The man of the moment, Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi, talks about how he combined mythology and mining to narrate a human interest story

“I am impulsive,” says writer and filmmaker Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi. “Once I make a decision, I can’t wait to execute it. My decision to make Gamyam, Vedam and Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum were all quick.” It was this impulse that had made him quit his well-paying job in the US and return to Hyderabad a few years ago, to tell stories through cinema. Right now, Krish’s every waking minute is focussed on the release of his ambitious project, Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum (KVJ).

Between meeting distributors and giving out instructions to despatch posters, he tells us how he came to combine Surabhi theatre and the story of people affected by mining in Bellary. “From the time of the puranas till date, the nature of the atrocities remains the same; only the context has changed. History and mythology have always dealt with good versus evil. Puranas have made us believe that God arises whenever there is evil. This is the underlying factor in Dasavataram and other mythological texts. In KVJ, people affected by mining and land grabbing look for a hero to save them,” says the director.

The idea of merging the two crystallised when he was travelling to Amritsar and the Wagah border. “I felt Surabhi theatre, issue of border dispute and people being displaced can make for an exciting story that would give me scope to cut back and forth from mythology to contemporary period,” says Krish.

As the story shaped up in his mind, Krish realised Rana would be apt for the role. “Rana has the physical stature that befits the character. His Telugu diction is remarkable. I called Rana from Amritsar, told him the idea and then flew down to narrate the story to him and Suresh Babu,” says Krish.

As he narrated the story to his father, Jagarlamudi Saibaba, friend Rajeev Reddy and brother-in-law Srinivas, who produced Gamyam), Krish realised KVJ was turning out to be bigger than expected. “I had worked out a stipulated budget, which Suresh Babu felt wouldn’t be sufficient for a film of this scale. He was keen to produce it and re-launch Rana. I didn’t want to burden him and at the same time felt I should take the gamble of making it my home production. It had the potential to be my jackpot film,” says Krish. His family rallied around him.

Krish spent three months to research the production and four to write several drafts. He travelled to Bellary with his creative team and interacted with people affected by mining. Approaching the Surabhi team was the next task. “Surabhi Nageswara Rao, whom we call Babji, was so happy that someone from mainstream cinema approached them. I felt humbled that in some way I could pay tribute to the tradition of Surabhi. In fact, I had earlier thought of making a documentary on the group,” says Krish.

While writing the story, he was guided by script consultant Prof. Venkatesh Chakravarthy, dialogue writer Saimadhav Burra and above all, the Surabhi team members. Krish has worked with theatre artistes earlier. “I believe theatre is where you find true expressions,” says Krish, as he talks about legendary theatre person Burra Subramaniam Sastry.

Bellary itself, which people talk of only as a mining region, was once renowned for theatre, he points out.

The director’s favourite genre is action-adventure, and he has built KVJ in this format. Krish approached the Surabhi team with some theatre scenes to be shot for the film. The Surabhi members enacted stories of Abhimanyu, Ghatotkacha, Narasimha avatar and Kurukshetra on their stage. “We all watched them in action, recorded the proceedings with different placements of cameras and then figured out how to translate it on to the screen. A few members of Surabhi have acted in the film,” says Krish. Krishnaveni and other members of Surabhi have watched a few scenes of the film and are impressed.

Krish had visualised the film in his mind while writing the script, yet the filming posed fresh challenges. “Shooting each episode of mythology was a learning experience for all of us. We had to get the feeling of watching live theatre through cinema,” he says. On the sets, he recalls experiencing something spiritual as Rana was getting ready for the Narasimha avatar, so much so that the unit members gave up smoking and eating non-veg while the episode was being shot.

Milind Gunaji as the lead antagonist Redappa, Kota Srinivasa Rao as Surabhi theatre group’s head, Nayantara as documentary filmmaker Devika and actor Murali Sharma make up the primary cast of KVJ.

The characterisation of journalists and documentary filmmakers is an area where most filmmakers err — either casting them as glam dolls or showing them as powerful enough to change the political system overnight. Krish smiles, “I am a responsible filmmaker. I read Theory and Practice of Journalism before I made the film. Devika is a well-read and mature woman,” he says. Nayantara had announced that she had quit acting and Krish spent four months persuading her to listen to the narration.

Krish and his team will be re-shooting a few portions for the Tamil version, Ongaram. Instead of Bellary, the place of dispute will be Thanjavur. “I hope and believe this will be a blockbuster film.” says Krish. For a maths and computer science graduate who left his job for the love of the screen, it has been a good journey so far. Gamyam and Vedam (Vaanam in Tamil) have made Krish a filmmaker of substance. “My family was concerned whether I was doing the right thing,” he smiles. “Then they came around and supported me and have stood by me all along.”