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An interview with production controller Sundar Raj

The man who handled Sivaji, Mankatha, Thuppakki, Arrambam and more

Nov 26, 2013
Starting his career as a writing assistant for dubbing movies, Sunder Raju has come a long way. Making a nice transition from being a Production Manager to an Executive Manager to a Production Controller, he is now working as an Associate Producer in some really prestigious films. 
He came to Chennai in 1992 to be with his friends and his initiation to cinema was an accident. He assisted Aroor Das in about 12 dubbing films featuring the likes of Venkatesh, Dr. Rajasekhar and Balakrishna. He then joined Dr. Rajasekhar in 1995 to work with him as a production manager in about 8 films for a period of 6 to 7 years. In 2004, he was introduced to director Shankar and there began his rise to the next level in the production space. 
We got in touch with Mr. Sunder Raju for an interesting conversation about his nature of work and his experiences so far
Tell us about the nature of your job
My work begins right from the script hearing stage when we sit and decide the scale of the film and also get an idea about the budget of the film. I generally prepare a proper streamlined budget for the film. The cast and technicians are decided by the budget and we come up with many options for the same. Depending on these factors, we then prepare a schedule for the film and also have an idea about the locations required for the film. Based on the locations and the budget, we decide whether to go for live shooting or use sets and the appropriate props. 
I am involved right from the pre-production through the production and post-production stages of the film. I generally have a 2 to 3 member team to assist me in my work. In the production stage, we take care of transport, accommodation, food and health care for the entire crew. We have to make sure that work happens on a timely basis and a lot of dedication is required. We are responsible for all the 24 departments of film making and have to work irrespective of the time of the day.
During the pre-production, we are involved in the casting and location recce, while in the post-production, we are involved in editing, dubbing, DI, CG, DTS mixing, the final mixing all the way till the time the film is sent for censoring and gets ready for release.
Your interactions and working experience with Director Shankar
I was introduced and recommended to him by Vasantha Balan in the beginning of 2004 and since Balan is among Shankar's best and most trusted students, he took me seriously right from the start. I worked as a production manager in Anniyan and this was my re-entry to cinema, after a little break. I took charge as the Production Controller in S Pictures’ productions such as Kadhal, Veyil and Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi. I then worked as the executive manager in Superstar's Sivaji and Shankar Sir presented me with a Swift car as a token of appreciation for my work.
All the other production houses and projects that you have associated with
I have worked with the following producers - Aascar Films in Anniyan, AVM Productions in Sivaji, Cloud Nine Movies as a production controller in Thoonga Nagaram and Mankatha, A.R.Murugadoss and Fox Star Studios in Engeyum Eppodhum, Kalaipuli Thanu in Thuppakki, Ocher Studios in Goa, Y NOT Studios in Tamil Padam, Va Quarter Cutting and Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi and with Sri Sathya Sai Movies as a production controller in Arrambam. 
I am working as an Associate Producer in Y NOT Studios' upcoming production ventures, Kaaviya Thalaivan and Vaai Moodi Pesavum. In the next Vijay - A.R.Murugadoss film, produced by Ayngaran International and Lyca Productions, which will start in January 2014, I will be working as an Executive Producer. 
Tell us the practical difficulties that you had to face during your shoots 
For Anniyan, we shot in a lot of live locations and it was difficult to procure police permission. For Sivaji, we had to handle a lot of crowd as Rajini Sir was required to shoot in live locations such as Chennai’s Mount Road. A lot of security personnel had to be employed to handle these crowd issues. Consequently, we had to get an authorization letter from the police to employ such extensive security for a shoot.
We used about 5000 junior artistes for Sivaji’s first scene where Rajini Sir would be escorted to a jail. There were police issues and the shoot was halted for about an hour, in the school compound opposite Pachaiyappa's college, where we shot this scene.
The drive-in theater fight in Sivaji was another complex exercise for us. We shot at the ICF grounds and there were some issues with the police there too.
For Mankatha, when we were shooting at midnight in Binny Mills near the airport, a large mass of Ajith fans turned up and they refused to move without meeting Thala. Ajith Sir had to personally come and advise these fans before they disbursed. 
For Thuppakki and Arrambam, we shot in live Mumbai locations where even Hindi movies haven’t been shot till date. Vijay Sir offered great co-operation and handled his large mass of fans very calmly and professionally. Murugadoss was another delightful person to work with. 
For Mankatha, a huge crowd turned up in Dharavi but Ajith Sir offered great co-operation and boldly faced all the problems. A.M.Rathnam gave me full co-operation for Arrambam and we shot in Mumbai for about 80 days. We went to Dubai and Madhya Pradesh as well and it was a great experience. I worked with Vishnu on Sarvam too. 
Any memorable experiences other than your shoots
Before the release of Sivaji, Shankar Sir threw a big party in Chennai’s ECR where right from Rajini Sir, Rahman Sir, Vaali Sir to the last light boy, the entire crew participated. Special food items and imported drinks were brought in for the party and I supervised the entire show. It was great. 
Sunder Raju concludes by narrating his special experiences with both Thala and Thalapathy over the past three years
“I have had the opportunity to work back to back with both Ajith and Vijay. Both of them are great friends in real life and I can never forget the instances when Ajith cooked Biryani for the Mankatha - Velayutham crew numbering to about 400, and Vijay gifted a TAG watch in return to Ajith. They will forever be friends and I wish to tell this to their fans. 
Vijay makes sure that his producer isn’t compromised in any way and he is very committed, sincere and punctual to the sets. Ajith is always humble and never demands any star treatment. He wishes everyone on the sets every morning and results in a fresh start to every day. Both of them are very dedicated and I am very happy to travel with these two mega stars since the past few years.”


An interview with production controller Sundar Raj

People looking for online information on Ajith, Arrambam, Mankatha, Sivaji, Sundar Raj, Thuppakki, Vijay will find this news story useful.