Road to Hollywood
Santosh Sivan's `Road to the Sky' is a period film with an international cast. The film, shot in Munnar, focusses on the dilemma of people who straddle two worlds.
MEETING OF TWO WORLDS:Linus Roache, JenniferEhle and Leo Burnett
After the success of `Anantabhadram,' cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan is all set to work his magic all over again. This time round, he is in the process of giving shape to an international project, `Road to the Sky,' which was shot in Munnar.
The film is set in 1937 and has a cast that includes actors from the United Kingdom, United States and India. `Road to the Sky' is jointly produced by the U.S.-based Echo Lake Productions, Adirondack Pictures and Santosh Sivan Productions of India.
A picturesquescene from the film
"It is about a British planter (Linus Roache), who wants to build a road to the hills to commercially tap the produce of the high ranges, mainly spices. He is assisted by an Indian (Rahul Bose), who wants to be like the planter and live in his world. But he has his roots in his village and customs.
The film explores the relationship between the planter, his wife (Jennifer Ehle), his lover (Nandita Das) and his aide. Finally, Rahul's character understands that he has to make a choice and it is not quite possible to live in two worlds," explains Santosh.
Rahul Bose points out that with so many Malayalis around him, it was not too difficult for him to transform into one for the movie.
Rahul, who is doing films with co-stars ranging from Manoj Bajpai to Mallika Sherawat, says that among other factors, it was the script of the film, his character and the admiration for Santosh Sivan that made him accept the film.
Another actor who has been bowled over by Santosh's work is British actor Linus Roache, who attracted media attention in the BBC TV series `Seaforth' (1994).
Linus regards his work in `Road to the Sky' as his best ever in 20 years of show biz. He showers praise on Santosh and says that he is an "extraordinary director" to work with, someone who is "genuine and authentic."
"Working with him is like playing jazz. He has the structure but he creates freedom to be spontaneous. He also creates a fundamental positive basis that binds everyone to a common aim and focus; he is fast, which builds momentum and keeps the energy alive. He has a unique eye and a way of perceiving, where he is looking beyond the superficial and into the layers underneath."
Agreeing with him is Jennifer Ehle, who acted in the Istvan Szabo film `Sunshine.' "It was really nice being on the sets and I hope to work with him again some day," she says.
Santosh Sivan on the sets of `Road to the Sky'
Similarly, it was the desire to work with Santosh that drew Nandita Das to the film. Nandita, who is shooting for Chitra Palekar's Marathi film `Maati Maaye,' says that "it was primarily the desire to work with Santosh Sivan, who is extremely passionate about what he does," that made her accept `Road to the Sky.'
Her character in the film is a courageous woman who dares to defy norms, "which underlines the fact that human emotions are universal and such situations can happen to virtually anyone."
Nandita will be working on economist-turned-filmmaker Suman Ghosh's Bengali film with Soumitra Chatterjee next.
In addition to actors like John Standing and Leo Burnett, a few actors from Malayalam, including Thilakan, Lal and Indrajith are also in the film.
With so many big names in the cast, Indrajith is thrilled that he is part of the film.
"I can write a book on my experiences on the sets," he jokes. Pedigree or previous experiences did not matter and he had to undergo screen tests, discussions and elaborate story discussions before getting the role.
"The entire cast and crew had gone through detailed story sessions and by the time the actual shooting started, we were thorough about what we had to do. The film was shot with live sound, which obviously demanded extra care on that aspect too," he explains.
Santosh adds, "Its a great feeling to have actors from London, the United States and India... Its always fun and more interesting when so many languages are spoken and with so many people having to adjust to different systems and be unusually quiet since its always sync shooting."
The grapevine has it that the producers were keen on the film being shot in South Africa or Brazil but it was Santosh who insisted on Munnar. Explains Santosh, "Munnar is still one of those hill stations in Kerala that retain an old-world charm."
Paul Hardart of Adirondack Pictures says, "Andy Spaulding of Echo Lake Productions and I came to Kerala this summer for a recce with Santosh and his team. We toured the area and were impressed with the beauty of Kerala. We chose Munnar primarily for its beauty; the practical locations that were available - that made it easier to replicate 1937 and the relative proximity to Kochi airport."
The producers had picked Santosh to direct the film after seeing his films such as `The Terrorist' and `Asoka.'
Are more projects with some connection with India in the offing?
"We loved everything about the making of this film, which includes the professionalism, the creativity, the commitment of the crew; the beauty of the locations and the exciting spirit of everyone we met. Of course, more projects in India would be great," says Paul.
Andrew D. Spaulding, executive vice-president of Echo Lake productions, says "We want to do more films with Santosh Sivan, and we are talking with other Indian directors as well. We look forward to working in India again, hopefully soon."
Andy Spaulding hopes that `Road to the Sky' will have its premiere at one of the major international film festivals.
Sunil Babu, who is still receiving accolades for the magnificent sets, as the art director in `Anantabhadram,' `Ghajini' and `Iqbal' recalls that he "had a tough time recreating the township, the village and a mini-harbour with a ship, for the film. Still, it was a highly rewarding experience, which does not happen that often in one's career as a production designer, as I am called here."
Quiz Santosh on what the toughest thing about shooting the film was, and he quips, "We had this eight-year-old boy from London, Leo Burnett, who was full of curiosity and a bundle of energy. Handling him was the toughest part, but the most rewarding too."
For Santosh this film could be the road to making his mark in Hollywood too.
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