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Interview with SS Raja Mouli by Jeevi
Date: 22nd September 2005

SS Rajamouli - one of the most stylish and powerful directors of Telugu cinema - delivered three consecutive blockbusters (Student No1, Simhadri and Sye). His next film Chatrapati is releasing on 30th of September. met Rajamouli at Prasad Labs for an exclusive interview. Incidentally, Rajamouli is a candid guy who speaks about anything without any hesitation. Here are the excerpts -

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The making of Rajamouli
Basically I belong to Kovvur (near Rajahmundry). I was born in Rayachur (Karnataka) and I belong to a farming family. I studied in Kovvur till 4th class and then shifted to Eluru. I studied till 1st year of Intermediate over there and took break for two years. Then I finished 2nd year of intermediate in Kovvur and then I decided to put a stop to my formal education.

I am a film freak since I was a kid. I got addicted to watching films. I never planned or dreamt of becoming a film director. Since I dropped out from education and my family is into films (father Vijayendra Prasad is story writer and cousin Keeravani is a music director), I decided to enter film industry. I started my career as an assistant to the editor Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao (he is the editor for all my films). Then I worked at AVM recording theater for few days. Then I assisted my father Vijayendra Prasad for six years. I used to give narration to film directors on behalf of my father. When I see the output after the film's release, I used to feel bad that none of those films were shaped up the way I imagined. That is when I decided that I could become a director and deliver the output the way I imagined. I also realized that there is no individuality for me if I work as an assistant to my father.

Long back, my father directed a film called Ardhangi, which went on to become a disaster. We went into debt trap as we were also involved in the production of that film. It took years for us to pick up and put the pieces together.

I packed my stuff and moved to Hyderabad from Chennai. At that time, Gangaraju was planning to direct his second film (which eventually never took off) after Little Soldiers. It was with Gangaraju I learnt about the practical aspect of filmmaking. I also realized that nobody helps anybody here and we gotta work hard to survive and succeed.

During that time, K Raghavendra Rao was appointed as the Electronic Media Adviser to the State Government. Myself and Chandu (Chandra Sekhar Yeleti of Aithe and AOR) approached Raghavendra Rao with concepts for TV spots. We were given TV ad spots to direct certain social message oriented commercials. I made my first earning through that. It was the most memorable moment of my life. Later on I did ads for Telugu Desam Party too.

Later on, I directed Santhi Nivasam TV Serial which was produced by K Raghavendra Rao. I worked like a maniac for one and half years. That period is the most arduous period in my life as I used to work for 17 hours a day. During that period I hardly watched 10 films. Even K Raghavendra Rao used to call me 'Rakshasudu' for the kind of rigorous work I put in. Inspite of all my hard work, K Raghavendra Rao used to give 5th priority to me among his protégés. Vara (director of Naa Alludu) was given first preference for all K Raghavendra Rao's works though I worked harder than all others.

Myself and Vara were selected to direct Student No.1 jointly. At that time Vara was directing two prime TV serials. And the producer thought that there could be confusion in direction if two guys direct it. Hence, Vara dropped out and I was confirmed.

That is how Student No.1 happened. There are 1000's of director wannabes who tap the doors of production houses everyday for a chance. I had every good thing happen to me just like that without even asking for it. I worked on Student No.1 right from the script level and delivered it.

After Student No.1 success, I was supposed to direct fantasy flick with Surya Prakash (son of K Raghavendra Rao) as hero. But his first film Neetho was a flop and budget for fantasy film is quite high. That is when they decided that it was economically not feasible and the project was shelved.

Though Student No.1 was a hit, the people in business circle attributed the majority part of the success to darsakatva paryavekshana of K Raghavendra Rao. I did not realize it as all the people who met me said that I did well as director.

VMC banner was making a film with NTR. Initially they shot some part of the film titled 'Kurrodu' and shelved it. Then they roped in Uday Shankar and shelved that one too. That is when I narrated Simhadri subject to NTR and he immediately accepted it. Actually that subject was supposed to be made in the combination of B Gopal and Bala Krishna. It was dropped in the last minute. Simhadri became a huge success. With the success of Simhadri, people started attributing the credit for the success of Student No.1 to me. It was like tasting two successes with one film.

I got plenty of offers after the success of Simhadri. But I deliberately made a decision not to make an emotionally charged mass film like Simhadri immediately. I don't want to get branded as mass director. I am the kind of guy who enjoys different genre films like Gharana Mogudu, God Father and Annamayya with the same fervor. Hence I did Sye, which is radically different compared to Simhadri.

Coming to Sye, I heard that you are one among those directors who increase the budget?
You are posing this question to the wrong guy. You should ask this query to the producers I worked so far. My producers know the real story and what I am. Even if I give an explanation, it does not do any good.

What is the response you got for Sye?
I got response from unexpected quarters. Youth immensely liked the film. Simhadri got me good image as director, but the appreciation came only from masses and the fans of NTR. I got more recognition as director with Sye than Simhadri.

I must tell you an exciting incident regarding Sye film. Willie Hateraka - coach of Indian Army's Rugby team - saw the film Sye and got very excited. Rugby is played in 144 countries. And International Rugby Board is looking for promotional material and they could find only 3 films worldwide with Sye being one among those films. Hateraka understood the emotions of the film though he cannot even understand English properly as he belongs to Maori sect of New Zealand. He also recommended me to the International Rugby Board as the director for their proposed feature film based on Rugby game.

