After the epic blockbuster 'Bahubali', Rajamouli’s next reel adventure 'RRR' (Raudram, Ranam, Rudhiram) is riding on the wave of high expectations not just because it is being made by the ace filmmaker, but it bears the stamp of his father and master story-teller K V Vijayendra Prasad - the creator of 'Bahubali'. Long before the period action drama had hit the silver screen, the kingdom of ‘Mahishmati’, the bold and graceful ‘Devasena’ and all-powerful ‘Shivagami’ had originally come to life in Vijayendra's mind. Undoubtedly, the magnum opus 'Bahubali' and its maker - the immensely talented Rajamouli - had catapulted the 79-year-old's fame to great heights, transcending cultural, linguistic and regional boundaries. Much before, Vijayendra Prasad had already forayed into the Telugu film industry and carved a niche for himself as an eminent film director and screenwriter. He, however, rose to be a superstar in screenwriting in the Indian film industry through Salman Khan-starrer 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' that was released after 'Bahubali-I.' The outstanding storyline in superhit films that followed such as Vijay-starrer Mersal and Kankana Ranaut-starrer 'Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi' made him one of the most expensive screenwriters in India.
Father's stories in son's reel
When Rajamouli got into making films independently, Vijayendra Prasad would first narrate all his stories to his son. The father-son combo went on to churn out movies such as 'Simhadri', 'Sai', 'Chatrapathi', 'Vikramarkudu', 'Yamadonga', 'Magadheera', 'Eega', 'Bahubali' and the latest 'RRR'. The only two projects that Rajamouli could not associate with his father were his first film 'Student No 1' and 'Maryada Rama'.
Vijayendra is literally a storyteller for he is not in the habit of jotting down the script in black and white, but would narrate the story to the director. He would superbly garnish the film if his son is helming the film. After ample discussions with his father, Rajamouli would shape the script. But in other projects, the discussions would progress in the presence of the director, and a final script would be readied through assistants. However, in other language projects such as 'Thalaivi' and 'Mersal', Vijayendra would don the garb of a script consultant or cowriter, brainstorming about plots and storylines.
A decision Rajamouli repents
It's not that all the stories his father narrated to his son have fascinated Rajamouli. There have been stories from Vijayendra that Rajamouli had skipped for some or the other reasons, while some were given to other directors and others had been shelved forever. Rarely would Rajamouli be in a mood to listen to new stories once a film starts rolling. The popular filmmaker says there have been instances when he can't afford to take his mind off an ongoing project. Today, Rajamouli regrets his decision to decline the 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' project after his father narrated its story to him as he was neck-deep in finishing 'Bahubali'.
Later on, the film hit the theatres under the stewardship of Kabeer Khan with Salman Khan as the protagonist. It went on to set the box-office ringing and won critical acclaim as well. With a tinge of regret, Rajamouli had later asked his dad: "Why did you narrate the story at that particular time. Had you told me 15 days earlier or 15 days later I would have grabbed the project with glee." On the day his father narrated the story Rajamouli was busy canning the war scenes of 'Bahubali ' involving thousands of junior artists.
That was a Mammootty film
'Poovinu Puthiya Poonthennal', a Malayalam movie written and directed by Fazil and Mammootty in the lead, was released in 1986. This film was remade into Tamil as 'Poovizhi Vasalile' (directed by Fazil) where Sathya Raj played the lead and in Telugu as 'Pasividi Pranam' (directed by Kothandarami Reddy) starring Chiranjeevi - both of which were well-received by movie buffs, unlike the Malayalam version. Vijayendra had then watched the film with his assistant, and its storyline struck him so deep that years later it manifested as 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' - something which his friend Fazil was overjoyed to know.
Pakistan and Bhajrangi
Vijayendra gave a 'Pakistan' twist to the Mammootty flick where the hero with all goodness at heart becomes the protector of a child. It is also based on a true story of a Pakistani couple who, unable to foot the huge medical bills in their homeland, reaches India for the treatment of their child at a Chennai hospital. After successful heart surgery, the hospital authorities, realising the financial distress of the family, reimbursed the entire amount paid in advance and did the follow-up treatment completely free of cost.
Overwhelmed by the gesture from the Indian side, the couple returned to Pakistan with tears in their eyes. The script reflects the fact that humanity blurs geographical borders. The story was written keeping in mind the Pakistani people’s passion for Indian cinema and music, despite political animosity. Vijayendra Prasad has revealed that the hero was made a Hanuman devotee ‘Bajrangi’ in order to compromise the Pakistan connection.
