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#StarKid: ‘Kochadaiiyaan’ and Soundarya Rajinikanth’s relentless ambition

She's certainly got the looks and the talent to make it as a film star in her own right but Soundarya Rajinikanth's ambitions run further than achieving fame by hanging on to her legendary father's coattails.

The stunning daughter of South Indian icon Rajinikanth dreams bigger: in fact, her dreams extend to a realm of cinema never before seen in India.

The 29-year-old is the brains behind 'Kochadaiiyaan', a new film starring her father and Deepika Padukone and which is set to revolutionize Indian cinema and take it into previously unknown territory. 

The film is Soundarya's directorial debut and speaks volumes of the sheer scale of her ambition.

Nearly a decade in the making, 'Kochadaiiyaan' is described as India's first 'Photo-Realistic Motion Capture' film; a $21 million period extravaganza (a gargantuan budget by Indian standards) and bringing to India the same kind of technology used in such films as 'Avatar' and Steven Spielberg's 'Tintin'.

Soundarya's ambition has only been matched with her pursuit of perfection: the film's huge release ('Kochadaiiyaan' will release in a staggering 6000 screens around the world and will be dubbed in multiple languages) has been delayed as the director ironed out final niggling technical problems.

The film will finally hit screens this Friday, 23 May. 

The UKAsian caught up with Soundarya in Mumbai to discuss the film and being the daughter of one of the world's most beloved actors.

What was the experience like directing your legendary father Rajinikanth in your very first film?
In our country it is every creative person’s dream to direct Rajinikanth.  I feel privileged to do so in my very first film.  'Kochadiiyaan' is the first performance-capture film in India.  Usually, such films take approximately five or six years but we have been over-ambitious: God has been kind and the film will release soon.

What was your father's view on you going into show business?
I think acting offers come to every star child.  If I had approached my father and told him that I want to become an actress, he wouldn’t have refused.  I think he would have been supportive.  My parents encouraged my sister and me to pursue our dreams.  But it was my conscious decision to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.

And you start off with a mega-blockbuster with your father in the central role!
No, it just happened.  Director K S Ravikumar was going to start 'Rana' but unfortunately my father fell ill and then decided to take time off.  'Rana' was a period film and we didn’t want my father to wear heavy armour, ride horses or go out in the dust to shoot for the film.  So we decided to start 'Kochadiiyaan', which is a prequel to 'Rana'. My dad has never done a film in which he played a warrior, except for a brief song in a Mani Ratnam film.  I am a die-hard fan of my dad and as an audience member I know it will be exciting to see what Rajinikanth, our "Thalaivar" (Boss), can do.

Was it easy to convince him to appear in your directorial debut and what was the relationship like on the sets between director and star, daughter and father?
He is a thorough professional when it comes to work.  It was only after he was fully convinced about the script and the technology did he agree to do the film.  On the sets, I was more of a daughter.  I was concerned whether he had had his lunch or if he has been taken care of before taking the next shot. I think it is tougher for him because it is his little girl giving him instructions!

What was it like growing up as the daughter of such an iconic star?
My father was an extremely busy actor.  It was my mother who played a very important role.  My mother made sure we went on holidays whenever my father had free time.

When did you first realize your father's status?
My father was already a superstar when I was born.  Like any other star kid, my sister and I got a lot of attention.  After a while, we got accustomed to it. My mother educated us about how big my father was in society and what people expected from us.

Were there any difficulties being a star kid?
Yes, because everything we do gets blown out of proportion.  As star children, there were a lot of expectations that we should become as big as him.  We had some tremendous advantages and disadvantages as well.

You've said you are a die-hard 'Rajinikanth' fan.  But since we are in Mumbai, which of your father's Bollywood films do you like?
I love him in 'Chalbaaz'.  I really love him in a scene when he comes drunk and breaks into a dance sequence with Sridevi.  I also like him in 'Hum'.  I haven’t seen a lot of his old Hindi films.

After the tremendous commercial success of 'Robot', why was Aishwarya Rai Bachchan not cast opposite Rajinikanth for this film?
People like repeating a combination, but they also like to see variety. Deepika Padukone was cast in 'Rana' with my father so I spoke to Deepika about this film.  She adds tremendous value to the project especially in the northern parts of India where Deepika is extremely popular.  She is a thorough professional.  We shot for two days and I think she understood the technology very quickly.

For the un-initiated, tell us about how the technology actually works.
I gave the actors a body suit, no makeup, as I want to capture their expressions and not their face.  There are no camera angles as we are shooting 360 degrees.  The entire film is a work of post-production.  For actors to understand that was very difficult as everything is in the imagination.

Your father has said he doesn’t understand technology.  How difficult was it to get him on board?
It was difficult to make him understand.  The process of animation is time-consuming and complicated.  Normally, once you start shooting, you can watch what you have shot on the same day itself.  With a performance-capture film, I had to first shoot with the actors and then convert it.  In 'Kochadiiyaan', every frame has 40 or 50 layers: the poster, the palace, the crowd, the earrings, the teeth are all separate layers and all these layers come together only after I finish my shoot.  Even after six months of shooting, I wasn’t able to show the film to my actors as I was still in the modeling, texturing, and lighting stage.  After six months of shooting my father told me to show him how I had shot the song.  But I was like ‘Let me finish it’.  He was a little worried because he couldn’t see a glimpse of the film.

Do you think 'Kochadaiiyaan' is going to be a game-changer?
Animation is not understood in our country yet because it is still considered a cartoon.  Because of the lack of budgets, time and trained technicians, a lot of films have not done justice to animation.  If there is anybody who can break the myth that animation is not cartoon, it’s Mr Rajinikanth.

- 'Kochadaiiyaan' is in UK cinemas Friday 23 May.

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