Tell us about the film, especially about the violence?
It is a film that portrays the true necessity of ‘Ahimsa’, the principle propounded by the great Mahatma Gandhi. Times have changed and we don’t really resemble a country that secured its independence through ‘Ahimsa’ and so to highlight the significance of ‘Ahimsa’, we had to create a backdrop of violence. It is really not fair to jump to a conclusion that the film is of that genre by watching a one minute trailer.
Why did Srikanth opting for this film as his 100th film? Like is there any reasoning behind?
First of all, I would like to ask why a subject like this shouldn’t be chosen. Is there any parameter that an actor’s 100th film should be so and so? See, all that matters is to do a great film and get appreciated. ‘Mahatma’ is particularly interesting because it is a subject that balances Srikanth’s histrionics and gives me maximum scope to exploit his talents. It has all the makings of a movie that rises to the occasion.
Does the film have a hint of ‘Khadgam’?
Khadgam is a film that portrays unity and the sense of belongingness to the country. ‘Mahatma’ is all about a patriot and the way a country looks up to a great patriot who is beyond comparison.
Any incidents that made you feel bad while preparing the script?
On the occasion of ‘Gandhi Jayanthi’ last year or the year before that, channels like MTV, Channel V and our very own TV 9 conducted a survey whereby they asked people on the streets of Mumbai and Hyderabad who ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ is. It is really shocking to see our very own youth, educated ones at that, answer to the question by saying that ‘Mahatma Gandhi is the father of Indira Gandhi’, or ‘He is grandfather of Rajiv Gandhi’ or ‘the one who brought independence to the country’ or even worse’ the one on the currency notes.’ I really felt bad that the identity of a great leader and visionary is reduced to such shambles and that’s the reason behind this film.
Was Bhavana’s role more of a performance oriented one or a glamour doll character?
I would say that it is a perfect combination of both. To start with, I did not have an art film in mind and I was very clear that I want this to be a commercial masala Telugu film at the end of the day. So as part of the scheme of things, the heroine has to dance and look glamorous but it also is a role that has lots to offer in terms of performance.
Is there any relationship between ‘Vandemataram’, a film that was expected to star Chiranjeevi, and the present ‘Mahathma’?
Absolutely no relationship. ‘Vandemataram’ was a film set in pre independence days and is all about a freedom struggle and freedom fighters. It is a film that showcases all the hardships behind our independence and our freedom that we are so abusing today whereas ‘Mahatma’ is about how people look up to great patriots like them. Unfortunately, ‘Vandemataram’ didn’t happen and am one hundred percent sure that a film like that will definitely be made.
Is there any similarity between the characterizations of Srikanth in ‘Khadgam’ and this film?
Absolutely not. This is a totally different film to ‘Khadgam’. There the characterization is of an extremely serious person whereas here it is a representation of an average man in the country – his selfishness, his double standards, his escapist mentality and how much of honesty still remains in his heart and what if that is successfully brought to the fore. The great ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ himself set us an example. He was born in a lower middle class family and had all the trademarks of a spoilt youngster. Beating all those, he went to England to study law, went to South Africa for work and faced humiliation and upon returning to India took to freedom struggle. What it says is if an ordinary youngster can turn into a ‘Mahatma’ why isn’t it possible for everybody to emulate him?
Any troubles with the censor board?
I am really not in favor of using the word ‘Trouble’ as it portrays a different meaning all together. When the censor board saw the film they pointed out certain issues, particularly an issue related to Indira Gandhi. What they told me is that ‘yes this is a great film but why do you want to sail your ship in troubled waters with attention hungry individuals and irresponsible media who fail to understand the context and try to blow things out of proportion?’ The suggestion made a lot of sense to me and so that’s about it. There isn’t any trouble as such. Just a suggestion and I chose to take it even though I always had the right to go to the tribunal.
Tell us about cameraman Sarat?
He is a veteran of 92 films and I have known him for the last 20 years. I used to like his work a lot but we really developed that professional rapport during the shooting of Srikanth starrer ‘Nagaram’. Ever since then, we were looking for an opportunity to work together for a film and with Srikanth being a common friend; it became a reality with this film. He has given his best for this film.
What is the role of Charmee in the film? Is she just confined to the song?
Yes, Charmee is just confined to special appearance song and doesn’t play any key role in the film.
How about Sitarama Sastry garu as the lyric writer?
Sastry garu is like a huge support pillar to me. He is that one special person whom I always look up. I have tremendous respect for his language, his approach, his attitude and his outlook on life. We always had a fantastic relationship and it will continue forever. We share a very deep emotional bond and in fact, I consider him to be somebody in a much higher realm than me.
From whom do you draw inspiration as a director?
George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, John Woo, Francis Ford Cuppola, Tony Scott, Ramesh Sippy, Kamal Amrohi, Devanand, KV Reddy, HM Reddy, Mani ratnam, Bhagyaraja, NTR, MGR, Ram Gopla Varma, Vamsi, Shekar Kammula, EVV Satyanarayana, Yeleti Chandra Sekhar and it is a pretty long list.
Did you show the film to Mr. Tushar Gandhi?
Not the entire film but I have screened him a song on ‘Gandhi’ and he was thrilled. He was very appreciative of the song and got the lyrics translated and felt very happy.
Do you like producers getting involved?
No personally, I don’t like producers getting involved in the direction and storyline aspects. In fact, I don’t allow my producers to peep into my work. It is really not fair and disturbs our vision without which it is almost impossible to make a good film. I only had a couple of experiences on producer involvement till date and one actually benefitted us while the other turned out to be very disturbing and in the end they had to pay the price for it.
Who is the first judge on this film at this juncture?
All I would like to say is the audiences after the release of the movie. Because, once all the work is completed and the film is ready for release, we all lose that sense of judgment. However, I personally feel that Sita Rama Sastry garu is one of the best judges. He has that rare ability to judge a film based on its merits.
The film is slated to be released on the ninth of this month, but aren’t you worried about the impact on the openings due to the recent floods?
I am really confident that everything will be alright by ninth and people will watch the film. Andhra people have that remarkable ability to recover fast and there is nothing that can stop them.
How about the dialogues written by Paruchuri brothers?
They have done a fantastic job but more than dialogues, they were a source of constant inspiration in all aspects of the film be it with the story, treatment, characterization, screenplay, parts of direction, editing, getups, locations, music, lyrics and the like. Hats off to their experience. They are very disciplined and I learned a lot from them. Without them ‘Mahatma’ wouldn’t have been possible.
Have you given any solution/message at the end of this film?
I think that is to be decided by the audiences. As far as I am concerned, I try to project a message in all my films. Now whether that is a solution or a suggestion to take a particular path or quite simply a thought provoking guidance is for the audiences to find out.
Tell us about the highlights of the movie?
It is ‘Gandhiji’ all along especially the song featuring him, followed by Srikanth’s performance, the inspiring patriotic song played during the titles , Krishna Vamsi’s direction, the music, song picturizations, a very unique, remarkable and violent episode about non violence, climax, Bhavana’s cuteness etc..
Any suggestions to the audiences for this film?
Watch the film, enjoy and think for a second about it.