'I was extremely skeptical about portraying Savitri': Keerthy Suresh on 'Mahanati'

Keerthy also revealed that 80 percent of the film will be about Savitri's off screen life.
'I was extremely skeptical about portraying Savitri': Keerthy Suresh on 'Mahanati'
'I was extremely skeptical about portraying Savitri': Keerthy Suresh on 'Mahanati'

Keerthy Suresh has been more of a mainstream heroine who has featured in films that revolve around the hero so far. Her films have been mostly confined to the entertainment space or have slightly veered towards the experimental – which hasn’t worked out always. However, Keerthy’s upcoming release Mahanati (Nadigaiyar Thilagam in Tamil), will be a stride out of the usual films that she has been doing. Directed by Nag Ashwin of Yevade Subrahmanyam fame, it is a biopic of the late legendary actor Savitri.

When reports first surfaced that Keerthy Suresh would be donning the role of Savitri, jokes were cracked at will. Madhan Karky, who has written both the dialogues and the lyrics for the Tamil version addressed the issue at a press meet, saying “Keerthy was a troll bunny at first for all netizens who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she would be reprising the role of Savitri. But trust me, she has put in a Herculean effort and has got into the skin of the character.”

Speaking next, Keerthy Suresh had a lot of things to say about her modus operandi for the film and how it all came together.

“This is the first time I am speaking about Nadigaiyar Thilagam on a stage. Director Nag Ashwin had come forward saying that he had approached me after watching Thodari. Despite the film receiving tons of criticism after release, I had an instinct telling me that it would do something good to me, someday. And it happened,” she said.

“At first, I was extremely skeptical about whether I could portray the life of such a legendary actress on screen successfully. The film also wanted to throw some light on the negative sides of her life, so I was afraid whether it would hurt a section of the people. It was only Nagi (Nag Ashwin, director) who had convinced me saying that this film would be an account of Savitri’s life, and there would not be any fictional airs to it,” she added.

Keerthy then spoke about how the whole unit of the film was a ‘fresh bunch’, with producer Swapna and the director Nagi being extremely involved in the proceedings and making it so easy for the artists.

“People did question me on the maturity and the experience of the one-film old director to handle a biopic of such a legendary actress. But right from the narration, I was impressed with Nagi’s passion and conviction. I heard him narrate the story for 3 hours, I had a spark then and there, that this would be a fruitful outing,” she said.

The technical prowess of Mahanati is a staunch example of how uncompromising the makers should be when churning out a film of this scale. Hailing from Spain, DOP Dani Sanchez-Lopez’s expertise will be apparent in how difficult it is to spot the differences between the original Savitri who is etched in the minds of the viewers, and Keerthy’s reprisal.

“Even though Dani does not know much about Savitri, he has watched her films and has tried to bring about the same authenticity, including the little twinkle in her eye. There are lots of different stages of Savitri’s life that we have captured, right from the school going phase to the golden era to the dull and dizzying aftermath. Lighting and surrounding setup are important factors in such a depiction, apart from the makeup and the costumes. With his impressive improvisation in all areas, we shared a great rapport on the sets,” said Keerthy.

With regards to the look and feel, Keerthy said that huge efforts have been put in by costume designer Gaurav to bring about Savitri’s image from top to toe. Speaking on the same, Keerthy said, “I myself have about 120 sarees in the film. All of them have been stitched, nothing has been bought from outside. Nagi’s and Swapna’s mothers, too, were kind enough to give us some of their original sarees which would fit into our film. Stylist Indrakshi and jewelry designer Naveen, too, have been very careful to reciprocate the same scenes from many earlier films, with actual references. We finalised the basics at the first look test itself, it is only the detailing which took a lot of time and effort.”

“We have even used prosthetic makeup and padding for an important sequence in the film, where the character bloats up a little. We shot for 15 days, where I had to put in four hours on makeup every day before going to shoot. I could not have any solid food, and survived on a liquid diet, shooting for 7-8 hours at a stretch. It was stressful, still worthy,” Keerthy shared.

Keerthy further assured everyone that Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam would be different from the usual biopics that hit the marquee.

“We have seen Savitri on screen, but the film focusses on her off screen life. 80 percent of the film would be about what turns her personal life had taken, and how it had affected her career. We are very thankful to Vijaya Chamundeswari, Savitri’s daughter, who was a pillar in our scripting process. Speaking and spending time with her, I grasped a lot of mannerisms and character traits which helped me build my performance,” Keerthy added.

Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam will release on May 9, worldwide. Ravi of Trident Arts will be distributing the film across Tamil Nadu.

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