Director Mahi V Raghav said that making his latest movie Yatra, starring Megastar Mammootty in the lead role, was an educated risk, as he was aware that political films don’t usually click at the box office. However, Mahi said that he could not have been at peace with himself, had he chosen not to tell the story, which he describes as something that “fascinates” him.
Yatra is based on late political leader Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s walkathon across undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2003.
“I think this film has the potential to move the audience, irrespective of whether or not they know that person (YSR),” the director told indianexpress.com in a telephonic interview.
“I was very conscious not to write this film in the prism of YSR garu. You don’t really need to know YSR garu to like this film. It is a human drama. If you know him, it is going to add to your experience. If you don’t know him, you are still going to love the human drama. That was a challenge in terms of making this film,” he added.
Mahi V Raghav noted that he took a more grounded approach in writing the tale of YSR, instead of just feeding off his legend. “In terms of character, I just wanted to create someone who is humble, courageous, loyal and someone who values friendship. These are the traits which universally will be dramatic and would be loved. I focused on that parts, instead of creating larger than life image and it’s not my USP also,” he said.
The director was very specific about playing up the human drama, which he believes will ensure the commercial success of this film, apart from Mammootty’s performance.
“Given that this film was about a recent person and events, I had the luxury of meeting people who were part of his life. I got their first-hand accounts about him. And I also met people who made documentaries on him. I took that information and fictionalized parts to suit the format of my film,” he explained.
And yes, Mahi said he has “fictionalized” the first-person stories that he heard about the iconic political leader. The director candidly shared that he believes that there is no such thing as an “honest biopic” in mainstream filmmaking.
“There has never been an honest biopic. We have to keep in mind that the audience is not coming to see a documentary. They want to get entertained and that’s why they are paying money. And when we are making a film for this format, it our job as the filmmakers to tell a good story as much as possible. And we should forget about other things such as being chronologically or factually right,” he reasoned.
He contended that entertainment is what the audiences seek from a movie and not information. “There are hundreds of documentaries for that and the audience can watch it without any cost,” Mahi added.
The Anando Brahma director opined that the very medium of film was not conducive for making an honest biopic. “We are going to move timeline, we are going to club events, and characters. At the end of the day, this story has a structure meant for a specific medium and we need to achieve that. In the name of the biopic, we should not try to give some kind of authenticity or honesty to the film. It’s not true and it can never happen in the film,” he said.
Mahi V Raghav pointed out that the percentage of political biopics becoming a success was almost zero in the country. And yet, he saw the potential in the story and took the risk anyway. “The biggest challenge is political biopics have never worked in India. Take, for example, Iruvar or Periyar. The only film which was made by a white man (Richard Attenborough) was Gandhi (1982) that clicked on a commercial basis. This is something which I am aware of but still wanted to take the risk. I am betting on the drama part of Yatra, believing it could work,” he said.
And the formula he thinks that will break the jinx of political films failing commercially is not cramming the film with information. “I’m a follower of Rajkumar Hirani films. Every scene should be either emotional or entertaining. There is no information. The primary strength of this film (Yatra) is emotion. I think the audience will have an emotional connection with the story and will walk away empathizing with YSR garu,” he said.
The 34-year-old director said Yatra was a great learning curve for him as he got to watch Mammootty’s work closely. “I don’t like to say that I directed Mammootty. I just collaborated with him,” he said.
Raghav said working with Mammootty has made him a better director and he is more confident now that he can handle other actors easily in his future projects.
“After seeing him (Mammootty) approach the characters, it is now easier for me to direct other actors. I know his methods and techniques. I told him that he has made my job easier going forward as I can go and handle any actor now,” he noted.
Raghav had no qualms in saying that Yatra will be a Mammootty show all the way. “Without even exaggerating or flattering, I can tell no one could have done this role so perfectly,” he added.
Speaking more about Mammootty’s contribution to the film, the director revealed that the former himself wrote the entire script in Malayalam to get his lines in Telugu right. The three-time National-Award winning actor also enlisted the service of a dialogue assistant both on the sets and at the dubbing studio for the perfect diction of Telugu words.
“Once he knows the substance of his character, he builds on it. He is trying not to mimic someone else. He gets into the soul of the character. Because of his approach to the character, he stands apart,” said Mahi V Raghav.
“He got into the soul and spirit of YSR character and interpreted it in his own way. That’s the reason why it feels so real,” he added.
Yatra also stars Jagapathi Babu, Sudheer Babu, Suhasini Maniratnam and Rao Ramesh among others.