2018 will be the year of NT Rama Rao, 22 years after he passed away. And in what promises to be a double role of a different kind, two filmmakers are getting ready to present two biopics of the late Andhra chief minister.
But NTR vs Lakshmi's NTR isn't going to be yet another clash of two films at the box-office. It will be as much a political battle, for while NTR is likely to be a goody-goody look at his film career and successful entry into politics, Lakshmi's NTR will focus on the most controversial phase of the thespian's life starting 1993. The film will focus on the time he came in contact with Lakshmi Parvati, his marriage, his family's disapproval of his fawning over his much younger wife, the spectacular 1994 election victory, being overthrown by Chandrababu Naidu in the August 1995 coup and his death six months later, a heartbroken man.
And when the person wielding the megaphone for Lakshmi's NTR is maverick filmmaker Ramgopal Varma, the audience knows what to expect. Known to be controversy's favourite child, Varma has a knack of picking up subjects that will create more than just a ripple. His last few movies have seen him reprising many a real-life character, be it forest brigand Veerappan or Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga (Vangaveeti), the firebrand leader from Vijayawada. His Sarkar series have clear shades of Bal Thackeray and he has already cut his teeth in Rayalaseema politics by presenting the life and times of factionist politician Paritala Ravi (Rakta Charithra). Among his Hindi movies, the underworld and Dawood Ibrahim (Company)have always fascinated Varma.
The two movies will also see the two sides of the NTR family crossing swords.
The two movies will also see the two sides of the NTR family crossing swords. While Lakshmi's NTR, as the title suggests, will have Lakshmi Parvati in a dominant role, NTR to be directed by Teja is being produced with the consent of the family, that includes the sons, daughters and son-in-law Naidu. It will most likely also see NTR's actor son Nandamuri Balakrishna (who is also related to Naidu as his daughter Brahmani is now married to Naidu's son Nara Lokesh) play the role of his father. So anything that shows Naidu in a poor light is almost ruled out.
Given that Balakrishna also is in politics now (he is a Telugu Desam MLA from Hindupur), the NTR biopic is likely to be presented in such a manner that it sets the tone for the 2019 polls. The problem will be that Varma's venture has the potential to nullify the positives of Balakrishna's NTR, as Lakshmi's NTR is unlikely to be flattering to the men behind the 1995 coup.
But is NTR really a factor in current day politics of Andhra Pradesh? Though the TDP founder leader has been reduced to a bust, statue and cutout in the party, Naidu has also kept his memory and legacy alive by naming welfare projects after him. It does not mean that NTR is still a vote catcher because the first-time voters are not even likely to know much about him. For them, TDP is Chandrababu Naidu.
But while invoking NTR as Balakrishna plans to do, is unlikely to net new votes, at the same time, presenting a negative image can boomerang. That is where Varma has to be extremely careful though he has projected himself as an admirer of NTR and claims to have been part of the crowd that attended NTR's first political meeting in Vijayawada in the early 80s. Lakshmi's NTR is being bankrolled by Rakesh Reddy, who is a leader with the YSR Congress party, the principal political challenger to the TDP in Andhra Pradesh. If NTR is shown as a weak person, it could well be exploited by the TDP to rake up an anti-Telugu pride sentiment given respect for NTR is pretty much part of the Telugu ethos and culture. The NTR vs NTR clash will therefore also be a TDP vs YSR Congress duel.
Teja's NTR is likely to take more time as he is committed to finish a movie with actor Venkatesh before he deepdives into NTR's life and times.
For biopics to succeed, the script writer and director need to have the surprise element with enough meat in the story to surprise the audience. The movie needs to have material the viewer did not know about. But in the case of NTR, a lot about his film and political life is already out in the public domain. What will be on test is how Varma presents the turbulent last year of NTR's life.
Like he did in the case of Veerappan, Varma has zeroed in on an entirely new face to be his NT Rama Rao. Kept under wraps, Varma believes an actor who has been seen in other roles before will prevent the audience from seeing him as NTR. Teja's NTR is likely to take more time as he is committed to finish a movie with actor Venkatesh before he deepdives into NTR's life and times.
Varma's films have a history of facing hurdles at release time. The Vangaveeti family was not happy with the manner in which the film had shaped up and Veerappan's wife had gone to court demanding a ban on the movie's release. In this case, Varma will be up against a more formidable political force should he present Naidu and company in a poor light. That could even jeopardise the release of the film. But given that Varma thrives on pre-release buzz, this may just be playing out according to script.