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Chitchat with Nagarjuna
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Nagarjuna is currently shooting for Kamakshmi banner’s latest film in the direction of VN Aditya at State Art Gallery, Kavuri Hills, Hyderabad. He is doing certain office scenes in the combination of Nayana Tara. met Nararjuna for chitchat about Sri Ramadasu, which is due for release on 30th of this month on the eve of Ugadi. Nagarjuna spoke very freely and gave lot of freedom to ask bold questions. Here are the excerpts -

March 27, 2006

Sri Ramadasu links
Overseas schedules

Did you do any homework for Sriramadasu?
No. I did not do any homework. It is all about day-to-day improvisation in Telugu films. If I do any homework, we do not know what is in the mind of film director. Basic homework about a scene is done in the morning with the director before we start the shoot.

Did you do any research about Ramadasu’s character?
I did not do any research. It was done by K Raghavedra Rao and writer Bharavi. Costumes department have taken care of costumes research. We also took some cinematic liberties. Otherwise the film will become documentary. But the basic essence of the story is what we learnt from the history.

What is the role of heroine in this film?
Historians did not write much about Kamala (wife of Sri Ramadasu). Since there is no scope for romance in the story, K Raghavendra Rao gave more importance to the husband and wife relationship. There is romance between the lead pair before marriage, but its insignificant.

Is there any digital color grading done for Sri Ramadasu in order to get uniform vintage look?
No. We have not done any color grading. We used natural colors and regular film processing.

Tell us about the special effects?
45 minutes of the film is loaded with special effects. For example all the scenes involving Lord Rama (actor Suman), we had to create aura and the magic around him using graphics.

You are teaming up with your father ANR again. How do you feel about it?
We had a bad experience 15 years ago with Iddaru Iddare film. But Sri Ramadasu is a historic film that everybody would talk about. He acted in the role of my guru Kabir Das. I completely follow his advices in the film. He is playing a Muslim character and I am playing a Hindu character. Both these characters say that the God is one.

How do you feel about getting historic films coming to you?
I would like to act even in epics like Mahabharata. But we should find a director and a producer who is convinced on making Mahabharata. I would definitely like to play some role in a film like Mayabazaar. Nobody attempted Annamayya film before. Nagayya attempted Sri Ramadasu and unfortunately it did not do well. Another interesting aspect is that both Annamayya and Sri Ramadasu are Telugus. K Raghavendra Rao attempted these films because these films reflect our culture.

How different is Nagarjuna’s Sri Ramadasu from Nagayya’s Sri Ramadasu?
The mood of this film is radically different.

Making such historical films like Sri Ramadasu is difficult. Did you face any unpleasant experiences?
The only bad memory we had is the unfortunate demise of Sunil Varma and Ramaraju who worked for Sri Ramadasu. Otherwise working for Sri Ramadasu is a pleasant and happy experience. I had such an attachment with this project that I felt upset when the shooting is over. I enjoyed every moment of it. And I kept my long hair for a few days even after the shoot was complete.

Tell us about the music of Sri Ramadasu?
I was fascinated by Paluke Bangaramayena and Nannu Brovamani songs in my father’s Andala Ramudu when I was a kid. These two songs make me quite nostalgic and I am happy that I am performing to these songs in Sri Ramadasu.

The music of this film has become a sensation. The original tunes of Sri Ramadasu keerthanas are highly classical. Keeravani customized these tunes so that even a common man can understand them. He took them close to the people.

Did you write Ramakoti while doing Sri Ramadasu film?
No. I did not!

Super’s music was the biggest hit in the last year and Sri Ramadasu’s music is a big hit in this year. What is your contribution in music of these films?
I sit down with music director for all the films that are produced by me. But the credit of Sri Ramadasu‘s music should completely go to the two geniuses K Raghavendra Rao and Keeravani. I trust them completely. There is no contribution from my side in Sri Ramadasu music.

During the time of Annamayya, there were no expectations. But for Sri Ramadasu, expectations are huge?
It is a bit of worrying factor. I have seen the entire film. I am sure that it will reach the expectations. Annamayya film is more like intellectual product. But Sri Ramadasu film will have lot of grass root emotions. Sri Ramadasu himself is from the masses. Music is going to be the backbone of this film. Picturization of songs is good and there is lot of emotional depth in the film.

What is the duration of the film?
It is of 2:30 hours duration just like any other regular film. The final print will have footage of 14,200 ft.

What is the number of working days?
82 days. Sri Ramadasu film is a result of very good efficient filmmaking. We wanted to finish in 75 days, but the sad demise of two unit members resulted in more number of working days. We exposed only 90 rolls. Now a days, I hear that many films are exposing footage of 2-3 lakhs ft. Sri Ramadasu is made under one lakh footage.

