National Award winning art director Thota Tharani has donned the greasepaint to play Swami Chinmayananda, a Hindu spiritual leader who inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission, in an upcoming English documentary The Quest.
RS Prasanna of Tamil comedy Kalyana Samayal Saadam fame has directed the film, which is currently in its post-production stage.
"When you do a biopic of a character that has lived in the recent memory, it's difficult to find someone who can act as well as physically resemble that person. When we were discussing this with my team, my costume designer Preethi, who worked as an assistant to Thota Tharani, suggested his name," Prasanna said.
"She told us he looks exactly like Chinmayananda. Two days later, I was at his office and he agreed to do the film without any remuneration. He said he's only doing it because it's for a spiritual purpose," he said.
While Tharani plays the older version of the known figure, Sandeep, a real-life monk plays the younger version.
"His portion comes towards the climax for about 15 percent of the film but it's the most important part. For people of Chinmaya Mission, it is like watching their Rajinikanth. If you were to make a movie on Rajinikanth, you can't afford to get it wrong. The fans will kill you," he quipped.
"The timeline of the film is from the time Chinmayananda was a child till he became old. You will see Sandeep on screen till the point Swami-ji was 40 years old and after that, we have used Tharani sir," he said.
Prasanna says Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese was his biggest inspiration behind this project.
"I was inspired by Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun. Here was a director who was not known for his spiritual leanings, yet he made these two wonderful films. That influenced me a lot and in a way I saw these two films in this project," Prasanna said.
All actors in the documentary are people who are members of the mission. Scheduled to release in August, The Quest is jointly produced by Prasanna and Chinmaya Mission.