Framed and mounted on the wall behind Krishna Vamsi’s chair in his office is a large artwork of Ilayairaja’s side profile. It has a sweet hand-written note, ‘Naa priyamaina Krishna Vamsi gaariki, (To my dear Krishna Vamsi)’ with a signature by the maestro. Krishna Vamsi’s journey with the musician goes long back, right to his days as an assistant director on Ram Gopal Varma’s Siva (1989) and then on Anthahpuram (1998). “I have been floating his divine music for years now. Approaching him for Rangamarthanda felt like an obvious choice considering his capability and unparalleled body of work,” the filmmaker says, as we sit down to chat in his office about his next film.
I remember making a listicle of the most anticipated films of 2020 and mentioning Rangamarthanda in it. The director laughs when I share this anecdote. Three years later, the film is now finally set to hit the marquee. It is perhaps the longest he has been he has ever travelled with; his last release, Nakshatram, was in 2017. “My film has to come out and reach the audience. This thought is what keeps me going,” he says.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The origins of Rangamarthanda
The filmmaker reveals that the idea of the film was sown in his mind by Prakash Raj, who had purchased the rights to the Marathi film Natsamrat (2016) — starring Nana Patekar — with an intention to produce, star, and direct. “I just had a basic idea about the existence of Natsamrat, due to the presence of Nana Patekar (whom he had directed in the Hindi version of Anthahpuram), who, I believe, is one of the greatest actors in the country, and I hadn’t seen the film. Prakash was watching it on his laptop when I went to visit him once for a casual meeting and he wanted me to have a look at it to understand if there any screenplay changes required,” says the filmmaker, speaking about how the film began to shape up.
“When I started watching the film at 12:30 midnight, my initial idea was to skim through it in 30 minutes. I wasn’t quite fascinated with the film when it began because I’m personally not a fan of such stories. However, due to the immense respect I have for Nana Patekar, I saw the full film, and dropped a message to Prakash saying that it’s a fantastic film and encouraged him to pursue the remake. I assured him I would be of any help if he needed it.” Then comes the twist. “The next day, Prakash asked me to direct the film, saying that I am a better person to direct it and citing the stress he will have to undergo to perform and direct simultaneously if he helms it. I told him that I needed some time because I can’t commit to a project instantly and then I watched the film a couple of times more. So that’s how it all began.”
Exploring the psyche of an actor
A film by Krishna Vamsi
The filmmaker shares that as he started watching the film through the lenses of his directorial sensibilities, there were some mixed results initially. “I started searching for the things I could incorporate into the story and honestly, the elements that I require for my film were not quite strongly present in Natsamrat.” What are the elements that a Krishna Vamsi film must have? “Well, elements like family bonds, belongingness to the country, our culture, moral values, social responsibility, philosophical approach, and of course, the colours, romance, and fun.”
The Chandhamama-filmmaker then envisioned his adaptation after watching the two to three more times and rewrote the whole film. Discussing the themes of the film, which tells the story of a stage writer, he says, “The film is not about the stage but about an actor after his career is over; his personal life and his psyche. And everyone knows who’s an actor. So adapting it was not really a challenge.”
Family as a conflict
Many of Krishna Vamsi’s films—like Ninne Pelladata (1996), Antahpuram (1998), Murari (2001), Chandamama (2006), Mogudu (2011), Govindudu Andari Vaadele (2014)—underline familial relationships and he is considered a specialist of sorts in the genre.
In Natsmrat too, the core conflict is instigated by one such relationship. As someone who has dealt with the theme numerous times, was it an easier facet to present? “It is easier for the audience to connect because they have families but for me, it is not easy at all. From a directorial point-of-view, it is difficult for me because I have done a couple of films on that aspect. So I have to find a new way to do that and not come across as monotonous.”
The evolution of Prakash Raj
Prakash Raj has been a constant in Krishna Vamsi’s filmography, from Antahpuram to Khadgam and Chakram to Govindudu Andarivadele, the director has witnessed the actor’s growth first-hand, both in talent and popularity. “Prakash Raj is one of the finest actors we have,” he says. The filmmaker goes on to add how the actor has evolved over the years. “The time he needs to understand what kind of performance I want from him has come down now. Earlier, I had to explain to him a bit more. Since he hails from Karnataka, we had to explain the Telugu culture to him earlier. Now he has understood and even mastered it. So in that sense, my work as a director has become easier. He knows everything about the culture and understands how I moulded according to our sensibilities. For me, working with Prakash Raj is quite easy, except for his availability,” he laughs.
The director believes Prakash Raj surprised him in a scene that required his character to break down emotionally in a burnt theatre, recalling his entire life. “I knew he was capable of it but still, what he did was amazing. That particular scene rests entirely on him. Just him, the camera, and a theatre that has been burnt to the ground. I had put so many daggers around him but he still managed to excel.”
Brahmanandam, the dramatic actor
The news of Brahmanandam playing a dramatic role in Rangamarthanda came as a surprise to almost everyone and I am personally looking forward to seeing the comic genius in a serious character. “His name is Chakrapani in the film,” Krishna Vamsi says.
Revealing the story behind his casting, the director says, “While we were in the process of the casting, I knew that we had wonderful actors who could do a fantastic job with the character; there were many obvious choices we could have opted for, but somehow, I felt something was missing. And one day—you won’t believe it but this is what exactly happened—while thinking about Chakrapani, Brahmanandam’s face flashed in my mind. I then envisioned the whole film with him, thinking about his reactions and expressions, and it felt like a brilliant choice. The next morning, it only solidified. I told Prakash, who was instantly impressed and both of us immediately went to Brahmanandam. He agreed to do the part on spot. I asked if he would be interested in watching the original but he refused. He said that he was waiting to act alongside Prakash in my direction. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed with him.”
The filmmaker adds that two vital actors in Rangamarthanda are Ramya Krishnan and Shivathmika Rajasekhar.
“I think we have never seen Ramya like this, submissive, docile, soft. And she communicates the most with her eyes. Shivathmika, on the other hand, is a landmine. This is originally her second film and honestly, despite facing giants like Prakash, Ramya, Brahmanandam and myself, she never went for a second take. She is fantastic.”