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Sunday, May 9, 1999

A day in a director's life -- Giridharilal Nagpal shoots film in 24 hours 

Jonathan Karp  
Chennai May 8: Before the day is over, Giridharilal Nagpal expects to preside over nine weddings, one heart attack, a mass kidnapping and five song-and-dance numbers, while managing 13 heroes, 11 heroines and a star-studded cast and crew of 2,600.

Nagpal, a 52-year-old movie producer, is attempting to fulfil his dream: to film a feature-length movie in a record-breaking 24 hours. India's film industry is the world's most prolific, having churned out 693 features last year--nearly two a day--in 20 languages. But that's an average, not a shooting schedule. Even here, Nagpal's quest seems mad. And yet it's also fitting, because if there's one thing that fires passions in India as much as the movies, it's setting records. In a popular Indian book of feats, top honors for quickest flick go to an Indian who filmed the 1989 movie "This is Possible" in 36 hours.

Nagpal plans to top that by shooting in 19 locations across Chennai, the centre of Tamil-language cinema and the country's second film city after Mumbai.He has enlisted 15 directors--14 to film the movie and one to film the making of the movie. Nagpal's strategy for wooing all the big egos, "I told them, `It's only for a day.' "

In a soot-stained studio on a recent Monday, a Hindu priest blesses the endeavour in a ritual involving a flaming coconut. Nagpal claps a slate. "Action!" shouts the director. The stars glance at their watches: It's 7 am. Arching an eyebrow at this ocean of talent, Mansoor Ali Khan, the film's villain, quips, "It's a cattle fair."

Despite months of planning, Nagpal has left many details to the last minute. Some actors arrive unsure of their roles, and none know their lines. "We don't give them the script," he says. "We just describe it to them, rehearse once, then shoot."

Hollywood stars would rebel, but Karin Przygocki, a 28-year-old teacher at the American School in Chennai, is just happy to be here. Nagpal began financing movies in 1978 and quickly made and lost a fortune. He came back in 1990 by selling distribution rightsfor a hit film in which the leading man plays three roles, including that of a dwarf. That project revived his dream of making a movie in a day. And so here he is shooting "Swayamwaram," the Sanskrit name for a mythological ceremony in which a woman selects her husband from among valiant bachelors. With dawn breaking, mayhem grips the studio as directors rush to finish. At 6:25, women's shrieks emanate from one corner. It turns out to be the kidnapping scene. Then in the finale, the father rises from his wheelchair, and quoting a Tamil proverb, proclaims that he faked his heart attack to get his children married. It's a noble cause to lie for.

The director ponders a second take but decides it's a wrap. The hall erupts in applause and whistles. It's 6:50, just 10 minutes to spare.

--Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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