A piece of advice from Salman's father
Salman Khan's popularity touched the skies even as he drifted away from the usual action formula to play the lead in 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan', and the film grossed crores of rupees. The actor attributes all credit for his success to none other than its writer Vijayendra Prasad.
Salman's father Salim Khan, who had co-written the screenplays of Bollywood chartbusters like 'Sholay' and 'Deewar', had visited the ace screenwriter during the time of Bajrangi's pre-production and story discussion. Vijayendra recalls the precious piece of advice Salim had given him at that time: 'Never compromise on remuneration for your story'. He had suggested asking at least one rupee more than the remuneration sought by the lead actor, as the story is the hero. "All the heroes of today were created by outstanding stories," opines Salim Khan. Later, Salman's father had described 'Bajrangi Bhaijaan' as the most well-crafted screenplays he had ever come across.
Story is precious
The discussions for 'Bajrangi' were in progress long before Vijayendra earned a pan Indian name as a scriptwriter through 'Bahubali'. The producers had offered him Rs 40 lakh. The remuneration rose to Rs 80 lakh and then to Rs1 crore. The producers had the shock of their life when he told them his salary was Rs 2 crore, as there was no such culture even in Bollywood. Though the producers tried to lower the bar, saying it was a Salman Khan film, Vijayendra stood firm and said they could back out if they were not ready to cooperate.
The 'Bajrangi' producers realised the scope and power of a strong storyline and finally yielded to the demand. Vijayendra felt that it was a gross injustice meted out to screenwriters who work in big-budget films being contended with peanuts when the producers reap profits running to hundreds of crores of rupees. Vijayendra says he is adamant on remuneration not just for reaping personal gains but for elevating the stature of screenwriters in the industry.
A fly that became a superhero
Since 2007 the prolific combo of Rajamouli-Vijayendra started experimentation in a big way incorporating fantasy in the storyline. 'Yamadonga' was the first such movie to be released in the genre. It was followed by 'Magadheera', released two years later, and had successfully completed a 100-day run in 223 centres. Set in an expensive canvas, the film had romance and rebirth mixed in the right proportions and created waves across South India. However, long before 'Bahubali' was released, Rajamouli's fame as a director flew far and wide across India with the release of 'Eega' (dubbed in Malayalam as Eecha)
'Eega' opened up a tougher job for Rajamouli as he was forced to reshoot many scenes and experiment with one graphic after another. The film made use of computer-generated imagery for almost 90 minutes, cementing the confidence of Rajamouli to embark on a massive fantasy project like 'Bahubali', rooted in VFX and computer graphics.
Vijayendra Prasad had once said the Steven Spielberg film 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' released in 1982 had forced him to think about a story on similar lines where a creature that is generally looked down upon with aversion strikes an emotional chord with viewers towards the end. We were caught between different options, including an ant, to select the lead creature in 'Eega.' Finally, the housefly was chosen to play the hero considering its capability as an extremely maneuverable flyer that has free and quick access to any spot. The fantasy drama woven with incredible imagination where a common fly could think like a human being was well-received by viewers.
The combination of three Rs
After 'Bahubali', Rajamouli was planning a movie with two actors. During the time he happened to read a few books on the Indian freedom struggle, which paved the way for his next project RRR. Though its title reads 'Raudram, Ranam, Rudhiram', the fans love to call it 'Rajamouli-Ram Charan-Ramrao’
Unlike the fantasy film 'Bahubali', in 'RRR' Rajamouli places the lives of two real-life revolutionaries on a fictitious canvas. The director has hinted that his father has written the story for the film, while the screenplay was readied by the father-son combo. Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem are two legendary revolutionaries in the history of freedom struggle who had fought against the British in the Andhra and Telengana regions respectively.
However, history has not documented a common period in the lives of Alluri Sitarama and Komaram, who were contemporaries and lived in different regions. The movie tries to recreate the untold phase through an imaginary sequence of events and sets the fictional tone for the two legends to meet each other. Ram Charan essays the role of Alluri Sitarama Raju, while Junior NTR plays Komaram Bheem. Though the director has clarified that RRR is not an adaptation of true historic events, the teasers have courted controversy as the film narrates the story of heroes from real life.
