The old-world charm of folk theatre in ‘Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum’ is contrasted by the newness of an action drama, says Rana Daggubati

Snapshots of an actor in the garb of different mythological characters, a folk theatre group and a businessman trying to displace natives from their land. The first promo of Krish Jagarlamudi’s Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum (KVJ) has whetted the appetite of those who want to see a Telugu film stepping out of the formulaic mode.

Rana Daggubati is beaming and exuding confidence while talking to us about his biggest venture till date. “The film is the story of a theatre actor called B.Tech Babu, who goes to Bellary from Hyderabad to perform one last play before he leaves to the US. In Bellary, he doesn’t just enact those roles but also experiences each one of the characters,” explains Rana.

KVJ introduced Rana to one of the oldest forms of theatre — Surabhi. “Krish came to me with the idea. I was excited and he developed it into a full-fledged story. The Surabhi genre is now restricted to small pockets. I didn’t know where to go to watch Surabhi theatre. Krish took me to watch a Surabhi performance in the city. I learnt by observing them. The biggest difference between cinema and theatre is we, as actors, respond to our co-stars while folk theatre artistes emote looking at the audience,” says Rana.

His role gave him the scope to portray Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha apart from Dasavataram on stage. “We shot a portion with some of the Surabhi performers. It was fascinating to see them enact a Kurukshetra war sequence on a small stage,” says Rana. Abhimanyu and Ghatotkacha are two parts he was eager to play and the reference points came from yesteryear Telugu films. “It was a huge challenge. When I think of mythological films, only NTR comes to mind. Neither do I resemble NTR nor can I look like ANR in the role of Abhimanyu. I turned to Amar Chitra Katha,” says Rana.

Several makeup tests followed for the different roles. The most challenging was the Narasimha avatar. “We didn’t use prosthetics and I didn’t want to wear a mask. With makeup, we had to arrive at the half-man and half-lion look. We got the look right a day before the shooting,” says Rana. The crew shot the rest of the portions leaving the Narasimha avatar for the last. That gave Rana enough time to work on his physique. “Luckily I am six feet tall and big built. With the help of Lakshman (former Mr. India runner up) and Dinesh, I trained regularly and bulked up for Narasimha avatar,” says Rana. In addition to all this, the film also has a fun staging of Paathala Bhairavai.

But make no mistake; KVJ is not an out-and-out folklore. There is enough newness to contrast the old-world charm of folk theatre, the actor promises. Nayantara is a journalist who attempts to capture the recent developments in Bellary. “Surabhi form of theatre, in pre-Independence era, was performed in Bellary prior to Dasara. It was a green patch of land. All that’s remaining today is barren land and a notorious association with mining. The film tries to capture this contrast,” says Rana.

The Bellary portions were recreated at Ramanaidu Studios, Nanakaramguda. The crew worked through the night to shoot the theatre portions. “We lived in a different time zone, falling asleep at 5 a.m. and waking up in the afternoon. There was no distraction and I could focus on work,” says Rana.

A film that packs in so much is bound to be lengthy? “No. It’s only 2 hour 10 minutes. That’s where Krish’s prior experience as an editor help. He thinks like an editor and shoots only what’s required,” smiles Rana.

Some of this year’s biggest hits in Telugu cinema have been formulaic, masala films. Rana is glad he is exploring a different zone. “I came here to do different kind of cinema that’s entertaining but not formulaic. When you work with regular commercial filmmakers they don’t go all the way in a new genre. Only a few directors like Sekhar Kammula, Krish or Deva Katta believe in their kind of cinema and do it their way. But these directors take two to three years to make a film, since they are also writers,” smiles Rana.

The Tamil version

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum will release as Ongaram in Tamil, with changes. “Instead of Abhimanyu’s part, we might do Karna. And we want to have something else in place of the Paathala Bhairavi sequence. This will take time,” says Rana.

Forthcoming projects

A bi-lingual directed by Selva Raghavan, cameos in Ayan Mukherji’s Yeh Jawaani Yeh Deewani starring Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukoone and a new Tamil film starring Ajith and Arya, directed by Vishnuvardhan.