Handsome, charming, a successful actor, a successful producer and a successful entrepreneur. There are only two words to personify all these qualities, Nagarjuna Akkineni. In an interview with Ragalahari this charismatic personality talks about his much anticipated film ‘Sri Ramadasu’ and shares his views on other topics.
Q: Did you do any kind of home work to prepare for your character as Sree Ramadasu?
A: No. I did not do any home work as such. I don’t believe in doing home work, because we don’t believe in freezing the scene ahead of time. There were daily improvisations done on the scenes. If did my home work and the director had a different kind of view about the scene as compared to mine there would be conflicting opinions. My home work was limited to the person. But the homework regarding a scene was done with the director on the morning of the day the scene was to be shot.
Q: Was any research done regarding the story?
A: I did not do any research. The research was done by director Raghavendra Rao and Bharavi .Then our costume department did some research regarding the kind of clothes that were worn in the sixteenth century. That kind of things. And of course the basic research regarding the story so that we don’t deviate too much. But some cinematic liberties had to be taken if not it would be like a documentary. Regarding that some liberties were taken. But the basic essence of the story remains the way we learnt in history.
Q: Tell us about the heroine’s character in Sree Ramadasu?
A: See in the history not much was written about Kamala. Sneha is playing the role of Kamala, the yogi’s wife. That he had a wife and a child was mentioned but not much written about them. In this film director Raghavendra Rao took some liberties and showed the relationship between a husband and wife. This is not a romantic story so he showed how a husband should behave with his wife and how a wife should behave with her husband.
Q: There is no romance before marriage?
A: Not much. It is not important. It is insignificant for the story. The romance also he (director) linked it to the story later on. The way he put is was that Rama himself made it happen. That is Rama made the two of them marry.
Q: There was no special color grading done for it to look like a period film?
A: No. All natural colors were used. Everything we have done was done using filters and such. The regular film process. They did not go into that digital grading or anything. If any digital grading was done it was for special effects. You know to create some magic here and there. It could be real. Like for Sree Rama, Suman played Rama’s character, for the magic around him. You know when you show god, there is an aura around him. There is this, there is that. Those things were created.
Q: You worked with your father once previously also. How was the experience?
A: Yes we had a bad experience together when we worked together 15 years ago in ‘Iddaru Iddare’. I was scared after that. You know because he had a good name, I had a good name. Why spoil it. I saw the clips but did not like it. And now, finally providence has given us a film and that to a historical one and that is what I am very happy about. You don’t know this could be our last film together. You don’t know we might not get another good film to work together in. This is a historical film that everybody will talk about. He is playing the role of my Guru in this film. Whether it is giving the mantropadesam or fixing a muhurat for building a temple, such things. He is my Guru; I completely follow his advice throughout the film. And the other interesting thing is that, in the film, he is a Muslim and I am a Hindu. The relationship we share. Both of us say that there is one god.
Q: Your father had portrayed almost all the historical characters except Annamaya and Ramadasu. But you have done only those two characters. Was it intended that way, that you portray what he could not?
A: (laughs) nothing like that. Nagayya and others portrayed such characters. See it not an easy job to make a historical movie, forget about us, even for a director it is not easy. Now I would definitely like to do a role in Mahabharata. But I also need to find a director and producer who will be convinced enough to do that film. In the same way I would love to do a role in ‘Mayabazar’. But other people should also be interested in the subject in order to make a film.
Q: But these two characters were not portrayed previously?
A: Annamaya was not portrayed by anybody before. But Nagayya portrayed the role of Ramadasu previously. But unfortunately it did not do well then. And another reason is both these great people (Annamaya and Ramadasu) are Telugu people. They belong to our culture. That is one of the reason that Raghavendra Rao and the others dared to make these movies. Because these people belong to us.
Q: Were there any bad incidents or memories associated with this movie?
A: The only bad incident associated with ‘Sree Ramadasu’ movie was the sudden demise of our associate director. That is the only one sad memory about this film. Everything else was fantastic. I was actually feeling bad that the film was getting finished. During the last one week of the film’s shoot I was quite emotional, because the film was getting completed. And once the film releases and people give their verdict. The film is releasing in another two to three days. That is all .everybody forgets about the film. I am actually feeling bad and upset about it.
Q: At the audio release function of ‘Sree Ramadasu’ you said that you still wanted to continue to act in this film and you even did not cut your hair soon after. Were you that much into the character?
A: See when you love some character, it is a pleasure doing it. And after listening to the story of ‘Sree Ramadasu’ I was just waiting and waiting to do that character. I enjoyed every moment of it. And that is why I took some time to cut my hair. I did not cut it immediately also.
