Nag Ashwin is just a film old. The director made his debut with Nani and Vijay Devarakonda starrer Yevade Subramanyam. In a Facebook live, Nag opens up on why he decided to make a film on Savitri’s life and why Keerthy Suresh was the only choice.
Why Keerthy Suresh?
It was like an instinct. Maybe, Savitri garu chose her through our instinct. We had lots of options. We were looking for senior actors, newbies and many different people but for some reason, I felt she is the right person. There was no work that she had done before which would allow me to convince others (in the crew). So, I had to just sit and say ‘believe me, believe me.’ It took me a while but finally, it worked out.
Her performance is spot on. She is really good. Somewhere halfway through the film, she went a level up. We shot the interval scene, she was spot on. Without any cue, the tears would drop at the right moment.
Did you spot a resemblance between Savitri and Keerthy Suresh?
Now it looks great after the visual, costumes and everything. But there was something in her eyes which matched the playful innocence Savitri garu had.
How did you prepare for Mahanati?
There are five books on Savitri garu that we read. We met a lot of people who have worked with her but more than anything it was from her family that we got the inside information. Her daughter and son have been very supportive and helpful. We had more information than we could put in the movie but what we needed was to understand what she would have felt at that point. What could be her emotion?
Why a film on Savitri?
Majorly, two reasons. If we think about legends in cinema history, you would think of so many people. Sivaji Ganesan, SV Rangarao, NTR, ANR and so many more. They are the foundation of our industry. Savitri garu is the only one who has worked with all of them in their best films.
I thought if all these great people have one person in common, what is her story? What did this person do to walk shoulder to shoulder with an entire generation of legends? Also, when you watch her films, you never see her as an actor. She lives her character. That makes her close to the audience and that is something people should not forget or miss out on.
You are one movie old and she has done over 264 films. How did you get the confidence to make this film?
I was ignorant of her magnitude. You could probably get scared but if you just run through, you find a way. I felt it is better to make the film now. After you do a couple of films, your mind becomes conditioned. You know the market. You worry about flops, hero dates and all. If you get into that zone then you cannot make a film honestly. Right now, I do not care much. I can make it (film) completely the way I want. Savitri garu deserves an honest film, so thought it is the right time.
Who is your favourite character?
Don’t know about the character but I loved working with Rajendra Prasad. For me, he was fun and a revelation. He is full of energy. He is Nani in a way but 20 years later. He has spontaneity, keeps entertaining the entire crew and has endless stories to tell.
What about Dulquer Salmaan?
When I talked to Dulquer about the role of Gemini Ganesan, I was already thinking about few others by then. It was almost like we were kind of sure that why would someone, who is comfortable in his own industry, take the risk to play Gemini Ganesan. But we had to try and give our best.
I told Dulquer and wasn’t expecting anything beyond ‘my dates are busy’. He kind of said his dates are busy but immediately said how would we work it out. He wanted to be part of it but his main thing was he didnt not know Telugu. So for somebody who has a certain amount of following to come and perform in a language he doesn’t know is brave. He did a great job.
They (Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Vijay Deverakonda, Dulquer and the supporting star cast) coming together for Savitri’s biopic is an incredible direction as these people would show the future way to the industry.
How was it working with Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Ruth Prabhu?
They hold the film from wherever they are. To be able to hold the film takes special kind of actors and presence. I think that is the reason why I was behind their life to be a part of this film.
Any other biopic in mind?
No more biopics for a long time.
You recreated Mayabazar. Any plans to recreate an iconic film?
We have a short portion of Mayabazar in the film. But after that, I don’t really want to touch it, people will curse me. It is such an epic. It is difficult to match the technical stuff they did 60-70 years ago. Forget about costumes, sets and everything else. Sangeethan garu, who worked in Mayabazar, was on our set and he would tell us that they would choose a certain colour for Sasirekha aka Savitri’s bed in Mayabazar, shoot and check on projection if the curtain looks bright or so. That much research went into it. So, remaking it will be difficult.