Dilani Rabindran



15 Years of Jeans, jeans, shankar


15 years ago Tamil cinema changed forever. In April of 1998 Jeans, directed by the revolutionary Shankar, was released & went on to captivate audiences internationally. I was just a kid then, but by the time the movie was done my lifelong obsession with Indian cinema had been born.

My family & I saw it in the theatre 4 times, and it was the first film I remember reflecting on - thinking of how many people would have worked tirelessly to create something so epic. I developed my first on-screen crush on Prashanth and my cousins & I became obsessed with looking just like Aishwarya Rai (and that has not changed). My mom helped me learn the dance to “Kannodu Kanbethallam” and I personally vowed to one-day visit all the wonders Madhu & Visu did in their dreams. To this day Jeans remains my favorite Tamil film of all time. But why does it have this hold on me, and many others of my generation in particular? It was a production that was plagued with troubles, and at its core is just a simple family tale about a couple’s complicated path to marriage. So what is it about Jeans that makes it so special?

Was it the magical cast that gelled so perfectly? It now seems impossible to imagine anyone but Prashanth & Aishwarya Rai in the lead roles, but in actuality heroes Abbas & Ajith were both approached first, and Prashanth eventually turned down 7 other films to be in Jeans. Was it the powerhouse crew comprised of industry icons? Surprisingly, it was 3 newcomers – Ashok Amitraj, Murali Manohar & Michael Solomon – who produced the magnum opus, and cinematography was originally assigned to Santhosh Sivan & art direction to Thotta Tharani (both legends in their craft), but, for various reasons, both roles were overtaken by Ashok Kumar and debutant Bala, respectively. But these debutants & changes panned out because the one & only Shankar led the crew. Always a leader in cinematic technology Shankar pushed the boundaries of Tamil cinema in the ‘90s and transported us around the world with some comedy, romance, song & dance. And the songs were certainly a big part of the magic: to date Jeans is one of AR Rahman’s best selling albums, with every single song topping the charts. From western genres to Carnatic music to songs with East Asian & Egyptian influences, Rahman captured the international theme of Jeans, and, along with Vairamuthu, the duo created music history.

But maybe the true magic of the film is purely in its scope & the interesting tale of its creation. The whole thing took 1.5 years to make & was the most expensive Indian film made at that time. It was Shankar’s first film where major portions were shot outside of India &, in hindsight, sounds like a production coordinator’s nightmare. Shankar admitted he only had a rough idea for canning the wonders of the world, so without a formal plan the cast & crew travelled the globe together for 30 days, stopping to shoot at the world’s most popular tourist sites. As fate would have it, shooting was delayed when the team was in Paris because Princess Diana died in a tragic car crash in the very same city. By the time it was ready for release Jeans was over 4 months late.

But of course it wasn’t just the cast, crew, music or extravaganza that produced the Jeans we reflect on today – it was the culmination of all these elements into a film that swept in a new wave of Tamil cinema. Jeans earned a whopping net 350 million rupees, won 5 awards and was India’s unconventional entry to the Oscars. Unlike the majority of other submissions it does not touch upon topics of violence, religion, caste, politics, patriotism, war, abuse, social status, illness, or terrorism. It is merely a wholesome entertainer, focused on family hijinx and love conquering all. Jeans shattered pre-conceived notions that light-hearted, happy-ending filled, family-oriented blockbusters could not be critically acclaimed. It was also one of the first Tamil films to resonate with Non-Resident-Indian & Sri Lankan audiences, who, like Nachiappan, had left their homelands but still tried their best to raise their children with the values & traditions of their roots.

Jeans was a landmark film in Tamil cinema. Now, practically every story takes place outside of India. Jeans won awards for its bold takes on costume, and since then we have become accustomed to seeing our stars dress in the garb of other cultures when visiting foreign locales. And, carrying on the torch ignited by Jeans, Tamil cinema has also gone onto embrace many more types of new visual effects technology.

Some may say that the film is not Shankar’s best to date or that the cast & crew have had bigger successes in their careers, but it was undoubtedly a milestone film for the industry & all involved…it certainly was for me. Maybe I am just obsessed with Jeans because it sparked my personal love for Indian cinema, but it’s not hard to see why this work of genius stands apart in Tamil filmdom’s history.

So here’s to the 15 year anniversary of Jeans – a film made of “0% cotton and 100% love”, that proved that family entertainers with simple stories & happily ever after’s could be masterfully crafted into critically acclaimed feats of production. Here’s to a film that changed the landscape of Tamil cinema and captivated entire generations of moviegoers forever.

Respond to dilani.behindwoods@gmail.com
Behindwoods is not responsible for the views of columnists.



This page hosts the views of the authors of the column. The views are generally about films, movie reviews, movie news, songs, music, film actors and actresses, directors, producers, cinematographers, music directors, and all others that contribute for the success or failure of a film. People looking for movies online, movie reviews, movie analysis, public response for a movie, will find this page useful.