Q: You also enjoyed doing the two songs from your father’s film?
A: Right from when I was a kid I used love listening to “paluke bangaramayena” and “nannu brovamani cheppave” from father’s ‘Andaala Ramudu’ film. They have a very nostalgic feel for me. So it was very thrilling for me to do those songs.
Q: The music of this film is being declared as sensational. How do you feel about it?
A:Sensational? Yes. But the music has always been sensational even before the audio of the film was released. Ramadasu’s keertana’s were already sensational. Keeravani fine tuned them and made them fantastic. See all of them were highly classical tunes which a common man can’t sing. Keeravani tuned them in such a way that any person can sing it if he listens to them even once. He made them more close and accessible to the common man.
Q: In the film you always chant “Antha Rama mayam”. How much has that chant affected you? Did you also write the Ram Koti like most of the film unit did?
A: No. there is no such thing. I did not write the Ram Koti also.
Q: The music of your film ‘Super’ was one of the biggest hits of last year. How much did you contribute in that aspect of this film?
A: Generally when I am producing a film, I do sit down with the music director and discuss things. But in the case of ‘Sree Ramadasu’ I completely trust Director Raghavendra Rao and music director Keeravani. So there was absolutely no contribution from my side in that aspect. It was all in the hands of those two geniuses.
Q: ‘Annamaya’ was a huge hit. Following which there are a lot of expectations from ‘Sree Ramadasu’. How do feel about that?
A: I was scared about that. But after watching the film I am confidant that ‘Sree Ramadasu’ will reach the people’s expectations. ‘Annamaya’ was an intellectual subject. But ‘Sree Ramadasu’ has a lot of grass root level emotions and things like that. The man himself is from the masses. The story is like that. And of course the music is already a very, very big hit even before the film is released. And the music is the back bone of the film. The scenes and the songs have also been picturised very well. The emotions are fantastic. Over all I am confidant that it will do well.
Q: What is the duration of the movie?
A: Two and a half hours. It is a regular film. 14 thousand, 200 feet something.
Q: In how many days was the film shooting completed in?
A: (thinking and confirming it with another person) we completed the film shooting in 85 days. 85 days of very well and efficient film making. Not like other films which are taking about 200 days to complete shooting. If you see the film you won’t believe the kind of efficiency with which the cameraman worked. (Pauses…then) 82 days. Yes now I remember we completed the shoot in 82 days. They actually wanted to complete the shoot in 75 days but it got delayed due to our associate director’s death and other things.
Q: There is talk that this film has a controversial subject. In it that it is a Hindu related subject?
A: No. Not at all. In fact, as I said before, father is playing the role of a Muslim in this film, that is of Kabirdas. Both Ramdas and Kabirdas believe that there is only one god, just different names. And the Muslim man is his Guru. In fact it will give a nice communal message.
Q: Actually ‘Sree Ramadasu’ is a long story. Does the film show his entire life story?
A: No. Not from his childhood. The film begins with his character just being established. Just before he gets married. The film begins with showing what kind of person he is; you know the happy go lucky kinds. How that person gets inspired. His life changes completely after marriage. How he becomes a Thasildar and how his life changes after that. We show that contrast.
Q: The older generation knows about ‘Sree Ramadasu’ but do you think the present generation will know about him?
A: No. That is a wrong notion. My son who studies in an English medium school has the story of Sree Ramadasu for a non detail lesson. When I asked him whether I should tell him the story, he said that he already knows about it and that he learned it at school. He might not know or have heard the bhajans and keerthanas. But he knows the basic story that Ramdas was a Thasildar, that he built a temple against the wishes of the then king using public funds and that he was arrested for that and imprisoned in the Golconda fort. That story they know.
Q: Other than the Ramadas bhajans and Keerthanas, the film also has other songs. How appropriate are these songs in the film?
A: See those songs were used to express Ramadasu’s emotions and feelings. There is song which he sings for his wife. I don’t think Ramadasu originally wrote any song for his wife. But this is a film and we need means to express Ramadasu’s emotions .Similarly in the climax sequence I don’t think there was a song written originally for that situation. But we used the song “Dasarathi” and also the song to describe Bhadarchalam “Adigo adigo Bhadaragiri” that song also was not written by Ramadasu. Even in ‘Annamayya’ we used songs not originally written by him. Four songs were added to that film. We are not making a documentary. We are making a commercial film.
Q: ‘Annamaya’ was criticized by some for making changes in the story. Are there any changes in ‘Sree Ramadasu’?
