Telugu cinema hops on the biopic bandwagon

There was a time when we thought only Bollywood is capable of making movies like Paan Singh Tomar, Rustom, Neerja and Mary Kom. Now nothing seems impossible. Following the release of Mahanati; writers in Telugu cinema industry are in the process of churning far more challenging scripts, that go beyond regular biopics.

When Mahanati was midway through, Ramgopal Varma announced Lakshmi’s NTR, and Teja who washed his hands off NTR’s biopic recently is, according to the industry buzz, considering taking Uday Kiran’s story to the floors. Last heard, a director approached Karanam Malleswari to make a bilingual on our wrestler. We are not sure when Shraddha Kapoor will reprise Saina Nehwal, but Sudheer Babu is soon hitting the badminton court to get in shape for Pullela Gopichand’s biopic.

‘Yatra’, road film

Producer and director Mahi had registered the title Yatra in 2010, but only recently roped in Mammooty to play Y S Rajasekhara Reddy. He acknowledges that as a debutant it would have been difficult for him to scale it. So he waited till Anando Brahma released. On making a biopic, he says, “There are two ways of looking at it. We can either take the entire life story of a person or a focus on particular segment. We are taking the events from 2003 to the padayatra. It is structured as a road film. For dramatic purposes, we will shift timelines of events that happened across his lifetime. If you look at the character, in 2003 YSR was facing a now or never moment. Had he lost that election, no one would have known YSR much. He had to 30 years of political expereince but had to come out with something new, which he did as the padayatra. Structurally we see the event as a pivotal happening.” The story ends with him finishing the Yatra. A biopic has to be either the truth or believable truth and has to be dramatic. In a sports biopic, there is inherent drama and tension. A political biopic is challenging; in Indian history no biopic worked except ‘Gandhi’. ‘Periyar’ and ‘Iruvar’ didn’t work commercially. Mahi Raghav

On whether Will biopics happen because Mahanati’s success will rub off on other biopics, Mahi Raghav says, “Ours is a herd mentality. Market dynamics are different and a biopic is tricky. A biopic has to be either the truth or believable truth and has to be dramatic. A sports biopic is different; there is inherent drama and tension. A political biopic is challenging; in Indian history no biopic worked except Gandhi. Periyar and Iruvar didn’t work commercially. I am treating Yatra more as a human drama. Mammooty who worked in Telugu cinema 25 years ago (Swati Kiranam) has an aura.”

Tough benchmark

After Rudhramadevi, Gunashekar’s next is Hiranyakasipa. And director Krish who made Gautamiputra Satakarni is now working on Manikarnika, expected to release in August. Krish who believes in strong content, points out, “Mahanati had strong and authentic content. Nag Ashwin has set a platinum standard and told us this is how a biopic needs to be made. We are in the best and bright period of Telugu cinema.”

There is a thin line demarcating a biopic and a historical movie. Mahi doesn’t see much difference between Rudhramadevi and Manikarnika; it is about following one person’s story. The older the characters are, the fewer the people who will challenge the authenticity. Also, one can never do a completely honest biopic, he observes. Whatever the ethics, the writer is first charmed by the character and tends to uplift the protagonist. Since a biopic is not a documentary, it’s bound to have some dramatised content and the intention is to capture the soul of the character.

Vijayendra Prasad too believes content-based cinema always works. Ashwini Dutt believed in the content, invested on Dulquer Salman and Keerthy Suresh who are not much known to Telugu audience.

He questions, “Who knew Prabhas or Rajamouli in the north before Baahubali? In the last two or three years, small films have been working well. Ghazi, Pelli Choopulu and Arjun Reddy brought in a healthy change. Balakrishna always wished to make a film on his father; it was a long cherished dream and it is just coincidental that it is expected to come up at the election time. Let us not restrict our content to biopics. We always raved about cinema coming from other languages but now we are proud that the country is looking up to us.”

All for real stories

Biopics are not really new. Ushakiran Movies releases include Mayuri (1985, on dancer Sudha Chandran ) and Ashwini (1991, on athlete Ashwini Nachappa). But Singeetham Srinivasa Rao who directed Mayuri says it wasn’t a biopic but was ‘inspired’ by Sudha Chandran’s life. Mayuri is a fictional character but because Sudha Chandran played the eponymous role, it gives an impression of being a biopic.

The veteran director points out that Telugu cinema had produced many biopics like Pothana and Vemana; in fact he played a role in Tanguturi Prakasam. He says, “I guess the success of Mahanati lies in not being over dramatised. Also, people are fed up with artificial stories and they have lapped up a real story that did not sermonise.”

Mahi thinks that biopics, heroine-centric and author-backed films have always had the potential to do well but not many are written and supplied to the market. Telugu audience will flock to any kind of film, even a pucca mass film, provided it is written well.

Sudheer Babu sums it up, “We are moving in the right direction. Something interesting and inspiring has to be told. We can’t mimic the protagonist, we can’t fake it. One can’t learn badminton overnight but there will be energy in it and people will definitely connect with the biopic on Gopichand.”

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 5:13:49 PM |

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