Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 09:34

Bhama Devi| The News Minute| July 15, 2014| 9.00 am IST

On an average at least three new Tamil films release every week, and the build up to the Friday release is as much a business and an art form today as directing a movie itself. Audio launches and trailer releases are extremely professional, and across all media platforms there is room for daily film trivia . Responsible for such behind-the-scenes revolution in Tamil cinema are PROs like ‘Nikkil'.

His press meets are normally crowded affairs where some 300 media persons would turn up. When it is a Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth presser, you would be lucky to find floor space to park both your feet in a hall that can otherwise comfortably sit 500. If a celebrity wedding is underway, get set for excellent choreography-- his team would mail high resolution images to media in real time. Nikkil himself would be there to answer queries from journalists present on scene, and responding to interview requests, uploading pictures/info on twitter, even while ushering in the stars without missing a beat. His car is in effect a work station fitted with state of the art communications equipment, and his tech-savviness can match any Hollywood studio executive.

And no, he did not go to IIT or IIM, or a film institute, but his starting point is one most of us are familiar with: a love of movies. “ One look at my face in the mirror and I said, “fail” (as an actor). To be a director you have to be very creative which I am not. My grandfather TS Chockalingam was the first editor of Dinamani , so I decided to do a diploma course in film journalism from Mysore University. When I came across the portions on PROs, I knew I was made for it because I have always been good with people and am often praised for my interpersonal skills,” he recalls, in a chat after the screening of Ramanujan, the Gnana Rajasekaran directed bio pic on the math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Tamil cinema has become a vibrant industry today, rolling with indie films, superstar blockbusters and the refreshing ones by debutant film makers, and Nikkil represents all of them, stars, actors, stresses, technicians, directors and producers. In a personality-driven industry , where the PRO’s role was traditionally that of a ‘manager’ how did Nikkil break the mould? It did not happen overnight and Nikkil worked as an assistant PRO in television. “I interviewed with ABCL Corporation when they planned to make a Tamil film and JD-Jerry were happy with me, and I got my first break into movies with Ullasam ,” says Nikkil.

Between 1997 and now, Tamil cinema has undergone a sea change, moved from socially conscious films to mass films as well as small films with huge hearts, the promotion of each a huge challenge in itself, a period when Nikkil led the metamorphosis in the Tamil film PR industry. First Nikkil started flooding the media with pictures and videos, that were previously tough to access, soon there was a website and mobile app. "I am going to also introduce show timings of every movie on the app. It is all about technology and connecting the star to the fan in a better way."

Today, PROs such as John, Riaz Ahmed have also embraced technology, are on WhatsApp , Facebook and Twitter. “The concept of PR was just beginning when I entered the films, and I was convinced that I should make this a very professional exercise,” recalls Nikkil of his early days. 

The going was tough since the stars were comfortable with the prevailing arrangement, but he kept pitching for a more professional way of doing things, and the tide turned. Artistes saw the merit in his mantra that stars “should be easily approachable but not easily reachable.” Nikkil has represented Kamal, Rajini, Suriya to emerging artistes.

There are days when things do not go the way he has scripted them, and “that is when I have to think on my feet and prove myself,” he says. He recalls the press meet of Rajinikant’s Baba held at Raghavendra Kalyana Mandapam. The hall was overflowing with local and national media, and Rajini read out a prepared speech. A journalist asked Rajini, “Are you saying ‘do not vote for DMK’ ?” Nikkil hinted to Rajini they should be leaving, and Rajini left the hall after thanking the media. “Little later he called me and asked why I prevented him from taking that question. I told him that however he replied, ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ the answer would be political. Then, no one would write about the film. Rajini really appreciated the dichotomy,” says Nikkil. 

Recalling the media frenzy over Viswaroopam , Nikkil says that it snowballed into a people’s issue, and everyone wanted to champion the cause.
Being a movie buff, Nikkil’s conversations are like parables. Ask him something and he will respond with a classic dialogue from films of yore. “My mentor director K Balachander had a fabulous dialogue in the film Neer Kumizhi , “During your learning days, you have to study and write an exam..in life you undergo the tests and then learn”. I simply apply that philosophy to my life everyday,” he adds.

What is it like to be so powerful, we wonder. Nikkil laughs and says, “The day you think like that is the beginning of your downfall. Do the job. People should say, “Nikkil is coming, and not “Nikkil is also coming,” he says adding more punch dialogues.

(The story is part of a series on people behind the stars)

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