Rumours are rife that the movie, as it hits the theatres, will set the stage for new controversies taking into account the prevailing political situation. It should be perceived whether Rajamouli, who shuns away from controversies, could experience the same creative liberty in 'RRR' as he got to do in other fantasy films. Though people in other regions of the country may not be familiar with the story of the two revolutionaries, Vijayendra Prasad strongly believes that it will not affect the popularity of the film.
'Sholay' a school by itself
"I have no godfather in scriptwriting, instead a cinema as a whole would have something to teach," says Vijayendra Prasad, who recalls watching the all-time classic 'Sholay' umpteen times, and each time it gives new lessons about the nuances of balancing diverse emotions.
Vijayendra Prasad admits that he forayed into screenwriting as he had no other option to choose after unsuccessful stints in a couple of small-time businesses. He decided to follow the footsteps of his brother Shiva Shakthi Datta, the first person from the family to set foot on Tollywood and try his luck in story writing. He wrote stories for over 25 movies and directed four films, including the award-winning 'Rajanna'.
Vijayendra describes his stories as 'readymade shirts' which could be altered as per requirements. Hence they are not works of ‘pure’ art, but commercial art. The stories are written putting the budget of the project into perspective. The legendary storyteller's style is to present the story as simple as possible. Though all his scripts are inspired by fiction, film, or real-life incidents, he attributes all credit to his son Rajamouli for the success of 'Eega', 'Bahubali' and 'RRR'. At the same time, Vijayendra reminds us that his career in the film industry is a mixed bag of highs and lows, as he has been part of unsuccessful projects as well.
Home, the epicentre of film discussions
Vijayendra Prasad and Rajamouli do not have a fancy for tourist resorts to set the ambience right for holding discussions of a story in the making. Instead, their home is the centre stage for all story-telling and other film discussions between the father and son. Hailing from a family with a creative bend, Rajamouli makes sure his cousins - national award-winning music director Marakathamani alias M M Keeravani and singers M M Sreelekha and Kalyani Malik are part of his team in one way or the other.
Rajamouli's wife Rama, who is also the younger sister of Keeravani's wife, plays the role of costume designer and stylist in his projects. That clearly proves that a Rajamouli film is more than a father-son combo but rather a family affair. As soon as a new project sets in all family programmes are rescheduled accordingly.
The Rajamouli films are also known for their lengthy production. It took two years to complete 'Eega', while five long years for Bahubali. The shooting may start as early as 4 am and extend up to 9 in the night. All in the family would be present in the shooting sets, and Rajamouli won't have any qualms in listening to the suggestions put forward by any of them. If they are truly excellent, the hit-maker would not forget to give them the credit.
Rajamouli's wife Rama, a homemaker, would come to the shooting location of 'Student No 1' and 'Simhadri' where she would give tips to her husband on costume selection. It soon emerged as a stepping stone for Rama to get into the shoes of a stylist from his third film. A handful of films such as 'Magadheera', 'Eega', 'Bahubali' and 'RRR' bear the signature of Rama's ingenuity in costume selection. For one whole year, the weavers of Narayanpet and Mangalgiri were busy weaving clothes for 'Bahubali 'characters under the supervision of Rama Rajamouli. The credit for roping in an apt actor to immortalise the all-powerful Shivagami should also go to Rama who zeroed in on actor Ramya Krishnan, when the crew initially had other choices like Sreedevi.
An atheist who believes theatre as his temple
Rajamouli who doesn't believe in God, would say that theatre is his temple and his films are exclusively for the cinemas. He wants the viewers to watch his films again and again, as the excitement in the viewers whips up his passion to embark on the next project.
Boxoffice hits have not changed the personality of Rajamouli. Even after the success of the first movie 'Student No.1', he was jobless for almost 14 months. Rajamouli has the conviction that if a project is destined to come to you, it would surely reach your hands, and hence there is no point in worrying about it,
The biggest positive aspect of his son is that Rajamouli is never egoistic, says Vijayendra. Unlike expensive shooting sets, Rajamouli is a man of simplicity in daily life. If he is on a project, Rajamouli would be busy from start to end, but after that, he is a homely person and loves going on trips with family and relatives. The most expensive filmmaker in India is however least interested in the financial aspects. Rama says that he always forgets to take his ATM card while going out.
As the theatres await the release of 'RRR', Rajamouli talks about his upcoming project with Vijayendra Prasad. Mahesh Babu would play the hero in his next. It would be an adventure film in an African location. But before working on its script and other pre-production work, Rajamouli would be taking the much-needed break after the release of 'RRR'.