30 days From Chennai to Singapore
S'porean film-maker drives across 6 countries for new film
Earthquakes. Piracy. Border control issues.
These were the obstacles faced by the four-man team behind the Tamil language feature film Chennai2Singapore. They embarked on an epic 30-day road trip from the Indian city to Singapore - a distance of about 8,090km - in a trusty black Ford Endeavor SUV, lovingly dubbed "Lakshmi".
To add a creative twist to the trip, the team also released the seven songs from the film's soundtrack on YouTube in each of the seven countries they visited.
They left Chennai on Aug 12, drove through Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia, and arrived in Singapore on Sept 11.
Chennai2Singapore is a Kollywood romantic comedy about Harish, a struggling Indian film-maker who travels to Singapore looking for investors to finance his dream movie and who meets his love interest along the way.
The film is slated for release in February.
The India-Singapore collaboration is directed by Singaporean film-maker Abbas Akbar, who has won awards for his Vasantham TV dramas like cop show Vettai.
"We decided to do a road trip because we thought achieving something fraught with challenges sounded fun," Mr Abbas said in an e-mail interview with The New Paper.
"It also tied in with the movie's theme of a dream of a journey from Chennai to Singapore.
"Actually, you can do the trip by road in 21 days. If not for the delays along our path, we would have reached (Singapore) sooner."
The film's team, including Mr Abbas, his brother and producer Shabir Tabare Alam and soundtrack composer Ghibran, initially stopped for a break every night. (See report on right.)
But when they were delayed by earthquakes and landslides on reaching Bhutan, they drove through the night to reach Myanmar before their visas expired.
"On top of this, there was unrest in (India-Myanmar border state) Manipur, which resulted in government-ordered curfews," said Mr Abbas.
At the Thai border, they were prevented from entering Thailand due to a new rule requiring an additional permit from foreign vehicles.
"We were literally stranded in between Myanmar and Thailand without any country to go to," he said.
Their vehicle was seized and the team spent three days getting the required permit to get it back.
Said Mr Abbas: "During these delays, safety was a real concern...
"Our families were waiting anxiously for us. Once, when we completely lost connection to the outside world, it sent them panicking."
The team encountered another setback when songs for the soundtrack were leaked online, ahead of the intended release dates.
However, album sales remained strong and the Chennai2Singapore soundtrack even topped the iTunes chart for Tamil soundtracks in Chennai.
Despite the trip's many challenges, which led the team to consider abandoning the project midway, Mr Abbas has no regrets.
He described a magical moment when the team was racing up a mountain to reach Myanmar on time and suddenly realised they were at the peak and had just driven through clouds.
"There was a moment of silence, and then we started exclaiming like children. That was funny," he said.
Mr Abbas said the entire journey created fond memories for the team.
"It's definitely a story to tell to our grandchildren. It was a trip filled with hopes, fears and challenges."
Making waves in Kollywood
FAMILY AFFAIR: Musician and composer Shabir Tabare Alam co-producerd Chennai2Singapore, which his brother directed.
Shabir Tabare Alam co-produced Chennai2Singapore, which his brother Abbas Akbar directed.
The 31-year-old musician and composer, who rose to fame as the winner of singing competition Vasantham Star in 2005, is also known for his composition of the Tamil language National Day song Singai Naadu.
He is based in Chennai and has been appointed music director for upcoming Kollywood film Sagaa.
Shabir told TNP in an e-mail interview: "I turned down the offer to act and compose the soundtrack for Chennai2Singapore, to focus on my music career and Kollywood debut.
"Though it was my brother's film, Abbas and I both keep it professional and respect each other's space and decisions."
Shabir said he had to wear his entrepreneur hat as a producer for Chennai2Singapore and code-switch to being a full-fledged music artist for Sagaa.
He wrote the lyrics for seven songs in Sagaa and sang for four of them.
"In most Tamil films, music plays a crucial role. I prefer music over movies, as music is one of the best things that has happened to humanity," he said.
Though his daughters, aged seven and eight, are still learning to cope with moving to Chennai, Shabir said the move was necessary as he needed to capitalise on the growing opportunities for him in Kollywood.
Shabir will perform with his band, The Shabir Ensemble, at the Vasantham Live! Samarpanam concert in the Esplanade Theatre on Nov 18.