'800', the official biopic of Sri Lankan cricketing great Muthiah Muralidaran, is slated to hit the cinemas on October 6. In this interview, producer Sivalenka Krishna Prasad reveals what made him own its all-India release rights in three languages (Telugu, Tamil and Hindi).
The film, directed by MS Sripathy, has Madhur Mittal playing the cricketer. He says that '800' depicts Muralidaran's adversities as it is. "A delicate scene has been censored," he reveals. "Nothing has been narrated in excess," he assures.
I have known director Sripathy since the days of the Tamil remake of 'Varsham' in the mid-2000s. The success of 'Gentleman' in 2016 enthused me. I started listening to new scripts buoyed by its commercial success. I actually approached a big star with a script written by Sripathy, which he loved totally but asked me to think twice about going ahead given the high costs. That's when Sripathy happened to stumble upon the idea of making a biopic on Muralidaran.
Muralidaran's life was full of adversities. Knowing about it shocked me. After its script was written, Sripathy impressed Vijay Sethupathy but the Tamil actor had to opt out of the project due to a political controversy in Tamil Nadu. After he dropped out, Sripathy was back to square one. Despite the controversy, the producer (Vivek Rangaswamy) was determined to do the biopic (with some other actor in the lead).
It was only about two months back that I bought the all-India release rights of '800' after Sripathy prodded me. He also convinced Muralidaran about why my involvement will help. Muralidaran told me he respects Sripathy a great deal and that he would be happy if I took over the film. Sripathy and I have shared a strong bonding for many years.
There is no love story in '800'. The story of the film ends in the year 2010. It had been only 4-5 years since Muralidran was married. And it was an arranged marriage. The film, however, shows how she stood like a rock by her husband. Interestingly, she hails from India. Her family owns a hospital in Chennai.
'800' has a vast scope spanning decades. The film doesn't show every small detail about his life. Muralidaran has been seen as ethnically a Tamilian despite the fact that he is a born Sri Lankan. The issues he faced as a Tami minority person have been shown.
'800' was made in Tamil. And it has been dubbed in Telugu and Hindi. I advised them not to dub into Malayalam, Kannada and other languages for the sake of it. The Telugu audience are broad-minded and welcoming. We have taken Tamil films to another level.
'800' has no cinematic sugar-coating, etc. His life has been shown as it is. That said, '800' is not a docudrama. It is a proper film.
'800' has received the endorsement of greats like Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble. It has been a great experience meeting them and interacting with them during the promotions. I had the opportunity to have lunch with Muralidaran, Jayasurya and others. They are so down-to-earth.
I don't understand the term pan-India. I am too old to talk about it. Classics like 'Mayabazaar' and 'Lava Kusa' were so big hits that even their re-releases were received well by the audience. If adjusted to inflation, they are bigger hits than today's blockbusters. Because of OTT today, a pan-India market has developed for several films. It is the audience who have evolved this trend. Due to the pandemic, our bored audience started watching movies from other States and other countries in recent years. In the case of 'Yashoda', if I could go pan-Indian, one of the reasons has to do with Samatha's support. It was made in Telugu and dubbed into other languages. Not a single scene was shot separately for other languages.
'800' has presented to me the opportunity to go for a pan-Indian release. I don't know what the future holds for me. Cricket is a language all Indians are familiar with. This is a faithful biopic, an emotional biopic. Beyond cricket, the film documents a number of incidents in Muralidaran's life. The 'chucking' controversy, how it was raised by Australia and England... everything has been shown dramatically.
The budget of '800' far exceeded the planned budget. Although no sets were erected, cricket grounds had to be taken on rent. The film was shot on grounds in Australia, England, Cochi and Ceylon. Crowds had to be gathered. Even though CG shots are there, not everything could have been done with CG.
'800' will serve as an inspiration to anyone who aims high in life. Some of them want to become doctors, engineers, etc. Everyone will find resonance in the film.
To start with, we are focusing on a wide multiplex release on October 6. Films have their own trajectory. Recently, 'Baby' gained as days passed. '800' will have its own journey. The plan is to release '800' on 900 to 1000 screens in India. The overseas release is by Lyca Productions. Nizam rights are owned by Suniel Narang. Vizag rights are owned by Dil Raju. East Godavari and West Godavari rights are with Geetha Arts. Bhaskar Reddy owns the Nellore rights. So on and so forth. They all bought the rights because they trust my judgement.
Muralidaran is fond of Telugu movies. Natural Star Nani is a good friend of his. He also knows Venkatesh personally.
My next film is going to be directed by Sripathy. 'Yashoda' directors Hari and Hareesh are going to work with me. A good script has been readied already. I will also be doing a film with director Pavan Sadineni (of the recent web series 'Daya' fame). I will also be doing a film with a newcomer named Sai Sekhar.
I am not interested in doing sequels. Balakrishna garu was interested in 'aditya 369' having a sequel. But I didn't want to make one and risk unfavourable comparisons.
Telugu producers understand the limitations suffered by directors, actors, and technicians. In Tamil, the practice of showing red cards to actors, producers, technicians is rampant.