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Director KVR Mahendra Interview – Bharathanatyam

Dorasaani-fame filmmaker KVR Mahendra discusses his sophomore directorial Bharathanatyam in a conversation with Srivathsan Nadadhur

KVR Mahendra was a wary filmmaker when he was helming his debut – the periodic romance Dorasaani. Besides being a time capsule of the pre-Independence era in Telangana, the film was backed by two major production houses and launched two debutants – Anand Deverakonda and Shivathmika Rajashekar. Five years later, he’s handholding another first-timer – Surya Teja Aelay – for a crime comedy Bharathanatyam, his sophomore directorial

“I was getting ready to direct a major star for my second film after Dorasaani, it was a crime drama and weeks before we were ready to go on floors, COVID-19 struck us. Owing to a few budgetary constraints, the project was put on hold. While I was absorbed in a world of crime for my other scripts, Bharathanatyam materialised out of the blue,” he shares.

When Surya Teja Aelay came to the director with the script, the lead actor wasn’t finalised yet. “I was soaked in a world of crime back then and with Surya’s script being a crime comedy, our ideas aligned. Subconsciously, when a writer pens a script, it’s a product of their imagination and they’re in complete control over its world. They imagine themselves in the shoes of a particular character and I felt Surya was best-suited to play the protagonist.”

“While I was trying to be as meticulous as I could with Dorasaani, I tried to enjoy the process more with Bharathanatyam. The first-film experience has come in handy. We completed the film across 38 days and I had a firm grip over the locations and the subject. As a writer, I am very slow but quite quick with the execution. Besides a supportive producer (Payal Saraf) who gave me everything I wanted, I had a strong team that brought the story alive onto the screen.”

Bharathanatyam has nothing to do with dance, but you’ll come out of the theatres thinking the title was apt for the story, Mahendra is confident. The story revolves around an assistant director Raju Sundaram, a boy-next-door character, who’s sucked into a world of crime owing to situations beyond his control. “This isn’t your typical launchpad, there are many characters with varied philosophies that’ll leave an imprint.”

Don’t crime comedies get chaotic if not in the right hands? “Yes, they can but all these characters are quite organically weaved into the narrative. Everyone plays a part in driving the story forward. Interestingly, all characters are after the same thing. With our clarity around the script, I could steer them in the same direction with focus and not let things spiral out of control.”

From Harshavardhan to Saleem Pheku to Viva Harsha and Ajay Ghosh, the director insists he’s adopted an ‘anti-stereotyping’ approach with the actors, going for an image reversal of sorts. “Audiences will be surprised that they could see Saleem as a co-director; you’ll witness a different dimension of the cast’s capabilities.”

At just about 124 minutes, the narrative is sharp and precise. “I’m happy I got to work with the likes of Vivek Sagar for the music – I’ve been in awe of the mood he creates with his soundscape, both with the songs and the background score. I don’t he would’ve composed more tunes for a film than Bharathanatyam. I pushed him hard, but it was in the best interest of the film.”

The director has multiple scripts ready that could go on floors immediately but is expected to make a formal announcement about it only after Bharathanatyam’s release. “Bharathanatyam is releasing alongside two other films (Manjummal Boys in Telugu, Family Star) this weekend and I promise crowds a perfect entertainer that’s witty, relatable and engaging.”

Meanwhile, has he come to terms with Dorasaani’s box-office performance yet? “The film may not have performed as well as the makers envisaged but the amount of praise that I got after Dorasaani was unmatched. A film can be a hit or a flop, but only a few manage to create a long-standing impact. I’m proud that I could groom actors like Anand and Shivathmika in their budding years.”

(Bharathanatyam releases in theatres on April 5)

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