Will there be any religion related controversy in the film?
No. My father is doing the role of a Muslim and both of us believe that God is one. In fact, Sri Ramadasu would give nice communal message.

Which part of Sri Ramadasu’s life is narrated in the film?
We did a few scenes to establish the character of Sri Ramadasu in the beginning of the film. The film starts just before the marriage of Sri Ramadasu. He is a very happy-go-lucky type of guy. He becomes a Tahsildar. His life changes after becoming Tahsildar. This film also shows the contrast between the happy-go-lucky guy and the great devotee.

Does the new generation aware of Sri Ramadasu?
Yes. My son who is studying English medium school learnt about Sri Ramadasu in his English Non-detail even before I committed this project. When I told him that I am going to do Sri Ramadasu, he told that he know the story.

What are the liberties that are taken in story department of Sri Ramadasu?
The character of Kabir Das does not exist in the real life of Sri Ramadasu. Kabir Das is 200 years elder to Ramadasu. We introduced Kabir Das character and gave an explanation that he is great grandson of Kabir Das. We established Kabir Das as guru of Sri Ramadasu.

Who was the producer when the script was conceptualized?
When we completed the script, I wanted K Raghavendra Rao to produce it and he wanted me to produce it. We went for Konda Krishnam Raju as producer so that we could concentrate more on making of the film and histrionics than production of the film. Konda Krishnam Raju showed tremendous interest and both of us are very much satisfied with his work.

This film was supposed to be released for 24 December. What is the reason for such a delay?
Initially we wanted to release on 24 December. We could not finish the shoot. Then we wanted to go for Pongal. Then we wanted to release for 26th January. Then we shifted it to 23rd February as Maha Sivarathri special. Then distributors told us that 10th and inter examinations will start after a week of the film release. Since it is a historical film, we want everybody to watch it along with their family. We decided to wait for one more month and start the summer season with Sri Ramadasu release on 30th March.

This decision has become blessing in disguise for us. The graphics work got delayed. Keeravani wanted 30 days for rerecording instead of 15 days as he got inspired by the output. This extra time worked as a buffer.

Don’t you feel it risky to attempt such subjects like Sri Ramadasu?
We should feel scared if formula films are running well. I saw Rang De Basanti recently. It is not up to the actual trend. But it is a fantastic film. Films like Rang De Basanti and Lagaan gives you break and offer you freshness. I think being a historical and devotional film is the main asset of Sri Ramadasu. You feel really good listening to Sri Ramadasu songs as they are very different from fast beat and westernized songs you listen everyday. Sri Ramadasu film reflects our Telugu culture.

How different is Sneha compared to other heroines you worked with?
Sneha has complete South Indian looks. Her appearance and mannerisms fit the role to the tee. She epitomized Telugu girl’s essence. You know that she is a terrific actress. Every husband would like to have a wife like Kamala (played by Sneha). K Raghavendra Rao wanted to show Kamala character as a role model to wives.

There are lot of similarities and parallels to Seeta (wife of Lord Rama) and Kamala (wife of Sri Ramadasu) characters.

What is your take on the restrictions by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)? Did you face any animal-related problems for Sri Ramadasu?
There are no problems if we follow the rules perfectly. We have taken all permissions in October. Once you take permission, there is no problem. If you have to pay income tax and if you say ‘I don’t know’, then it is your problem. These animal related rules were passed on to film industry two years ago. Nobody cared. Nobody bothered. Nobody found out. I am not saying this because my wife is an animal lover. I am also into animal welfare. That GO (Government Order) was passed in Parliament two years ago. It was sent to the film chamber of commerce and producers counsel. Our guys did not take a serious note of it. The Government waited for years and now they started taking stringent action. Now every filmmaker is on one’s toes.

There are only certain animals which are not permitted on screen because they are endangered species. I am explaining PETA issue in a big way because everybody should be enlightened about it. Black buck, spotted deer, peacock (national bird) are few of the endangered species. Nobody can own them. There are certain scenes involving peacock in Sri Ramadasu and we did it using graphics. There is one bangaru jinka (golden deer) scene in the story for which we have to create it through graphics only. We shot certain scenes in Nehru Zoological Park in a couple of days with permission by park authorities.

We applied to animal welfare in October and got all permissions in place. If we had not applied before, we would have got many problems. But some people think that film’s release was delayed due to animal issues.

Was the censoring over for Sri Ramadasu?
Sri Ramadasu was censored on 24th of this month and we got a clean U certificate.

