The temples of Angkor were filled with Bollywood singing and dancing this week, as film stars Srikanth and Neelam performed for the cameras for Om Shanti Om, the first Indian film to be shot in Cambodia, according to members of the film crew.
Chennai-based 8 Point Entertainment decided to shoot one of the film’s seven song sequences in Temple Town as producer Arumai Chandran was so taken with Angkor’s stunning backdrop.
“I’d heard about Cambodia and Angkor Wat, and the Vishnu temples,” says Chandran. “Vishnu is basically an Indian god. So I talked to my crew and we came to see whether we could shoot or not.”
Chandran was immediately convinced, and decided to make the location the first meeting point for the leading man and lady.
“I thought why don’t we start the love story in this tourist place,” he says. “The scene takes place in the middle of the film – it comes from a dream of both the hero and the heroine.”
Om Shanti Om deals with the main character, played by Srikanth, helping wronged souls find peace.
“It’s about the hero helping poor people who were affected by counterfeit medicine and passed away,” says Antony Basker, the film’s Singapore fixer. “They become souls and are roaming around the world.”
Chandran picks up the thread, “The souls find him and ask for help. They are looking for someone who is really going to help them to solve the problem, give them peace. It’s a very positive film with a social message about why we must help each other."
Being a Kollywood (South Indian Bollywood) film, naturally there had to be a certain amount of musical numbers.
“In India, without songs, people won’t see the movie,” Basker smiles.
Lead actor Srikanth agrees and says, “As you know, Indian movies are really into song and dance, which is an integral part of the script. What we’re shooting today is supposed to be one of those fantasy moments, an imaginary song.
“The film is set in India, in southern parts of Tamil Nadu. In this particular sequence we’re travelling across to various places. We shot another two songs in Singapore, which was a really urban background so we wanted to have something contrasting with that.
“It’s more about geographical beauty. Song sequences needn’t have a particular storyline, they allow people watching the movie to see different locations.
“So we wanted to take this culturally rich place across to the Indian people. There’s a lot of connectivity with the Indian community, it’s part of our religion also and not only that but, culture-wise, there are so many things we can pick up from here.”
The sequence was shot over three days at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and the Bayon. Srikanth, who has more than 35 films under his belt, says the main challenge of filming in Cambodia is the relentless heat.
“It’s extremely hot,” he laughs. “Not that India is very cold, but here it’s a little bit of a challenge because you can’t have damp clothes, and there’s makeup. You can’t afford to have sweat on screen. But you’re always profusely sweating. So you need to keep track of all that.”
Basker and Chandran believe the film will broaden the horizons of Indian audiences.
“This is going to be an eye-opener for the film industry in India,” Basker says. “In India Angkor Wat is very famous, but people don’t know about other temples – like Ta Prohm, Bayon. So after this movie people will really know there are many more things to see in Cambodia.”
The crew says filming went smoothly, facilitated by local fixer Pannir Selvam, owner of Dakshin’s restaurant, who liaised with both the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh and the Apsara Authority on the movie makers’ behalf.
“The embassy and Apsara really worked very hard to get this contract out in 24 hours,” says Selvam. “We didn’t close the temples, but Apsara provided a couple of people to help keep tourists away from the cameras. We didn’t really disturb the tourists though. Actually they were having fun – some of them were even involved in the shooting.”
Produced in the Tamil language with English subtitles, Om Shanti Om will be released in June and distributed in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and Europe.
“I hope after this many more Indian movies come here,” Srikanth says, “Because in India it’s movies, cricket, and politics. These are the three things, and cinema is something which does not have discrimination in terms of caste, creed and religion. It unifies us. People from different walks of life watch movies.”