'Mammootty was my first choice to play YSR': Director Mahi interview on upcoming biopic

Mammootty will be playing the late CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 'Yatra'.
'Mammootty was my first choice to play YSR': Director Mahi interview on upcoming biopic
'Mammootty was my first choice to play YSR': Director Mahi interview on upcoming biopic

Mammootty is all set to make his comeback in Telugu cinema after almost two decades. Back in the early '90s, he played a lead role in one of the most critically acclaimed Telugu films - K Vishwanath’s Swathi Kiranam; however, over the years, the award-winning actor has largely stuck to playing lead roles in Malayalam cinema.

Now, after all these years, he’s back in Telugu with a biopic on late Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy. Titled Yatra, the film will be directed by Mahi V Raghav, whose recent film Anando Brahma went on to become one of the surprise hits of 2017.

Speaking to The News Minute, Mahi V Raghav says it took him nearly five months to get Mammootty onboard this project.

“He’s also very particular about the script and in the end, he was quite convinced about what we were trying to do. Yatra focuses on a particular event - the 1500 kms long journey on foot across Andhra Pradesh - in YS Rajasekhara Reddy’s life which also turned out to be a life-changing experience for him. Mammootty understood that we were trying to celebrate a character like YSR through this biopic and I couldn’t be more excited that he agreed to play the lead role,” Mahi V Raghav says.

The Malayalam actor was pretty much the first choice for Mahi when he finished writing the script of Yatra.

“Mammootty has a larger-than-life aura about him. You can see that even in a film like Thalapathy, in which he stands tall despite the presence of someone like Rajinikanth in the same frame. Mammootty has played the role of Ambedkar in a film, which earned him a National Award. There’s nothing that he can’t do, I believe,” the filmmaker says, adding that the casting is the hardest part of this biopic.

“When you talk about YSR, people already have preconceived notions about him. He was a very strong and rebellious man, and we want to bring that out through this character in the biopic. But at the same time, in this biopic the character of YSR is more important than the actor who’s playing the role. That’s one of the key reasons why we didn’t want a popular Telugu actor playing the role because that might take the focus away from the character," Mahi explains.

Moreover, the director is all praise for Mammootty’s work ethic and professionalism, based on his interactions with the actor so far. Ask him if Mammootty is going to dub his own voice for the role, the director says, “Of course. He’s very particular about giving his 100% for everything he does. It’s his voice that you hear in Swathi Kiranam. Even if it’s a dubbed film, he makes it a point to dub for his own voice. He’s very meticulous that way, and I can’t wait to start shooting the film with him.”

Interestingly, Mahi V Raghav had no plans to make this biopic until mid-2017.

“My journey to make this film really started during the post production of Anando Brahma. It’s been almost nine years since YSR passed away in a tragic helicopter crash, but people keep talking about him on social media, and I’ve heard numerous incidents about his life from my friends. I don’t really follow politics and I don’t read much either. That’s why I end up struggling a lot to find my voice to tell a story. Multiple things have to fall in place at the right time,” he adds.

Prior to his debut in films, the director spent close to eight years in New Zealand, and it was during this time that YSR rose to power as the Chief Minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh back in 2003. It was a do-or-die situation for the Congressman from Pulivendala in Kadapa district, who was a dominant force in AP politics for almost two decades.

Having seen the rise and rise of Chandrababu Naidu and the TDP in the '90s and early 2000s, many believed that the elections held in 2003 could make or break YSR’s career as a politician.

On April 9, 2003, YSR set out on a long 1500 kms journey across Andhra Pradesh to meet farmers and others from different walks of life. And it changed everything.

“He was facing the biggest battle of his political career and he really needed to do something out of the box. People knew all about YSR in Kadapa, but his image was quite different in other regions. This long journey, which spanned more than 60 days, helped him to become a completely different person altogether. Moreover, people also understood his warmth and saw a different side of his persona. The transition was from both sides, and in the end, YSR truly emerged as a leader. It’s a road film, where everything that happened in his life, political journey prepared him to take this step which changed the face of politics in the state. In a way, the film will reflect what made YSR the man he is,” Mahi confesses.

The director is yet to finalise the cast to play other roles including that of YS Jaganmohan Reddy, and other politicians whose lives are closely linked to that of YSR. Ask him if he’s going to approach any of the current crop of Telugu film actors to play these roles, he quickly clarifies, “Well, Yatra is a political drama and it’s a not a genre that not a lot of people would want to fiddle with, especially considering the politically-charged climate that’s prevailing in both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We’re going to announce the details about the cast and crew soon.”

The film is likely to go on floors in June this year and the makers, Vijay Chilla and Shashi Devireddy, are planning to release the film in January, 2019.

“We are going to make the film on a huge canvas. There are plenty of instances in YSR’s life that’ll make the film both dramatic and inspiring, and we want to really focus on that,” Mahi signs off.

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