What do you think about the lull period in Telugu film industry with no major blockbuster or path breaking creative film being made?
I think it is good. It happened a couple of times in my career too. This will make everybody to get their act together. They will start thinking instead of taking people for granted. This is what happens when the filmmakers take audience for granted. This is what happens the minute budgets go out of our control.

What about the budgets of your films?
I don’t believe in huge massive budgets. I don’t encourage directors to spend more money. You don’t need money to show quality. You need to do homework to show quality. All my super hit films were made on perfect budget in limited number of working days. Here is the list of number of working days for my blockbusters

Shiva 58 days
Geetanjali 45 days
Ninne Pelladatha 60 days
Santosham 62 days
Manmadhudu 65 days

Who is responsible for over budget?
It is the director. Only the director is responsible for that. He is the boss. He knows all the things. It is his job to do the home work otherwise he should not be calling himself as a director.

You have been giving consistent hits since Santosham film. What is the reason?
May be I took people for granted earlier. I decided that I had to take care of myself. Before that I thought it was not my job to interfere. Even in film like Super, I wish I had interfered more. I used to believe that director is the boss and he is the god. I realized they don’t know about everything. They are also human beings like us. Why I am reacting very strongly to the directors is that they should have control over every aspect.

K Raghavendra Rao is the perfect example of a good director. He is able to finish a period film in 82 days by using 90 rolls. The output of the film is gorgeous. It’s huge and it looks like a mega film. He is able to finish it with such optimal resources because he does his homework. I am not saying that he has not given flops in the past. But he does the basic things right. Our thoughts or thought process could go wrong. That is a different matter. But the basic approach should be correct. He is not taking people for granted and he is answerable to the people. These are the responsibilities directors have to learn. I don’t encourage directors who do not have these responsibilities. If they don’t do films with me in the future, I don’t care. I have introduced enough new directors and I keep introducing in the future.

Would you do ‘Rang De Basanti’ kind of film if somebody narrates it?
I need such kind of directors. The minute somebody narrate such kind of scripts, I will do it. The minute I like a director, I offer him a film. Checkout my recent films Santosham and Mass. I don’t care about their experience. If I like a person, his responsibility and the way he narrates it to me, I go for it without thinking twice.

Most of the films (except Manmadhudu and Super) you attempted these days are formula scripts?
Yes. But I make sure that these formula scripts suit the sensibilities of film lovers. I try to reach people’s sensibilities even if I do a formula film.

Checkout my ’Mass’ film. There is a general perception that Mass means wearing a lungi with a visible nicker inside. But it has changed over a period of time. If you look at the crowds today, even a rickshaw puller carries a cell phone around.

Though irrelevant let me ask you a question about cell phones. Don’t you think the revolution of cell phone affected our regular way of dramatization in films? By using cell phones, the characters can communicate very easily hence there is little scope for communication gap and confusion?
Definitely, Yes! I had a little discussion with director Aditya regarding a similar issue. Let me narrate a scene from my new film with Kamakshi Arts. I forget an important document and leave my office. My secretary Nayana Tara tries to reach out to me by using a car. Then I told Aditya that Nayana Tara could use a cell phone to reach me. Then Aditya had to think something completely different to rewrite the scene. The directors will have to find a new way of dramatizing. In Mass film, we used cell phone effectively to create enmity between hero and villain.

What is your take on acrobatic fight sequences in films that require a lot of thread work?
I am not doing such fights in my films. So don’t ask me. Even if you see my Mass film, stunt sequences are very natural, though we used ramp shots. I also laugh at thread-related acrobatic stunts when I see them on screen.

Do you think the day will come where Telugu films are made for NRIs by keeping abroad market in mind like Hindi films?
Hindi film's abroad market is 50%. Telugu films abroad market is below 10%. May be we think of it in the future by doing two different versions of the same film. One for NRI’s and other for the local crowds!

I keep telling producers not to cater to all segments. I ask them to target one segment and reach them completely. At least we did it with Manmadhudu. We wanted to capture A centers and upper B centers with Manmadhudu film. That film was made in such kind of budget where it recovers the money if it does well in A centers.

Tell us about your latest film in the direction of VN Aditya?
I have done commercial mass films like Mass and Super as my last two projects. I am getting lots of requests from people to do films like Nuvvu Vastavani, Santosham and Manmadhudu. This film belongs to family film genre. This film will have hilarious comedy in the first half. The second half moves into mature romance and sentiment. This film will have kind of romance and sentiment from Santosham and type of comedy from Manmadhudu. This film will take 70-75 working days. We are planning for Dasara release.

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