You are regarding as one of the most stylish and technical directors of Telugu cinema. What is the secret behind it?
Most of the film is made on story table. As per the story, we do scenes division. For each scene, we do shot division. This is where the technique comes into play. The technique (crane, camera, lighting, movement, trolleys, filters etc) should be used while doing shot division. One should also know which emotion should dominate in that scene.

Which is more important film any film - Story or Technique?
Some people say that story should be given more emphasis than technique. But I feel that technique should be given as much importance you give to story. Telugu Movie lovers are exposed to Hollywood flicks on TV and we can only get them to theater to feel the experience with stories narrated with sound technique.

Most of our directors emote on sets in order to explain the scenes to the artists? What groundwork do you do?
For emotionally intense scenes, I stand in front of mirror and try to emote different ways of doing it. By doing so, I would get judgment about it. Some times, my wife gets scared by looking at my antics during mid-nights in front of the mirror.

What is screenplay?
In Hollywood, there is a specific definition for screenplay. Screenplay is a major department of filmmaking over there. But over here, we can't single out screenplay and define it. I can roughly say that it consists of scene order, dialogues and shot division. Screenplay, Story writing and direction are three things that are inseparable in Telugu films.

If screenplay is a joint effort, why do our directors take credit for screenplay? (Athreya once said, "screenplay anedi directors ki inti pera?")
I do not know about the other directors. I do take credit for screenplay, because it is me who steers the direction of story and narration.

Why do show so much of violence in your films?
I personally like violence. I feel that violence in a film is right if we substantiate the anger that causes the violence. Let me give you an example. If you are riding a bike and a car crosses you in a dangerous manner. When you ask that driver, he trashes your question in ridiculous manner. Then you get angry and want to kick that driver. In a similar way, if violence comes out of that kind of anger in films, it is very much justified.

You said that other directors could not give the output the way you expected while narrating the story? Could you able to deliver good output?
While making 'Student No.1' I realized about many practical difficulties. I gave an output of 85-90% compared to what I have imagined while preparing the story. I guess that is quite satisfactory.

What is Chatrapati all about?
This film is made on mother sentiment. This film also deals with the exploitation done to immigrants who come to India from the places far away and live without any official identity.

You told about the same immigrant issue to an interview given to a Newspaper. One of the IBDB members predicted that this film could be the rip-off of Al Pacino's 'Scarface'? What's your response?
Let me be honest. The story of this film is given by my father Vijayendra Prasad. He saw Scarface and got inspired by the point of immigrants' problems. But Chatrapati would have no scenic resemblance to the film Scarface.

Tell us about hero Prabhas's performance in this film?
Prabhas has looks and body language that has mass/action image written allover it. I wonder why he has not done any out-and-out mass film so far. All the films he has done so far are love subjects. Chatrapati is his first mass film. But, his histrionics are great. He is a thinking actor. He would ask me about the scene before and scene that follows for every scene in order to assess what exactly he needs to enact. That unique quality itself would take him to a very high level.

What is the duration of Chatrapati?
I came about 2:50 hours. It was the same length for Simhadri and Sye as well.

You must have seen the entire film of Chatrapati now. What is your judgment about the film?
We make the judgment of a film when we finalize the story. That is where the real judgment comes out. Entire shooting process is just manual labor. Most of the creative job is done in the story discussions. I must have seen each shot of the film for 100 times by now. So I can't give any judgment after watching the final product now.

You announced a film with NTR as hero in your home banner?
Yes. It would most probably take place once I complete my next film with Ravi Teja as hero.

What are the Telugu films that impressed you recently?
I liked Athadu. I also liked Andhrudu (hero Gopichand's performance), Aparichitudu (few brilliant scenes - rest is boring), Chandramukhi (terrific climax), Athanokkade (few shots) etc. I liked certain aspects in all these films. Arya is the only film (apart from Sye) I liked in total in the past one year, though the climax appeared routine. Among the heroines, I am amazed by the performances of Jyothika and Ramya Krishna in Chandramukhi and Narasimha respectively.

What are your favorite Hollywood films?
I like 100's of Hollywood flicks. My most favorite film is 'Brave Heart'. My top five favorite films are - Brave Heart, The Last of the Mohicans, Good Bad and Ugly, Terminator 2 and Indiana Jones series. I like action/adventure genre films the most.

You seem to be changing your hairdo and dressing style at random pace in the past one year. What is the reason?
I allowed my wife to take over my hairdo and dress selection (giggles)

Do you have any words of wisdom for director wannabes?
I got the chance of direction without even asking for that. A guy who struggled hard to get direction chance would give a better suggestion. But out of my own experience, I would like to give an honest advice to the first-film-hit directors. Please do not take advances from producers in jiff after your debut film becomes a hit. You would have trouble later.

Do you want to say anything to visitors of
Don't trust Jeevi! (giggles) Jokes apart, I never give messages to anybody - in person or through films!!

Other Interviews
Sameer Reddy
Marthand K Venkatesh (Editor)
Sayaji Shinde (Villain)
Shashank (Hero)
Gangaraju Gunnam (Producer)
Meghana Naidu (Heroine)
Venkatesh (Hero)
Gowri Mumjal (Heroine)
Deepak (Hero)
Siddardh (Hero)
MS Raju (Producer)
Chiranjeevi (Hero)


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