A: Yes there is. I have a moustache in the film (laughs). See certain liberties need to be taken. We are not claiming that we are rewriting history or any thing like that. In fact Kabirdas was not present during Ramadasu’s era. He existed 200 years before Ramadasu’s time. We needed a guru to direct Ramadasu hence the entry of Kabirdas. We did take that liberty.
Q: Initially K. Raghavendra Rao was producing the film?
A: After reading the script and agreeing to do the film, I suggested that K. Raghavendra Rao himself produce the film. And he suggested that I do the producing. But later on we thought it would be better if both of us concentrated on making the film rather than producing it. That is when we decided on Konda Krishnam Raju as the producer, as he also showed a marked interest in producing the film.
Q: The film was actually supposed to be released on the 24th of December 2005. Why this long delay?
A: Due to some reason or the other the film’s release got delayed and postponed several times. When we finally decided to release the film on Shivarathri day, we even spoke to distributors about it; we realized that comes on March 1st and final exams will begin for all students. We wanted everybody to watch the film, kids, parents, grand parents. The entire family. So since we already waited this long. We thought we will wait for another 1 month and begin the summer with our movie. It actually turned out for our benefit as we got the extra time for special effects and for re recording for which Keeravani wanted a month instead of 15 days.
Q: The subject of your film is way out of league with the present trend of films. Didn’t you feel like you were taking a risk?
A: I would have agreed with you if the present trend of films were actually being 100% successful at the box office. Since that is not the case there is no question of me taking a risk with this film. Like in the case of ‘Rang De Basanthi’ it is not a film of today’s trend yet it did well. Such films are fresh stories and give you a break from the routine stuff. ‘Sree Ramadasu’ will have the same relaxing effect that people feel after listening to soft melodious tunes after being bombarded with loud songs. There is no over dose in this film. It reflects our Telugu culture as we know it. It is a complete Telugu film. I am not saying that speaking in English is wrong, after all this is a changing world and we can’t do anything about it. But it is just a nice feeling to go back to our roots, our culture.
Q: How different is Sneha from the other heroines?
A: First of all she is very South Indian. When you are making period films like ‘Sree Ramadasu’ you need people who look and behave the role. And she fits the role to the Tee. Whether it is the way she looks or behaves, or the way the sari and jewellery are worn or the way she talks. And I don’t need to tell that she is a good performer. She was able to bring out the character the way the director wanted it to be portrayed, that of an obedient wife who stands by her husband during thick and thin. The kind f wife every man would want. She can easily be compared to Sita.
Q: Did you face any problems with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) over restriction of Animal use in films?
A: No. we had no problems. We took all the required permissions and if the rules are followed you won’t have any problems. It is the film industry’s fault for neglecting the rules and regulations passed by the government two years ago. As we can’t give an excuse for not paying the income tax, similarly there is no excuse for ignoring these rules regarding animals. And I am not saying this because my wife is into animal welfare. I am also an animal lover. This GO (Government order) was passed by the parliament two years ago and sent to the Film Chamber and the Producer’s Forum, but that was ignored. Now that the government is taking stringent action people are on their toes. But certain endangered species like Black buck, spotted deer, peacock and a few others are not allowed on sets or allowed to be owned. We had to graphically create the peacocks and a golden dear that were required in certain scenes and some scenes for which spotted dears were required; we shot at the Nehru Zoological Park with permission from the park authorities. We had absolutely no problems from Animal welfare organizations, because we took the permission in October itself. If the permission was not taken then we would have been in trouble. And as rumored, the film was not delayed because of animal problems.
Q: What about censors?
A: We cleared that on 24th March and were given a clean chit for a U certificate.
Q: There hasn’t been a major blockbuster movie or any new creative line to our movies in the recent past. Your comment on this dull period in the Telugu film industry?
A: I think this is good. This happened before also. Twice in my career. I remember very clearly. They will get their act together now. Start thinking and stop taking the audiences for granted. Because the minute the audiences are taken for granted and the budget starts going over board this is what happens. I don’t believe in those huge massive budgets. I don’t encourage those directors and don’t want to also. You don’t need huge budgets to show quality. All my super hit films were made with perfect budgets and with perfect control. Whether it was ‘Shiva’ or ‘Ninne Pelladatha’. Believe it or not ‘Shiva’ was shot in 58 days, ‘Geetanjali’ in 45 days. I am not saying that in those days films were well made and not now. We can still do it. Why, Santosham, a good film, was shot in 62 days and Manmadhudu in 65 days.
Q: Does the budget depend on the director?
A: Yes. It depends on the director and nobody else. He is responsible. He is the boss. He knows all the things. It is his job to do proper home work. If he can’t do that he should not call himself as a director.
