An experience of lifetime

An experience of lifetime

Yevade Subramanyam’ was released in 2015, when new age cinema was still a word that was associated with Hindi cinema – and was called by a pseudonym...

‘Yevade Subramanyam’ was released in 2015, when new age cinema was still a word that was associated with Hindi cinema – and was called by a pseudonym multiplex cinema. Telugu movie by a debutant Nag Ashwin, with Nani who was yet to make his place in the industry and the newcomers then Vijay Deverakonda, Ritu Varma and Malavika Nair, shot for the first time at Everest Base camp was innovative in many ways.

Yet the film producer Priyanka Dutt and Swapna Dutt banner went ahead with the project and the film struck a chord with Telugu audience and went on to become a super hit.

One would have expected the young brigade to come up with yet another youthful entertainer with a storyline that probably breaks a few stereotypes in Telugu filmmaking, but two years ago Nag Ashwin announced he would be making a biographical film on Mahanati Savitri.

The legendary actress whose life has seen exceptional success, unlimited adulation, unsurmountable drama and a tragic ending – and above all millions of South Indian audiences that continue to idolise her decades after her demise – making a life-story of such an exceptional person is no mean task. If there was anyone who was the most conscious of these aspects, it has been Nag Ashwin.

“I have grown up watching Savitri Garu’s films. I have had great admiration for her. And the thought of making a film on her has been there even before I made ‘Yevade Subramanian’. When I decided to make the biography, it was because I did not want anyone else to make it and spoil it. And when I make it I wanted it to be a true tribute to her. I did not want to commit any mistake.

It had to be in such a way that if she would have watched it, she would have said – Good Job,” Nag Ashwin shares. For a project this close to his heart, Nag was also conscious of the challenges. “The film has to appeal to my grandmother and my younger sister too has to like it. In fact, this film is going to be on her entire life, and hence with so much history, so many good films; what to retain, what to recreate, and what to leave out has been a challenge, so as to fit the film in the duration that is commercially viable. At the end of the day, the film has to be a success, otherwise, it cannot be an apt tribute,” he explains.

Recently, a few stills and a couple of song trailers have been released, and with the first look itself, several of the doubts have been put to rest; the foremost being Keerthy Suresh’s choice for the role. “We had looked at several people and every possibility. I heard of Keerthy’s work in ‘Nenu Sailaja’; I didn’t think much of it. I saw her in a Tamil film with Dhanush, and in one of the songs I saw she did something with her eyes, that made me instinctively decide it had to be her.”

Dulquer enacts Savitri’s husband and superstar Gemini Ganesan, actor Naga Chaitanya is chosen to play his grandfather, the legendary Akkineni Nageswara Rao, who along with Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao who acted in most of her films. However, the team has decided to keep the actor chosen to play the much-loved NT Rama Rao as a surprise. The film is sure to throw up several other such surprises when it releases on May 9.

“It was a great experience recreating the scenes, every old song that we were trying to recreate like the one in ‘Mayabazar’, the B&W visuals, the shooting scenes, we had to work on the costumes, the right jewellery, had to get the angles right, the background perfect; it was a whole lot of research and recreation that went in,” adds Nag.

It took two years to complete the story after reading several books and listening to interviews, and programmes on her. “Her children Vijaya and Satish have been a great help. Through my writing process, I also depended on various anecdotes that people shared.”

“All of the actors have been really good. A director is as good as the actors. When they were given a stream of an idea the actors owned it and have taken the responsibility. Everyone worked as if it is their own. The producers Priyanka and Swapna have always been generous when they believed in a project. Once they began working for ‘Mahanati’ they looked at it as a pure tribute to the great actress, and did the best and more,” he shares.

As every day passes by, and the day of the release closes in, more facets of filmmaking are revealed, and with each such revelation the conviction of the filmmaker and the team is further revealed and a promise of a great tribute to the much loved Mahanati is only becoming stronger.

The cherry on the pie is the much talked about Director of Photography Dani Sanchez Lopez, who has earlier shot a music video for the Hindi film, ‘Byomkesh Bakshi’. He has not just recreated the various moods and incidents in Savitri’s life, but also reshot the various popular scenes from her films, especially ‘Mayabazar’, that was originally shot by the eminent Marcus Bartley, the cinematographer.

“I am too busy to soak in any of this. I will only feel the impact of the entire process after the release,” relates Nag Ashwin, who is currently busy wrapping up the post-production.

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