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Post mortem - Republic by Deva Katta
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Ritesh Rana

What is this post mortem?
Idlebrain.com is starting this exclusive, explosive and exciting section called Postmortem, where we conduct a postmortem of the latest releases. We shall be discussing and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the movies with their respective directors as to why those films have become hits/flops. We request the directors to give us their honest and frank opinions.

25 November 2021
Hyderabad

INTRODUCTION
On the eve of REPUBLIC landing on Zee5 OTT platform, I would like to take this opportunity to revisit the entire journey of REPUBLIC and retrospect for the record.

THE GENESIS
All my stories start with a pitch-line and a basic perspective. I keep layering it brick-by brick. “We are living under the illusion that we are a democracy but we are yet to discover it”. That’s the seed of REPUBLIC. I came to that conclusion about our country while writing Autonagar Surya. I know it’s a strong statement but it’s an absolute fact that most of us agree 100%. Who is responsible for this illusion? Who is responsible for this failed state in the name of “democracy”? Is it our lack of understanding or our irresponsible behaviour or our culture of thought?. Our political ambiance is nothing but our culture of thought. Most of the time, we take decisions that are dead against our long-term self-interests. I wanted to explore and expose and debate all these questions thematically in Republic. What is a perfect system? Is it even possible? We cannot expect all human beings to be good natured and rational, for most of the time they are irrational. That quest is REPUBLIC. I should not only talk about the symptoms, disease but I must also talk about a possible close to perfect solution. For this I must define and illustrate a functioning democracy through a particular case. We call that “plot devise” in screenplay terminology. The same plot devise must be used to demonstrate/reflect the present failed scenario wholistically as a metaphor and incriminate everyone (not just the filmy antagonist) responsible for the failure, though I need an antagonist for effective storytelling. If I follow the routine superhero solution in the story, I’m only adding to the problem I want to expose, address, and debate. We have seen many superhero films or rather we are only seeing superhero films. For once I wanted to make a film with a real-life hero, the real-life soldier/martyr who dies defining/protecting the borders of an effective democracy.

“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

THE INTENT
We are all fighting for our life. Our breaches and our moralities are all defined by that fight for life. The basic (five or six) needs/desires of 800 Crore people are the same across the world but the paths we choose to fulfil those needs/desires are different from each other. That’s what makes us 800 Crore different characters. What keeps us form becoming violent feudal creatures while fulfilling those needs/desires is law, order, and governance. But at the same time, we are “ONE LIFE”. A “system” draws lines to protect that LIFE…all life. My philosophy of good and evil is simple; whatever is “Pro-Life” is good and whatever is “Anti-Life” is bad. This is explained in the metaphorical Devil Fish sequence in the beginning of the film itself and how it is alluded to the subject as a perspective.

THE RESEARCH
To achieve my goal, I needed to understand effective governance/polity starting from the very genesis of democratic thoughts of Greek philosophers, the first Republic Roman Empire and all the way up to modern scholars like Jayaprakash Narayan. I must understand the “natural law” that unifies environment, life, man, and society to define an orderly governance. An effective understanding of law, order and governance only comes from a deeper understanding of interconnected nature of the very phenomenon called LIFE. I have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on Amit Varma’s “The Seen and The Unseen”, read several books all the way from Plato’s Republic, Nietzsche “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” to “How to Win An Indian Election” by Shivam Shankar, “Malevolent Republic” by Kapil Komireddi. The first thing I discovered through my research is that my plot devise must be an environmental issue to have a wholistic view. The most relevant environmental issue I could discover is Kolleru. It’s part of our culture. Since I took it only as a metaphor to the system, I changed the name to “Thelleru” as everything shown in the film about Kolleru is only partly true and rest is fiction. The plot devise provided all the elements needed to layout my themes and disturbances; the common man struggling to make ends meet in which one is killing environment and the other is trying to protect it as both their livelihoods depend on the lake. The first dharma here is to protect that life-source. It brings in a manipulative power thirsty politician, the caste equations, mob mentality, street rowdies, police, civil servants, health officers, doctors, victims, criminals and what not. Everything comes as a package with this plot devise. Based on the researched facts on the issue, I changed the name to “Thelleru” because I needed to fictionalise the story to achieve the impact as my mission is to reflect and define the system, not the lake. The lake is only a metaphor. I first defined the thematic tent poles, chose characters, their backstories, motives with opposite perspectives within that world.

TIMELINES
Though the seed of the story have been there for several years, effectively it took me 4 months to lock the screenplay, 3 months to prep for the film, 64 days of shoot and 3 months of post-production to complete the film.

