‘Directing a Pawan Kalyan film is equivalent to having a PhD’

On the heels of Bheemla Nayak’s success, director Saagar K Chandra discusses what it means for him to direct his favourite actor
Saagar K Chandra with Pawan Kalyan
Saagar K Chandra with Pawan Kalyan

Saagar K Chandra has worked as an associate director for Ravi Babu’s Amaravati and directed three films so far. His first two films have won widespread critical acclaim and also became a testament to his sensibility and sensitivity as a director.

His latest film, Bheemla Nayak, which features his favorite actor Pawan Kalyan and Rana Daggubati in lead roles, has brought a huge cheer to the Telugu cinema industry after the third wave of the pandemic. Saagar, who wears his Pawan Kalyan fandom on his sleeve, talks to us about the film, his ambitions and more.

Excerpts from the interview:

How happy are you with the reaction to Bheemla Nayak?
I am over the moon. It was a fantastic feeling to deliver a stupendous success. With Bheemla Nayak, I wanted to bring back the raging and powerful Pawan Kalyan, the synonym for power-packed performances. I feel really happy that the fans as well as the audience are enjoying watching Pawan Kalyan in his element after a long time. Also they immensely liked the way Rana Daggubati portrayed a menacing role. Of all the compliments I have received so far, the words of Sukumar, Surender Reddy, Harish Shankar and VV Vinayak are special.

Bheemla Nayak is wildly different from your previous films. What attracted you to it in the first place?
When I watched Ayyappanum Koshiyum, I liked the way director Sachy brilliantly dealt with a small problem, which snowballed into an ego tussle between two opposite characters. I was amazed at how he made a mainstream film with intriguing characters and compelling narration. My happiness doubled when Trivikram garu told me that Pawan Kalyan garu is headlining the Telugu remake and I will be directing him. At first, I was both surprised and anxious. It was a mixed bag of emotions. I understand that it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that cannot be attributed to my merit as a director. It should happen organically. Throughout my life, people will call me Pawan Kalyan’s director and it’s equivalent to having a PhD.

This is the first time you worked with big stars like Pawan Kalyan and Trivikram. How easy or difficult is it to work with them?
It was a smooth ride and indeed a great learning experience. The support I have received from Trivikram garu, Kalyan garu, my producers China Babu garu and Naga Vamsi was incredible. Directing a big star like Pawan Kalyan garu and working closely with Trivikram garu on a day-to-day basis is a great feeling. I think these experiences have taken me to a whole new level of creativity.

Rana in Bheemla Nayak
Rana in Bheemla Nayak

‘I want to be known as a storyteller’

You are a huge fan of Pawan Kalyan’s. Does that make any difference while directing this film?
Yes! I have always wanted to see him in a certain way. When I knew that I was directing Kalyan garu, I wanted to recreate those ideas while also bringing back his energetic mannerisms and machismo. I am glad that I was able to incorporate the Pawan Kalyan tropes in my film.

How different is the writing process for a remake?
Trivikram garu has written the screenplay and dialogues for this film. As compared to the original, he created an altogether different world. I would say Bheemla Nayak is similar to Ayyappanum Koshiyum, but not it’s adaptation. If you watch the climax, it’s completely unique. As a director, my job is to strike a fine balance between the story and the structure without losing the commerciality. I am glad I did my part sincerely.

What has Trivikram added to your vision?
He was brilliant. On the first day of story discussion, Trivikram asked me to erase the thought of directing a remake. He wanted us to work like we are making a straight film so much so that others should come forward to acquire the remake rights. So the basic thread of the story is taken and improvised to suit the milieu and sensibilities. I must say without Trivikram garu this film would not have happened.

Even though Bheemla Nayak centres on Pawan Kalyan, it was Rana Daggubati’s character that was highly praised.
Any good story that runs on these lines gets a similar reception. Both the characters are strong and complement each other. Rana garu did a fabulous job and which is why his scenes with Kalyan garu worked big time.

A section of Pawan Kalyan fans seem to have an issue with the second half not having songs...
I am aware of these comments. But if we place a song during or after the flashback, the reactions would not have been the same. I believe adding a song or two would have slowed down the pace of the film. Nevertheless, we have altered the climax of the film and I am happy that they liked it.

Can we expect a sequel to Bheemla Nayak?
Why not! If Bheemla Nayak finds somebody as strong and menacing as Daniel Shekhar, there will definitely be a sequel.

How do you see your growth from Ayyare to Bheemla Nayak?
It has been wonderful. Although I received critical acclaim for Ayyare, the response to Appatlo Okadundevadu has opened the doors for me in the industry. With Bheemla Nayak, I have scaled new heights. From here on, I promise that I will try to make good films keeping all the commercial elements intact. I don’t want to be typecast as a director. I want to be known as a storyteller.

Were you upset when your film with Varun Tej got shelved?
It was definitely a setback. I wanted to make a period drama with Varun, but it was shelved due to budget constraints. I don’t think I will revive it anytime soon. Moving on, I have two scripts ready and I will divulge the details soon.

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