The new Telugu film Mestri has become a talking point in political and movie circles in the south with many saying that it takes potshots at superstar-politician Chiranjeevi. But director Suresh Krissna maintains that he never intended to hurt anybody's sensibilities.
That the film stars Congress leader and old rival Dasari Narayana Rao, who has also written and produced the movie, and has been timed just ahead of the general elections have added to the controversy.
Dasari has not acted in recent years and the fact that he donned greasepaint for a film with political overtones, specially when Chiranjeevi will test political waters for the first time with his Praja Rajyam party, has raised more than a few eyebrows with many reports in the media as well.
The movie, which released in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka this Friday, is about a mestri or leader (Dasari) who fights for justice and the rights of poor labourers and has a character that resembles Chiranjeevi.
"Dasari has several sequences in the film in which he makes an indirect comment on Chiranjeevi. He has used an important character in the film played by Vijayakumar, whose characterisation is similar to that of Chiranjeevi. Dasari, who plays the role of a mestri has some dialogues that attack Chiranjeevi's political moves. It is funny and also critical," said a Telugu film producer on condition of anonymity.
A scene in the film, for instance, has Dasari asking Vijayakumar what he had done for his community.
But director Krissna, who has worked with Chiranjeevi earlier, said the film was on the issue of land-grabbing and refused to make any references to the Telugu superstar.
"The prime issue of the film is land-grabbing and how people usurp the benefits of Dalits. The first half had no political angle in it. Only in the last few sequences, we had to touch on the political issue because we had to send a message about the importance of voting in democracy.
"If some people interpret it to their own liking, I can't help it. In the process if somebody gets hurt, I'm not responsible," Krissna told IANS over the phone from Hyderabad.
Dasari and Chiranjeevi hail from the same Kapu community. Dasari, who has been in the political arena for over a decade, was considered the most influential Kapu leader in Andhra Pradesh until Chiranjeevi arrived on the scene last year.
"Everyone knew that Dasari would use the film to take digs at Chiranjeevi because he wanted to strengthen his position in the Congress party," said a Hyderabad-based producer who did not want to be named.
"Dasari and Chiranjeevi always had love-hate relationship. Both hail from the same community. Dasari was a big director when Chiranjeevi was making a mark as an actor. But when Chiranjeevi made it big as a star he had his own favourites as producers and directors. Barring 'Lankeshwarudu', which was a big flop, Dasari wasn't able to do any film with Chiranjeevi," said Bangalore-based film distributor Navashakthi Nagaraj.
"Many people in the film industry thought they had made up. But Chiranjeevi's entry into politics changed the equations," added theatre owner K.V. Nagesh Kumar, who is also considered close to Dasari.
Mestri at one point takes a jibe at the crowds Chiranjeevi attracted during his roadshow.
"Even a Shakeela dance show attracts huge crowds," he says in the movie.
Dasari's character also pokes fun at Chiranjeevi's habit of often referring to names of eminent personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Phule, Mother Theresa and B.R. Ambedkar.
"Just because you put the photos of some great people on the banners and posters of your party, you will not automatically become a great personality like them," is another dialogue Mestri mouths.
There is also a reference to Chiranjeevi's claim that he had humble beginnings and ate ganji (a liquid food consumed by lower middle-class families) during his youth.
"Have you counted the number of Benz Cars you have? Where did this money come from?" asks Mestri.