HYDERABAD: Every director has a pet project – a story he holds dear, a dream unfulfilled, an obsession he just can’t shake off. For National Award-winning director Gunasekhar, it was the story of Rudhramadevi, a prominent ruler of the Kakatiya dynasty in the 13th century, that truly captured his imagination. A fascination which began since childhood, Gunasekhar faced several hurdles along the way – both professional and financial – before finally completing his dream project after years of hard work, patience and perseverance.
As the film, which stars Anushka Shetty in the titular role, gears up for release, the filmmaker is amazingly candid as he speaks about the challenges he faced while making the film and what drove him to carry on.
“I first came acrossRudhramadevi in eighth standard, when I was studying in Andhra University. Almost immediately, I was fascinated by her story. During my early days as a director, I watched Braveheart (directed by Mel Gibson) and was completely inspired by it. I thought it would be amazing to make such a film here,” recalls Gunasekhar, his eyes sparkling with earnest.
Known for his technical brilliance, Gunasekhar shot to fame with the 2003 blockbuster Okkadu and while Rudhramadevi is hitting screens this Friday, the filmmaker explains that it could’ve released a decade ago.
“After Okkadu, I was at the peak of my career having just delivered a blockbuster, and I was very keen to do Rudhramadevi. Even the pre-production work for it was done but the producers at the time felt that a women-centric film may not have much appeal. They instead asked me to make the film with Gona Ganna Reddy as the central character and Rudhramadevi in a more supporting role,” he reveals.
“However, I could not agree with that. I was convinced that the story of Rudhramadevi is what I wanted to tell. Back then, had it released just after Okkadu, it would’ve been a great commercial success. Unfortunately, that was something the producers did not understand – they never viewed it as a commercial film. As a result, I was forced to put the project on the back-burner,” the filmmaker adds.
With financiers reluctant to back the project, Gunasekhar refused to let go of the project and decided to produce the film himself. He invested in a strong technical team, which included cinematography by Ajayan Vincent, art direction by Thotta Tharani and costumes by Neeta Lulla.
Speaking about choosing Anushka for the titular role, the director says, “I had actually not singled out Anushka for the role. To be honest, I was a little reluctant to cast her as Rudhramadevi since Arundhati had just released and I did not want people to draw parallels. However, public started taking the name of Anushka as Rudhramadevi – she was the people’s choice.”
Known for introducing technologies like DTS (Digital Theatre Systems) to the Telugu film industry, Gunasekhar decided to make Rudhramadevi in the 3D format. In fact it will be India’s first stereoscopic 3D historical film, and Gunasekhar explains that making the film in 3D was his greatest challenge as a director.
“I imported the technique and technicians from Germany. Sometimes if there was an error later, there weren’t enough skilled technicians to deal with it. As a result, the film kept getting delayed. Even financially, it became difficult as the cost was shooting up. Several people advised me to drop the 3D format, but I was convinced that such a historical spectacle must be shown in 3D,” says the 37-year-old, determinedly.
With the film releasing close on the heels of SS Rajamouli’s magnum opus Baahubali, comparisons between the two films have constantly been doing the rounds. Gunasekhar admits that the ‘Baahubali effect’ was good for business for the film’s Hindi release, but says both films can’t be compared on the same scale.
“There is a thin line between folklore and history. While Baahubali was a work of fiction and fantasy, Rudhramadevi is based on real events which took place many years ago. I have to depict the facts on screen and there cannot be any exaggeration in terms of sets or even otherwise,” he explains.
The filmmaker also had a word of praise for his ensemble cast, but saved special mention for Allu Arjun, who plays the role of Gona Ganna Reddy.
“He came to after Race Gurram turned out to be a huge blockbuster and said if I wanted to cast him in Rudhramadevi, he was just a phone call away. I took him up on the offer and he did a tremendous job. Allu Arjun is there in the film for 50 minutes. It’s not a cameo or a special appearance, but a proper character. I’m confident that after this movie, more actors will deviate from their star image and take up such interesting characters,” he says with a smile.
While most of his time is occupied with Rudhramadevi, Gunasekhar subtly hints at a possible sequel if the film does well.
“It’s too early to talk about it, but naturally such a major story about such a vastly complex character like Rudhramadevi can’t be told in just two and a half hours. Depending on how this film does, we can think about a sequel,” he says, signing off. To be released in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam, Rudhramadevi also features Rana Daggubati and Nithya Menen and will hit screens on October 9.