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Lights, action minus Vivek

The river and the bridge, the old buildings and the winding lanes, the trams and the Metro — all adding up to a unique character that is Calcutta. The dream of capturing the city of contrasts has driven Mani Ratnam — despite dissuasion from crew and comrades — to Calcutta in the monsoon of 2003.

And even the broken leg of one of his leading men, that forced him to abandon the city, and his own ill-health, that forced his hospitalisation, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the director on Thursday.

Grinning, waving and doing the thumbs-up to the clicking cameras and eager fans shouting “it will be a hit film” at BM Birla Heart Research Centre, the 47-year-old seemed in high spirits on his release around 7 pm on Thursday.

Momentarily confused when he lost wife Suhasini in the melee, he soon regained his footing and played to his captive audience, unconcerned with the pushing and shoving going on around him.

While hospital sources said Ratnam was “still a little weak”, the man famous for his aversion to the spotlight appeared to enjoy being the centre of attention during his departure from the hospital, with a benign smile on his face and looking relaxed in an ash-coloured safari suit.

And on Friday, the director promises to be back in action, after a 36-hour lay-off. “Many of us had tried to convince Mani about the various logistical and other problems that Calcutta posed for a unit on a long shoot,” said a unit member. “But he was absolutely stuck on this city and after extensive locale hunts, we decided on capturing various elements of Calcutta.”

Topping the list on Mani Ratnam’s must-capture list was Vidyasagar Setu, with its wide expanse across the Hooghly and framed against the July sky.

The rain-drenched Setu slope was also something that the director was keen on canning, to enhance the look and feel of some action sequences involving the three leading men — Ajay Devgan, Abhishek Bachchan and Vivek Oberoi.

But then, things skidded horribly out of control on Wednesday evening, sending Vivek to Calcutta Medical Research Institute (CMRI) with two broken bones in his left leg and Mani Ratnam to BM Birla with fever, dehydration and low blood pressure.

On Thursday morning, while the actor flew back to Mumbai, the director underwent “some tests and a check-up”, before being declared in “stable condition” and fit to return to work.

“Nothing can keep Mani sir away. He wants to get back to work right away,” one unit member declared.

Back in Taj Bengal — where Mani Ratnam, accompanied by Suhasini, arrived just after 7 pm, the unit of the yet-unnamed Madras Talkies film spent the off-day largely indoors.

The two other leading men, Ajay and Abhishek, spent quite some time in the hotel gym, out of which close to an hour was on the treadmill.

After an extended adda session in Abhishek’s room — where Shaad Ali, director of the Vivek-starrer Saathiya also showed up — it was lunchtime. Abhishek and Ajay settled for some “simple Bengali food” at The Hub. Enjoying pride of palate on the table for the Bollywood big boys was fish curry and rice, by executive chef Surinder.

Kareena Kapoor, meanwhile, left the hotel to see Mani Ratnam at BM Birla, before “disappearing” till evening.

The cameras will roll again on Friday. Vivek, of course, will be missing in action, which means that the unit will have to be back for the climax. The rest, involving Abhishek, Ajay, Kareena and then Rani Mukherjee, is supposed to stay on schedule, with locations including the second Hooghly bridge, the underground, the tramcars, the city’s business hub and heritage spots.

So, the Madras Talkies show must go on.

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