‘Colour Photo’ director Sandeep Raj gears up for his next, ‘Mukhachitram’

‘Mukhachitram’, starring Vishwak Sen in a crucial role, will spring a surprise, says writer Sandeep Raj, whose earlier directorial venture ‘Colour Photo’ won the National Award for Best Telugu film

December 06, 2022 03:39 pm | Updated 08:30 pm IST

Priya Vadlamani in a dual role, Vikas Vasishta, Vishwak Sen and Chaitanya Rao in the Telugu movie ‘Mukhachitram’

Priya Vadlamani in a dual role, Vikas Vasishta, Vishwak Sen and Chaitanya Rao in the Telugu movie ‘Mukhachitram’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What if director K Balachander’s 1981 Telugu film 47 Rojulu (47 Natkal in Tamil), starring Chiranjeevi and Jayaprada, had a contemporary soul sequel with the female protagonist seeking revenge? Sandeep Raj who has written the story, screenplay and dialogues for the new Telugu movie Mukhachitram, which will release in theatres on December 9, had that inspiration while working on the script.

Sandeep’s previous film, Colour Photo, which he co-wrote and directed, won the National Award for Best Feature Film in 2020. Sandeep wrote Mukhachitram during the pandemic and produced it with his brother Pradeep. Directed by Gangadhar, the film features Vishwak Sen in a brief part as a lawyer, and the primary cast includes Vikas Vasishta, Priya Vadalamani, Chaitanya Rao and Ayesha Khan.

“After Colour Photo, I wrote another script that is waiting to go on floors and will involve a big production house and a well-known actor. I had written Mukhachitram based on two true incidents, one of which is about a face transplant. The film also deals with another issue, which I think will be a surprise factor,” says Sandeep, when we meet for this interview at a cafe in Hyderabad.

Sandeep Raj and director Gangadhar on the sets of ‘Mukhachitram’

Sandeep Raj and director Gangadhar on the sets of ‘Mukhachitram’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The story of Mukhachitram, says Sandeep, happens in 2020 and finds closure on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, and raises a lesser-addressed issue concerning women’s safety. “Everything that happens in the story until then — the romance, Vikas as a plastic surgeon — builds up to that twist.”

He reveals that he wrote two endings for Mukhachitram, just like he had for Colour Photo. A pathos ending was chosen for Colour Photo since he and his team felt that would be the natural progression for a story in which the protagonists are thrown apart by caste and class divisions. Colour Photo streamed directly on Aha during the pandemic and went on to be the most popular Telugu film on the platform to date. For Mukhachitram, Sandeep says he chose an ending that will leave the audience with a smile. “There are two twists in the story; watch out for the small final twist. The first half is deliberately slow-paced, but the payoffs in the later portions will be worth the wait.” 

Sandeep zeroed in on Vikas Vasishta after watching him in the Telugu indie film Cinema Bandi and signed Priya Vadlamani, who has a few films to her credit. He is confident that the film will be a career-defining one for her: “She has a dual role; I needed someone who can perform well. For the second role, she has to appear contemporary and get into the shoes of another character after a face transplant. For this, she went through dental surgery to align a tooth.”

Vikas Vasishta and Priya Vadlamani

Vikas Vasishta and Priya Vadlamani | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The face transplant portion of the story, Sandeep explains, is inspired by a true incident involving an accident victim. “We took the help of a doctor at Deccan Hospital who had conducted a face transplant; he explained the procedure to us and helped us depict that portion with some authenticity.”

Vishwak Sen’s involvement in the courtroom drama happened by chance. The actor had come as a chief guest to launch the teaser of Mukhachitram. By then, the team had completed 70% of the film. “He listened to our story and wanted to be a part of the cause that the film highlights. By evening, he became a team member.” Mukhachitram also sees Sandeep collaborating again with music composer Kaala Bhairava, whom he has known since the days of the short film, The Athidi. “We share a great rapport and he understands precisely what I want.”

The initial plan was to take Mukhachitram to OTT platforms for a direct release. However, most platforms had changed their programming plan post-lockdowns and were hesitant to take up a film with no big names in the lead cast. 

The Mukhachitram team was unsure of their next move. The word-of-mouth publicity and success of the recent Telugu horror drama Masooda gave them the confidence to go for a theatrical release. “After Colour Photo’s national award, people only know the bright side of our recognition and the felicitation by Chiranjeevi garu. The ground reality for anyone making films without stars is tough. But we are confident that we can make a mark.”

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