There can never be an honest biopic in the world, says Yatra director Mahi V Raghav
In a candid conversation, the filmmaker talks about his upcoming biopic, Yatra, and the influence of movies on society
Yatra, a biopic on the late chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy (YSR), brings together Malayalam superstar Mammootty and Telugu director Mahi V Raghav. Being shot in Telugu and Malayalam, the film has the 67-year-old actor reprising the role of YSR.
Mahi V Raghav recalls how the idea of this film germinated. “I hail from Kadapa district, but never crossed paths with YSR garu. I was in Australia when he had set out on a padayatra and I returned to Hyderabad one year before his death. Honestly, I don’t know much about him. I’ve relied on several credible sources close to him for preparing the script, bringing in many facets of his personality and the incidents which spanned his life. It's a fascinating story that definitely needed a celluloid adaptation.”
The filmmaker agrees that it’s important for stories based on real personalities to have a strong angle. “I don’t want to call Yatra a biopic. I would rather say it’s a story. I have taken the 2004 padayatra as the core plot and woven together a spectrum of stories encompassing a range of fascinating characters, played by Jagapathi Babu, Suhasini Maniratnam, Rao Ramesh and Ashrita Vemuganti, in Yatra,” he says.
He asserts that Yatra is not a propaganda film and is indeed a fascinating mix of fiction and reality. “Films that present the real-life story of an inspiring personality often follow a chronological trajectory. People usually try to pack too much in, hence they keep jumping from one significant event to another. As a result, they invariably fall short and have to do too much fudging to engage the audience. I would say Yatra is a mix of reality and fiction. I strongly believe there can never be an honest biopic in the world,” reasons the Anando Brahma director.
Mani V Raghav says YSR’s son Jagan Mohan Reddy had no qualms in making his father’s life into a film. “After completing the script, I met Jagan anna during his Praja Sankalpa Yatra and he understood that this film is a tribute to YSR garu from us. However, he was specific about two aspects -- to not take credit for what his father has not done (like farmer loan waiver) and to not interfere in the creative process.”
As for the challenges, while shooting, the filmmaker says, “It was really difficult to shoot the padayatra scenes with the massive crowd. This is the first time that I have shot an episode of that magnitude and I would say it was quite challenging.”
Mahi cannot stop gushing about the overwhelmingly positive reactions to the teaser and is confident of the film's outcome. “Movie buffs and critics were in complete awe of Mammootty for the way he has internalised YSR’s character. Recently, I have shown the film’s teaser to Jagan anna and he too is happy with the presentation. Mammootty, a three-time National Award winner, has captured the unique charm and larger-than-life persona of YSR. What’s more exciting is that he has learned Telugu and dubbed his own lines to bring a more authentic feel. The film has shaped up quite well and the emotional climax is going to tug your heartstrings.”
The Paathshala director denies that YS Jagan has a cameo in the film. “Towards the end, we have used real footage of YSR for about 10 minutes and also managed to get a video of Jagan speaking about his father. The film doesn’t have Jagan’s character in it, however, and reports of him doing a cameo are also false,” he clarifies.
The filmmaker is planning to host a special premiere for YSR’s family soon. “Once the final copy is ready, we will go and meet Jagan anna, and invite the family for special screening. Naturally, they are busy with political activities, but we will be more than happy to have them for the screening.”
The makers have chosen to release Yatra on February 8, a few months ahead of General Elections in Andhra Pradesh. But Mani V Raghav plays down the significance of this. “It’s stupidity to assume that our film would impact elections or a party. No film can influence voters these days. Voters are smart and they are clear on their mandate. Movie theatres are not the place where you can influence people,” he signs off.