These days EVP Film City in Chembarabakkam, Chennai, is bustling with activity – after all some of the big-ticket films are being shot here. Rajinikanth’s three back-to-back films Kabali, 2.o and Kaala, massive fight sequences of Vijay’s Bairavaa, Theri, Suriya’s Singam 3 and Masss, Mahesh Babu’s Spyder, Vikram’s Sketch, Vikram Prabhu’s Neruppu Da, a massive jail set for Arya-Vijay Sethupathi starrer Purampokku – the film studio has become the hot spot for all the major film shootings.
Film shooting was stalled during the strike called by the the Film Employees Federation of South India (FEFSI). We decided to visit the film studio immediately after the strike called off. The film city has seven shooting floors, work was going on the sets of Vijay TV’s Bigg Boss show, Kaala and Pulikesi 2.
We were instructed to leave our mobile phones and camera outside. This is not the norm, but for Kaala and Bigg Boss, they didn’t want to take a chance. “We have an agreement with the Kaala and Bigg Boss team that we will not allow any outsiders inside the studio with mobile phones,” politely informs the general manager, Gokul.
Over one-km walk inside the film city, we spot a huge set resembling the slums of Dharavi, Mumbai, erected for Kaala. A commercial street of Dharavi have been created with Mumbai’s BEST buses, taxis, autos, police jeep. There is also a school and a mosque and rows of shops.
While the junior artistes were walking in and out of the set, the team was waiting for Rajini’s arrival. The set is massive, spread over 30 acres. “A set has been created which has the house of Rajini’s character in Dharavi. The director and his team are currently shooting there,” an insider informed us. Fans visiting Rajini during the shoot is unavoidable. “Of the 40-day schedule, Rajini will meet his fans in the last five days for photographs. Many among the unit members would like to take a picture with him. Even they will be allowed to take photographs on those designated days. This embargo is placed so that day-to-day work remains unaffected,” says the source.
“When the shooting of 2.0 and Kabali were happening on parallel floors here, Rajini sir used to shuttle between the two shoots. After completing Kabali, he would get into his 2.0 look in the evening. Superstar was super busy that time,” says Gokul.
Set work of Shankar’s Pulikesi 2 is mid-way. “It’s a palace. Currently, work is stalled. Maybe it will resume in a week’s time,” we were informed.
Bigg Boss’ set is completely fenced off. Even getting a glimpse of the house is impossible. “Over 70 security personnel are around all the time. No one can enter the set without prior permission, including people from the Vijay TV team,” says a source.
The making of Shankar’s 2.0, which was released recently, showed a grand set. “We did pre-production work for six months and started shooting on the set, which mostly consisted of huge lengthy roads,” says the film art director, Muthuraj.
The entire shoot of Kamal Haasan’s Thoongavanam took place in this film city. The set of a pub where the entire story revolved was erected and the shoot was completed in a month’s time.
Leading actors like Kamal Haasan, Mahesh Babu, Vijay, Rajini prefer working at EVP because of the lack of crowd. Production manager, Chokkalingam, who regularly visits the film city for shoot arrangements, says, “We have a tough time managing the crowd while shooting with stars like Rajini and Kamal in a live location. We spend most of the time organising than shooting. At the film city, work is more systematic and organised.”
This place didn’t have the same hustle and bustle a few years ago when Kollywood would head to studios in Hyderabad for bigger space and sets. “Remember the climax scene of Kabali? Where Rajini sir would fight on a rooftop restaurant… it was not shot in Malaysia, though major portions of the film were shot there. The rooftop restaurant was created here and the shooting went on for 15 days,” says art director of Kabali, Ramalingam. He is the art director of Kaala as well.
To erect a set, space alone is not the only thing needed, the crew needs accessories as well. Director Vijay Milton, who shot a portion of 10 Endrathukulla in EVP, explains, “We cannot erect a set on just a barren land. There needs to be other elements to make the set look real. For us, we wanted to shoot a highway sequence for our film with Vikram. This place had roads, a petrol bunk and a sight similar to the highways. We chose to create a set based on this. If we had to do everything from the scratch, the backdrop will look artificial.”
EVP film city, owned by EV Perummal Sami Reddy, used to be a theme park before it was turned into a film city. “Only four years ago, it was open to film shoots. When the amusement park was shut down, the management decided to convert the 130 acres land into a film city,” informs a source.
Shakti Soundararajan’s ambitious upcoming space film, Tik Tik Tik with Jayam Ravi, was shot in this film city where a set of a space shuttle was erected. An aircraft is already there, the film city will soon have sets looking like railway stations. “We are planning to bring in everything that a Tamil film shoot requires,” says Sathosa Reddy, managing director of the film city.
Feature image by Sriram Narasimhan