Mahanati director Nag Ashwin revealed that Keerthy Suresh has 110 changes in the film. See BTS photos

Mahanati director Nag Ashwin in this exclusive tete a tete with Hindustan Times revealed that Jamuna’s character will not be a part of the film.

regional movies Updated: Apr 28, 2018 17:03 IST
Priyanka Sundar
Priyanka Sundar
Hindustan Times
Mahanati,Samantha Akkineni,Keerthy Suresh
Driector Nag Ashwin wanted to do something relevant, and Mahanati was born.


Mahanati, the biopic of Telugu actor Savitri who ruled the south Indian film industry for three decades is slated to release on May 9. In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, director Nag Ashwin spoke about bringing the star’s life alive on silver screen and the kind of preparation that they needed to make this biopic a reality. He also revealed that the film will not have any actor portraying the role of Jamuna, who was Savitri’s closest friend and peer.

This is Nag Ashwin’s second film after Yevvade Subramanyan, which was a coming-of-age drama starring Nani, Vijay Devarakonda and Ritu Varma. Ashwin happened to hear the six-hour radio interview of Savitri by Kiran Prabha, which was released in three parts and that’s how the director got the idea of adapting her life story on the silver screen. “I wanted to work on a film that was more relevant than my debut film, which was about existential crisis. When I heard the interview, I felt that this story was worth telling.”

Once Ashwin and producers Swapna and Priyanka Dutt decided to work on the film, they also realised that they have to do justice to Savitri’s life. They realised that this might be the only piece of cinema about the life of one of the greatest actors and that was a big responsibility. “We wanted to do something that Savitri garu would be proud of,” he said.

Ashwin also added that the cast and crew came together for the love of Savitri and it helped them collaborate and work together with singlemindedness. “Every actor who is a part of this film has a slew of hits. Vijay Deverakonda has Arjun Reddy and Shalini Pandey who plays a small role also has a hit film, but they came together sportingly to work for the film. This is also probably the biggest multi-starrer in recent times,” he said.

Keerthy Suresh as Mahanati Savitri

Speaking about casting, Ashwin explained that he chose Keerthy Suresh to play the role of Savitri after watching a few trailers of her films. “I saw it in her eyes. There was a spark and something genuine about her.”

The team also researched extensively for this project. Did Ashwin help Keerthy nail the traits of Savitri? How did the actor prepare for the role? “We pointed out some of the obvious traits. Keerthy was also in touch with Savitri’s daughter. From when we began shooting for the film to when we were on the final schedule, there was a transformation. She evolved with the character and we could see it,” Ashwin said.

When it comes to the looks, Ashwin explained that Keerthy Suresh had 110 changes in the film. Each look’s reference was taken from Savitri’s appearances and film. The team, Ashwin said, tried to be as honest as possible. “Savitri garu had a certain way of doing her makeup, especially her eyebrows. She used sun glasses of a particular style and she would apply makeup even for appearances. We kept all of this in mind when the looks were decided. One should also take note that for a female actor, a film has about 40 changes, but in Mahanati, Keerthy had to go through 110 changes.”

Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan

When it came to casting Dulquer Salmaan to play Gemini Ganesan, Ashwin felt that he needed someone who was not from Telugu film industry to add authenticity to the role. Gemini Ganesan was at that time working mainly in Tamil film industry.

Rise and fall of Savitri

The film documents the rise and fall of Savitri. How authentic would the cinematic portrayal be? “Savitri garu’s life was an open book. She did not have a scandal. Even when she married to a man who was already married, people knew. Everyone knew of her financial trouble and her alcohol problem as well, so there is no question about courting controversy with this film. She was a star ahead of her time,” Ashwin said.

So how did he decide on what was necessary to tell her story and what wasn’t? “Savitri has worked in 300 films. She was a star for whom the male leads waited. Schedules for films were put on hold until filmmakers would get her call sheet. So, we knew that it would be impossible to add everything and I did have to make directorial choices. I also had to think about what would suit the celluloid,” he said.

No one to play actor Jamuna in Mahanati

It is also for this reason that Nag Ashwin has chosen not to have Jamuna in the film. Speculations were rife that Shalini Pandey would be playing the role of Jamuna, which the filmmakers had denied earlier. So when asked if there was anyone portraying Savitri’s best friend and contemporary, Ashwin said that he didn’t want to have Jamuna in the film and not do complete justice to her.

“Jamuna, NTR and Meena Kumari were a big part of Savitri’s life. Meena Kumari was like soul sister, in fact. But I felt that they would lead to a meandering plot. The people who ask about Jamuna and Meena Kumari in the film today, would feel that adding their parts was more of a drag tomorrow. So, we decided to tell the story of Savitri alone,” he explained.

He did, however, say that the film had 120-130 speaking characters. To direct a film of this scale so soon was, however, not apprehensive. The reason, Ashwin says is because of the team that has come forward to work on the film. “The director is as good as the actor and vice versa. In my case, it is more the former as I had a great time. It was a collaboration where everyone wanted the best for the film.”

Maya Bazaar experience

The filmmakers shot sequences from the hit Telugu film, Maya Bazaar which starred NTR and Savitri. They recreated the sets, got actors to play the roles that were earlier portrayed by veterans and Nag Ashwin explained that this was one of the big things that they worked on. “There was a period feeling on the sets. One of the camera men from then and a few directors dropped by and we could see that we had created something special. It was reflected in their eyes. We heard that we did the lighting he right way and it was special,” Ashwin recalled.

Actor Savitri who has worked in about 300 films died on December 26, 1981, at the age of 45.

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First Published: Apr 28, 2018 16:59 IST