CASTING
“We are living under the illusion that we have a governance and we are a democracy but we are yet to discover it”. That’s all I needed to utter to Tej one day when we were working out in gym. He latched onto the idea and kept me focussed on it until we realised it as our dream project. If it wasn’t for the strength with which he came after the project, I might have chosen a more light-hearted script as my next venture. I am now very glad that we did Republic. During the first draft of our script, the villain character was called Markandeyulu, a seventy year old career politician. It was Tej who came up with the idea of switching the character into a female. That infused a lot more poetry and meaning to the whole subject during my second draft of writing. The Darwin theory scene was born after making this change. It became the heart of the subject matter. Right from the first draft I couldn’t imagine anyone other than Jagapathi Babu gaaru for Dasaradh’s character (father) who represents the day-in-day out fallen hero within the grind of the current system that “punishes the right and rewards the wrong”. Being a big fan of Aishwarya Rajesh from Kakka Muttai, felt this is the right project to work with her. Most of the rest of the casting we auditioned and finalised. I somehow felt Rahul Ramakrishna can play lot more than a sidekick in films. So wanted to see him as a serious character in the. We feel very happy about our casting choices now.

BEING SINCERE TO THE IDEA
Tej always used to tell me “Sai Dharam Tej is doing Deva Katta’s film and not the other way around”. As I am still chasing that elusive instant theatrical blockbuster in my career, it is easy to side-track and detach from the mood of the story. I have decided if I want to make comedy I will make a comedy film, if I want to have songs, I will make a musical. Let me rather stick to the genre instead of trying offer a buffet like everyone else. My kinds usually fall through those cracks and I have fallen before. Whatever we do must come from our heart. Worst that can happen is even if the film doesn’t become an instant theatrical mass puller, it will bring back the respect I lost after Prasthanam as a sincere filmmaker. So, staying sincere to the idea was our primary goal with this film. We decided to work on a gripping/engaging narrative within those boundaries.

GENERAL AUDIENCE’ VERSUS CLIMAX IMPACT
Right from the ideation phase, myself, Tej, Satish (Creative Producer) and Screenplay partner Kiran knew if we change the last ten minutes of the film it will become a regular commercial film and the movie may do lot a more numbers but will be forgotten in the long run. Even though we may lose the masses with their cultivated taste of watching films, we wanted to serve for those who meet with our sensibilities in theatre as our primary target. Each of those hearts we have won with the film are equal to thousand voices. It’s a “gutsy” film, “brave” film, “experimental” film, “unique” film all this is only possible because we did not have any second thoughts about the last 10 minutes of the film. Many from the film industry suggested that we should have to ended the film on a high note in the tribunal court. That’s their film on a short run but this is our film in the long run.

RECEPTION
The kind of personal messages, calls, tweets, SM postings and comments below every interview within ten days after the release were more in magnitude than what I received for Prasthanam in a year. By the third day we realized those who saw the film were deeply shocked, disrupted, disturbed, and impacted by the film assuring that it will keep growing into our lives just like Prasthanam. I made sure to hit the like button and preserve them on my twitter timeline. Just sharing very few of those moments that I can think of on top of my head.

- A Chennai based Assistant Director who was shooting in Warangal, watched the movie in Tanali on his way back to Chennai, called and wept for half an hour saying that he felt like he is baptized after watching the film. A YouTube comment saying that “I want to do a PhD on this film”.

-Srinivas Kanchibhotla’s ramblings on idlebrain.com quoting “Dev Katta's "#Republic" is not merely a movie; it is a social treatise about the systemic malaise. Outstanding!”; http://idlebrain.com/research/ramblings/republic.html

-Journalist Murthy gaaru’s comment: “సమాజానికి తన నగ్నత్వాన్ని తనకే పబ్లిక్ గా చూపించిన నిలువుటద్దం ఈ రిపబ్లిక్. సెల్యులాయిడ్ తో నిగ్గదీసి అడిగాడు సిగ్గులేని జనాన్ని…అగ్గితోటి కడిగాడు సమాజ జీవఛ్ఛవాన్ని”

-Ganesh Ravuri’s tweet stating “Films like #Republic are very rare. Brutally honest and hardhitting. @IamSaiDharamTej's earnest performance and @devakatta's sincere approach makes it a must watch.”

- Our West Godavari distributor calling and saying that he distributes all the big, budgeted films and he is immensely proud to have REPUBLIC in his catalogue even if he loses some money on it.

- Apart from public and freelancers, all the print media reviews like Indian Express, The Hindu, Times of India and Hindustan Times. Jeevi’s review headline “A brave experiment”

IMPACT OF POLITICS ON THE FILM
Yes I do have to confess that the movie became a political target having nothing to do with the ongoing politics. It’s rather about the disease at the roots of our democracy and not about parties or persons. Those who watched the film have owned it that way beyond personal political affiliations. The ruling party supporters alienated the film thinking that it’s against them because the tone of the film is anti-establishment. In that tone whoever is in power would tend to view it that way. They have decided to hate the film without watching it. I’m sure they will regret if they watch it now. Pawan Kalyan gaaru wanted to exhibit the spirit of the film by voicing his thoughts on various issues on the stage. That entire speech turned into a war of personal attacks and an indirect attack on the film. On the other hand, the opposition party thought as if it as Janasena agenda and distanced themselves. Many industry friends called me and appreciated the film deeply but were scared to voice it on social media due to this noise. I thank those whoever voiced for the film strongly despite this unfair polarisation of neutral voices. It’s a very dangerous symptom of the very disease our democracy is currently suffering. I’m sure watching on OTT everyone will realize our film didn’t deserve that alienation or hatred during its theatrical run.

