Bhama Devi| The News Minute| July 17, 2014| 8.35 am IST
In the recently held general elections, Tamil film PROs such as ‘Diamond’ Babu had to walk a tightrope, since political parties wanted stars to campaign for their respective parties. “Most stars wanted to stay away from the political trail, so saying ‘no’ calls for a lot of diplomacy,” says Babu. As everyone knows, politics and cinema share a symbiotic relationship in Kollywood since so many political leaders have worked in the film industry, starting with MGR, M Karunanidhi, Jayalalithaa and Vijayakant. Hence, most political issues, such as the sharing of Cauvery river water or the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, take an emotional tone and stars are called in to ‘show their solidarity’. “While stars take their cue from the film chamber and other film bodies on Sri Lankan issues, when it comes to elections, they prefer to keep their counsel, and it is my job to see that there are no hard feelings,” explains Babu.
A towering personality, Babu’s is the classic case of a son obeying his father when it comes to his career. His father ‘Film News’ Anandhan is one of the earliest journalists, manager and chronicler of Tamil cinema, and he wanted his son to enter the film industry. Babu on the other hand was not too keen, having been raised in Delhi, he did not know to write Tamil. “I was comfortably employed in a bank in Delhi, but appa told me he wanted me to turn into a celluloid hero. My mother on the other hand, took a promise from me that I would never act. So, I held on to my bank job and also did the next best thing to satisfy both of them. I started the ‘Diamond’ film club and screened films for a close group at Devi Bala, Sathyam and Subham theatres,” says Babu, who represents ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan’s son Prabhu and his grandson Vikram Prabhu, as well as a number of other big producers like Kalaipuli Thanu.
Often, Tamil films faced some hiccups at the censors, and one such trouble was the reason Babu became a fully fledged PRO, since he realised that being knowledgeable in Hindi, (not many in the state were fluent in Hindi in those days), he could be a bridge between the north and the south. In 1984, when producer Chinnasamy (he later changed his name to Aabhavanan) wanted to convert a five minute documentary into a commercial film, Babu’s father canvassed for funds—the concept of crowd funding is not new – and Babu got drawn into the struggle and was made the PRO.
“In 1986, when ‘Oomai vizhigal faced some hurdle in getting the censorship, I was able to liaise with the tribunal in Delhi. The film, starring Vijaykant was a blockbuster hit,” recalls Babu. His next nine films were also successive hits and ‘people were wondering if Babu was a diamond merchant’. He had arrived as a ‘lucky’ PRO. His bigger day was yet to come—that achievement came when the Rajinkanth movie ‘Chandramukhi’ ran for 804 days.
However, not all were happy with Babu’s career switch, specially ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan. “He fired me for entering the industry, saying since I was such a bright student,” recalls Babu, adding that in those days films were not considered ‘an honourable profession for youngsters’.
But isn’t there a shady side to films? “There is a lot of misconception about the ‘casting couch’ and let me tell you that as PROs we do get ‘funny’ calls at night from some misguided people. In the film industry you have to work very hard, that is your mantra for survival,” says Babu who has worked in 486 films.
Currently, he is working in the Rajinikanth – Sonakshi Sinha film, “Lingaa”. Doesn’t he get a number of calls for exclusives and interviews? How does he deal with such things? “PROs have embraced technology and are now on mutil platforms such as facebook, WhatsApp , twitter etc, so can share the progress of a movie. When I entered the industry, our access to both stars and the media was through a telephone, but with the advance of technology, things can be speeded up. Whenever I message Rajini sir, he would get back even if it is 10 pm. But that does not mean he can give an interview to anyone, and I cannot push him, ” points out Babu.
Given that every PRO would want to work with the top stars, is there a lot of jealousy and bad blood among PROs? “There is no competition as such. Stars will leave me only if my work is poor. If you have a good rapport with everyone, they will call you,” says Babu . “However, with growing competition, and a nascent social media where people tend to post a star’s demise or hospitalisation without verifying ( it happened recently when rumours of MS Bhaskar’s illness were posted online), the next generation may find it difficult to reach the heights that we have reached,” he adds.
What is like, rubbing shoulders with celebrities, handling their tantrums and being a celebrity PRO himself? “All of us have our moods, why blame only stars? People who see us on television walking with a star may think this is all glamourous, but it is just a job. I am not a celebrity, I only walk in the shadow of a celebrity,” says Babu with a smile.
Our earlier story in the series- Nikkil- The showman behind the stars