offered me a job as a background dancer. It did not pay much, so I gradually made my way to stunts,” he explains.
Silva insists that his action sequence with Rajinikanth for the movie Sivaji means the most to him. “It would be unfair not to have worked with Kamal Haasan too, so I begged Stun Siva, who was choreographing Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, to give me one scene.” Bollywood came knocking with Gautam Menon’s Ekk Deewana Tha and Shortcut Romeo.
Where does he go for inspiration? “YouTube. I watch a lot of Korean, Chinese and Japanese movies for their amazing stunt sequences,” says the man who is currently busy with Gautham Menon and Ajith Kumar’s untitled movie. He has just completed work on Lingusamy’s big budget Anjaan, featuring actor Suriya. While Silva has his share of car chases (Mankatha), he has not escaped unscathed on the sets. ‘‘When we involve machines, things are never in our control. And while designing a knife sequence or a market fight scene is no big deal, making it realistic is a challenge,” he shares.
Rajasekhar | 44
upcoming : Naan Thaan Shiva
Whether he likes it or not, Rajasekhar is known for his realistic action scenes (think movies like Paruthiveeran and Subramaniapuram).“I am generally called for off-beat movies, though I want to do an all-out action film,” insists Rajasekhar, who has been obsessed about directing stunts from his tenth grade and started his career in the industry as a body double. “I was initially scared to do stunts, but it was too late to step back,” he shares, having worked as an assistant to almost 33 stunt ‘masters’. “It was director Sundar C who gave me my first chance as a stunt master for the Ajith Kumar-starrer, Unnai Thedi,” says the action choreographer, whose recent movies include Ivan Veramathiri and OKOK. A Bruce Lee fan, Rajasekhar considers one-on-one fights a challenge. “When you have 20 boys, the hero can spend 10 minutes and massacre all of them. But a solo fight on a terrace needs a lot of work and cannot be repetitive,” he concludes.
Anal Arasu | 36
upcoming : Ai
If the movie Heropanti was worth a watch, it was because of the stunts, courtesy Chennai’s Anal Arasu. Influenced by his father, C M Arasu, who has done several movies in the 80s, Arasu says he always wanted to be “an action man.” Ameer’s Ram was his first film, giving him the opportunity to showcase realistic action. Then came the commercial movies—be it Rowdy Rathore with actor Akshay Kumar
or Vedi in Tamil where actor Vishal fights more than 40 men simultaneously. “The audience has become a lot more intelligent and want everything, even a helicopter chase, to look real. But sometimes the script demands that the hero jumps from the top of a building to escape
without a scratch,” says the choreographer, who is currently working on Salman Khan’s Kick and has Shankar’s Ai and A R Murugadoss’s Kaththi lined up.
Michael | 48
Simply known as Miracle Michael in the industry, this man says defying death every day gives him his adrenalin rush. Known for big banner movies like Naan Ee, Singham, Singam-Puli, Peranmai and most recently, Rajinikanth’s Kochadaiiyaan, he says, “My father, Solomon Thamburaj, played Rajini’s double in movies like Kaali. I recall meeting him on the sets of Annamalai when he advised me to be more responsible. And now, I got to work with him for his daughter’s film. It felt very special.” Unlike the older generation, be it Sathyaraj or Vijayakanth, ‘‘who gave stunts their heart and soul’’ he now sees ‘‘actors who want to take the easy way out and avoid high risk stunts.” That said, Michael points out that complex subjects like a fly fighting a human (Naan Ee) have improved the output of choreographers. ‘‘Weapons like knives have got a new twist and we are now experts on guns and bombs,” he says.
Siva | 44
upcoming : Indrajith
Siva is a busy man these days, with four movies, including Indrajith in Tamil and the remake of Vijaykanth’s Ramana with Akshay Kumar in Bollywood. Siva joined the industry
as a stuntman but his big break as a stunt choreographer only came with Kadhalukku Mariyadhai (1997). With at least 100 movies under his belt now, including personal favourites like Pithamagan and Vettayadu Villayadu, the
Chennai native says, “I had learnt martial arts as a child and always wanted to be in the movies.
It was not just about the kicks, punches and chases. I wanted to learn about editing, mixing, camera placements and movement, too.”
He confides that he enjoys directing action sequences abroad “as foreign locations like Hong Kong or Singapore ensure everything changes, right from your backdrop, your fighters, the atmosphere. You can include a boat chase if you want.” Keeping it realistic is the biggest challenge he faces today, even with over the top action sequences. For inspiration, or ‘reference points’ as he calls it, there are several Hollywood and Chinese movies. “The Matrix is one of the best. But I just watch these movies for reference, and choreograph my own act after watching it,” he points out. Interestingly, ‘Stun’ Siva, as he is known in the industry, is also working on IKK aka Indian Karate Kid. It stars his elder son, Kevin, and his half Indian-half Vietnamese wife, Lany Siva, who has also learnt martial arts, and is scheduled to release next year. Has he ever considered introducing action scenes with women? “I believe women like action more than men; I only wish women could start doing more action,” shrugs the choreographer, adding that we should watch out for a specific scene in Indrajith. “There is a car in a bus and the hero jumps out through the window, after breaking the glass. This shot took `60 lakhs and it is a very interesting chase,” he promises.