FINANCIALS AND FOOTFALLS
The movie took off with a very strong Word Of Mouth, but we wish it translated into more footfalls in theatres. I disagree with some critics branding our film as “only for intellectuals” and not for masses etc. Someone who owns a tyre shop in a small town put up a video vouching/explaining the film better than many intellectuals. I’m wondering if someone can explain the footfalls in the following cases; A couple of 100 Cr films with unanimously raved reviews couldn’t draw 4-5 Cr share in theatres with all languages put together but a couple of totally rejected films by critics with a completely outdated masala content posts better numbers than these lauded 100 Cr films. A recent Telugu film with a very good Word Of Mouth doesn’t even post one fifth of the numbers of what a slap stick comedy posted. People rushed to theatres for half-baked films with bad Word Of Mouth and came out with complaints. Which rating system can explain this phenomenon? Are most audience only looking for celebrative movies in theatres even if there are half-baked and outdated? Are they waiting for content films only on OTT? I don’t know and I don’t think anyone knows. I wish we rather stick to evaluating the intent and impact of every film instead of trying to catch this “22”. One thing is sure in our case, if we weren’t politically isolated by a section, I wouldn’t even be having this section in this article. One can only aim to make a “good” film and not a “bad” film. We succeeded in that and we will forever celebrate that. I also don’t need those filmmakers discouraging me from making clean films and encouraging me to make comedies like my debut Vennela etc. etc. I would only listen to those filmmakers who can make clean films and advise me on how to connect with wider audience with such films. All said and done, for the budget within which we made the film, the producers made close to a double-digit Cr before release. Though the distributors were short by 4.5 Cr, taking the producers profit into account, we are still 5-6 Cr ahead overall. I’m hoping Zee will realize more value through remakes as we go forward.

REGRETS AND REMAKES
If I’m given an opportunity to remake Republic these are the only things I would change to protect the integrity of the subject:

- Post release while watching the movie in theatre, both myself and editor Praveen felt that the biggest blunder we made is bringing in rolling titles by letterboxing the climax song visuals. There is a closure to Ramya’s character as well in those visuals. 60% of the theatre obviously get up and walk out as soon as the rolling titles starts. This decision was taken to keep the movie length strictly around 2hrs30 minutes. The lesson is…sometimes it’s not only about those minutes we save, but it is also about those we keep

- Will approach the first two songs of the film differently. Would make them more integral with the mood of the film throughout. I have been thinking a lot about how the master filmmakers like Mani Rathnam approach the same content.

-Would approach the staging and blocking of every scene more effectively.

- Though it is one of the most favourite scenes for many, there is a lot more untapped cinematic energy in the “war of the mobs” sequence - the lake battle in the second half of the film. I’m wondering how magnificently Rajamouli gaaru would have conceived and shot that sequence.

- Though content wise the Darwin theory sequence (Ramya and Tej encounter in the second half) is the heart of the film and widely lauded, visually, and aesthetically it can be shot much better.

DIRECTOR’S COMMENTARY VERSION ON ZEE 5
When Jeevi suggested to release a version of the film with Director’s Commentary on OTT it struck as a brilliant idea to me. Yes the movie does have a lot of nuances, themes and layers that may not sink fully on first watch. After reading many social media postings where some people have seen in it 2 or 3 times in theatres and discovering newer details, we felt they deserve a Director’s Commentary version to analyse. The viewers will have two versions available on Zee5 app. One, movie as is, two, movie with Director’s Commentary where I was discussing the nuances, thought process, decisions, shoot challenges etc. along with my Editor Praveen KL, Screenplay partner Kiran Kumar and Creative Producer Satish BKR. You deserve this effort from us and hope you enjoy it.

NEXT STEPS
Currently working on a very exciting new idea which is almost ready in full shape. Will soon be pitching it to a hero with whom I’ve been dreaming to work with for a long time. I have a very sensible team of writers and director aspirants with whom I would like to venture into OTT project in parallel once the movie project gets on track.

END NOTE
The film belongs to all of us, reflects all of us and unifies us all. By being blindly loyal to one perspective, one person or a party, we are only living as slave “subjects”, not free “citizens”. Our only loyalty should be to protect the core values of democracy. For that we need to understand what democracy is, how it functions and what state are we at this point. This debate was necessary on film medium and I am so glad that I had this opportunity to educate myself and present it to you as a neutral voice. Let’s be free and work towards building a system that works for all. Please share your thoughts after watching the film. Will soon publish REPUBLIC screenplay just like what I did for Prasthanam. Thank you and see you soon in theatres with another story.



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