Q: Since ‘Santosham’ you are enjoying a golden period of consecutive hits. What’s the mantra for this success?
A: I stopped taking people for granted. Before I thought I was not my job to interfere with them. There are certain films, like in ‘Super’ where I wish I had interfered more. I used to believe that director is the boss that they know everything. But I realized that they don’t know everything. They are also humans. We listen to them when they tell us to cry and emote in a certain way. They also should listen to the producer and dialogue writers, as they are also creative people. The reason why I am blaming them so strongly is because the director is the boss. Unless he takes everything into control, things won’t be good.
Why is K. Raghavendra Rao able to finish a period film in 82 days and in 90 picture roles? You see the film. It is gorgeous. It’s huge. It looks like a mega film. How was he able to finish that?
It’s because he does his home work. I am not saying that he did not have flops in the past. I am saying that he is doing the basic root things right. He does it for every film. He does not take people for granted. He is answerable to people. Despite that if the film does not work than there must be something wrong with the thought process or something else. But that responsibility directors have to learn. I don’t need to work with directors who are not responsible. I have already introduced quite a few new directors and will continue to do so. I have the galls to do that.
Q: Would you do a ‘Rang de Basanthi’?
A: If I find the right director. I already told you that I liked the movie. And if I find the right director who is responsible enough, who can narrate the story well. The minute I like him I will do the film. See ‘Santhosham’ or ‘Mass’. I don’t care where he is from, whether he is experienced or not. If I like him and he is responsible I will do the film without a second thought. I would love to do a ‘Rang de Basanthi’. Though it’s too late now.
Q: Your recent films are all formula based scripts. Comment?
A: Formula? Yes. But sensibilities is what I look for. In some way or the other formula is present in all scripts. It is the people’s sensibilities that I reach out to. It is the change in the backgrounds and other things.
See ‘Mass’ it is also a very formula based script. What would people think of mass before? You know a person wearing a transparent lungi that is showing of his nicker inside. I have nothing against it. But now day’s things are different. Even in the smallest of towns people are dressing fashionably. Even rickshaw pullers are carrying cell phones. Things are changing.
Q: The question is slightly out of point. But don’t you think that the rapid growth in the use of cell phones by everybody, to a certain extent affect a film story. As in there won’t be any scope for communication gap and misunderstanding situations?
A: Definitely. (laughing) just recently I had a discussion with Adithya (director). In one scene of his film I forget some important documents at office and left without them. And my secretary is trying to reach me but she cannot find a vehicle at hand. Then I asked Adithya that why can’t she reach me on the cell. That is when he had to re do that entire bit in the script. But I guess we have to find a new way to dramatize such scenes. Like the battery going dead or no signal in that area (laughs). In ‘Mass’ we used the cell phones effectively showing the communication between the hero and the villain.
Q: What is your comment on the kind of stunts that are being shown now days in movies? Aren’t they peculiar?
A: Definitely they are peculiar. I find them silly and laugh when ever I see them on screen. But don’t ask me about it, because I don’t do them myself. Most of my fights are natural. Even in ‘Mass’ we used ramp shots. I don’t do those peculiar kinds of fights. I don’t like them personally and refuse to do them. Even in ‘Super’ we did not use those flying kind of fights. The action on the motor cycles was also realistic.
Q: Tell us about your film with V.N. Adithya?
A: After ‘Mass’ and ‘Super’, I had a lot of requests asking me to do family films like ‘Manmadhudu’ and ‘Santhosham’. So this film belongs to that genre. But this film has hilarious comedy in the first half. The second half is a nice romantic bit with mature love sentiments. It is a very romantic story. It has got the romantic sentiments like in ‘Santhosham’ and the ‘Manmadhudu’ kind of comedy. We are planning to finish the film in a 70 day schedule. We are trying for a Dasara release.
Q: The Hindi film industry is very much into making film exclusively for the NRI market. They have a huge market there. And so the story lines are changed to an extent to cater to them. Do you see that happening with Telugu films?
A: See the Hindi film industry has a huge market abroad. It is 50-50 percent market there. But I don’t think that Telugu films have such market value. I think we have a 10% market. Which is not good enough for us to make films to their tastes. It is not feasible. May be in the future we can changes some particular scenes or make two versions. Something which we can easily manage.
Telugu films have only 25% of A class centers. So I keep telling my producers do not try to cater to all the three centers at a time. Think of one thing and capture that. We did that with ‘Manmadhudu’. It was aimed at the A and class B centers and we captured them. That kind of film won’t work in the small centers. It is not made for them. For that we need to go for a film like ‘Mass’.