What if you are Superstar’s biggest fan and you got a chance to live with Him all your life?
And then, you grow up, dream big and get a chance to direct Him in your very first movie – a ten million dollar baby with Adlabs?
And, though He’s your father, here you are telling Him what to do and calling the shots.
And, apart from being among the hottest single eligible women in the city, you’ve signed an exclusive motion picture production deal with Warner Bros., a deal with Landmark for two books including a biography on the Superstar himself, and are helming Ocher Studios, a three-year-old company that executes about forty per cent of the market’s animation and visual effects projects in this part of the world.
All of this, on your own, without a single rupee from Him.
Well, that much success when you are still twenty-something usually adds a few kilos to the weight of your head. But not her. Sondarya Rajnikant travels light.
So when she breezes in sporting sunglasses, a rudraksh around her neck, a smart deep blue semi-formal shirt buttoned down with jeans to sit down for an interview without a prepared speech or notes to read from, you are impressed. It’s a style statement that incorporates fashion, spirituality, simplicity, business and casualness.
Just back shooting after her first experience shooting for her own film in Vietnam (she spent 40 days shooting the action sequences including a war scene with International stuntmen) and ahead of leaving to Hyderabad to shoot with her Dad for Sultan, she seems to be in a mood to open up about her company, her private life and family.
“The shooting is strictly for reference. What we shoot, we edit and then motion-capture,” she explains. “I expect perfection. So even if we could shoot just one guy and replicate it for an army, we shot with 100 guys. Just for reference.”
She’s certain Sultan is going to break new grounds in animation. “We’re attempting something as realistic as Beowulf. I’ve always been interested in visual effects and I knew I wanted to direct but I didn’t want to do the usual things. Why travel the road already taken? I have always felt that everybody has looked at India as an outsourcing hub. But it’s time we produce content that’s as good as Japanese content or Chinese content.”
She recalls how the film was originally conceived as ‘Superstar’ and then titled ‘Hara’. “The main character is still called Hara. We know Hariharan is Ayyappan. But we’re releasing in Hindi and the people at Adlabs told us they would say ‘Haara’ (as in flop). So I told this to Appa, he took a minute to think over it and said: Call it Sultan. It’s universal for a story about a warrior.”
How come she wasn’t bitten by the acting bug?
“There was a time when I came back from Australia and I was getting a lot of offers. Good friends in the industry gave me scripts. My parents were not for it or against it, they left it to me. But I had just started Ocher. So I took it to my Dad, said ‘Appa, the story is good but I want to do this (Ocher)’ and he asked me to think what exactly I wanted to do… That’s when I realised this (Ocher) is what I want to do, it’s a blessing when you get to do what you are passionate about. So many people are stuck with jobs they don’t want to do.”
Being the youngest in the company where all, but one, employee are less than 40 years old, Sondarya says she’s never had a problem with responsibility. “I was Cul-Sec in school, I was class leader… In the university too, I’ve been the group head. I have always been the person who leads, never the one who follows.”
Being a leader needs vision and Sondarya can see far enough, her self-belief further vindicated when she convinced Warner Bros to sign along the dotted line. “It was a lot of work but we signed the third time we met.”
On the state of films:
Every other hero wants to be Superstar. But isn’t her Dad responsible for this himself? Creating an iconic status so desirable that everybody wants to get there.
“Yes, he’s responsible,” she laughs. “The most aped part is how he walks swiftly towards the camera… Everybody is doing it. He’s an inspiration but there can be only one Rajnikant. We are going through a phase where it is easy to get in to films but the question is how many films are you going to last? That’s why I say the script is the hero. We’re trying to do films with good scripts, not necessarily hero-centric films. We’re trying to cover a market that’s not been touched. We’re starting production on Venkat Prabhu’s Goa in October. We want to encourage performing actors, different genres… not aruva all the time. Everybody wants to be a don like Baasha, everybody wants ten people to walk behind them. We hope we can change that.”
Ocher has already signed up Ajit for the Billa sequel (or is it going to be a prequel? Wait and watch, she says mysteriously) next year, is doing a Telugu film with Mahesh Babu and Puri Jagannath apart from Venkat Prabhu’s Goa and Sondarya has plans to direct a live-action film once she’s done with Sultan.
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Growing Up – the personal story:
“My father used to do 14 films in a year though now he does one every three years. My mother never made us feel his absence. My sister and me used to fight a lot. For clothes, in particular. Mother had to come and separate us. We are very close. Mother insisted we stayed in the same room. After Aishwarya got married, it took time for us to accept it. That first night when she wasn’t at home, that was the time I realised how much I missed her. I called her and cried.
The best experience growing up when we took off to see the World Cup in London. We love watching cricket as a family. You should see my Dad cheer India. He’s out there standing and whistle. It was cold but we never took flights. We insisted on taking trains. We wanted to see the countryside.
You know how my Dad is. We were raised to live simple. So even when you know you can have what you want, you are happy with what you have.
I’m not saying I don’t splurge. I obsessed with Aviator frames (sunglasses). I have the same thing in different colours.
When I took Appa to Brussels for body scan to Eyetronics (the company that did 3D scanning for Brad Pitt for Troy and Johnny Depp for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), we were there for 20 days. On the way back, we stopped in London and I took my Dad shopping. He’s the best shopping companion I’ve had. He never complained and I was like a princess just buying whatever I wanted and he was carrying all the bags. I took pictures of him carrying the bags thinking ‘That’s Rajnikant, carrying luggage for his daughter.’ He’s a fun dad.
Appa can’t walk on the road the way he does in London. We do go out. I do get recognised. When people come and talk to you, we don’t look at it as interference. It doesn’t reach a point where it becomes a nuisance. But can I go and sit at Zaras? No, I can’t.
On dating, freedom and curfew:
(Laughs) I don’t have the time for that now and anything I do becomes news. I cannot do things I did in Australia… I cannot take my car and get petrol without being stared at. Yes, it’s a blessing. We have curfew and all that but I don’t complain about it. Why unnecessarily give room for people to talk about you. I used to complain when I was 17-18 and ask “Why should we back by eight?” But now, I understand why my parents are protective about us. And I think it’s a good thing to have one close friend than a group of 20 people you’re not sure you can trust. I have a close circle of friends. I do unwind with them, again but not in public places.
Marriage, I have a long way to go before I can think of that… The thing is right now I am focused about my career. And that’s all I think about all the time.
I wouldn’t say I like control. I lead and I don’t follow. A guy who’s mature enough and who’s on his own is all I’m looking for but not now. Definitely not in the near future.
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Genre – Fantasy
Films – Lion King, Thalapathy, Roja, Shrek, Finding Nemo, Annamalai, Lagaan, Dil Chahta Hai, Gladiator, Last Samurai
Filmmakers – Mani Ratnam, Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood.
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