Keerthy Suresh on Mahanati: ‘Enacting Savitri’s off-screen personality was the most challenging part of the role’

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At the press meet of Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam, the team, including Keerthy Suresh who plays the titular role, shared some interesting facts about the film, whose Telugu version is gearing up to hit screens on 9 May. The Tamil Nadu theatrical rights for the Tamil version, Nadigaiyar Thilagam, have been secured by Trident Arts Ravindran — best known for releasing acclaimed 2017 hits such as Vikram Vedha and Aramm.

Veteran producer Ashwini Dutt, who has bankrolled the project under the banner Vyjayanathi Movies, said, “Out of 55 films, I have made 43 films from Chennai. Chiranjeevi garu and I were the last persons to move from Chennai to Hyderabad. We have made films with Rajinikanth and Vijay in the past. Now, we are very happy and glad to present the life of Savitri garu through our banner Vyjayanthi Movies. She was the first super-lady of South Indian cinema. When Nag Ashwin narrated the story, I really wanted to bring this story to screen. I was shocked by the kind of details he knew about Savitri garu’s life.”

Writer-lyricist Madhan Karky has penned the lyrics for the Tamil version and will also share the credits for the film’s dialogues. “I grew up watching Savitri’s films. Navaratri is my favorite film, and my entire family loves Savitri. I was happy when I heard that a biopic was being made on her. I was delighted when I was brought on board to write the lyrics and dialogues for the Tamil version. Everyone was skeptical about how they could pull off this project when it was launched,” he said.

Karky also expressed delight over the performance of Keerthy Suresh in the film. Gushing about her transformation as Savitri, Karky said, “When Keerthy Suresh was announced to play Savitri, there were a lot of brickbats on Twitter for the choice. Now, I have seen the rushes of the film. Keerthy has completely transformed herself as Savitri. She has performed really well by capturing Savitri’s minute expressions, tears, and smile perfectly. I was totally frozen by the authentic portrayal of certain important events while watching the film during the dubbing.”

Surprisingly, an extremely reticent Keerthy Suresh, who had never been forthcoming about her work, was very articulate at the press meet yesterday. Talking about how she signed the project, Keerthy recalled, “When director Nag Ashwin and producer Swapna Dutt approached me, I didn’t accept the offer immediately. I was very skeptical about pulling off such a challenging character and had a lot of doubts in mind. I wondered if I could portray a legendary actress like Savitri on screen. Nag was the one who convinced me and instilled confidence in me to do this role. I received a lot of criticism for my role in Thodari though some of them appreciated it. When Nag told me that he wanted to cast me as Savitri after watching my performance in Thodari, I was really happy,” said Keerthy, who is currently part of a bevy of projects in Tamil, including Thalapathy 62 which marks her second association with Vijay after Bairavaa.

Keerthy waxed lyrical about the film’s cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez, who hails from Spain. “Dany invested immense time and effort to compose each frame in the film. We have shot the black and white portions of the story using film. He used to be very patient on sets to get the perfect output from artists. And, my character undergoes a lot of transitions such as the childhood, grown-up period, and the golden era of Savitri. We used padding when we wanted to show the adult fatness in character and utilized prosthetics to showcase the final years of her life. Irrespective of kind of costumes we employ, the lighting needs to elevate the sequences, and I had an excellent rapport with Dany to execute certain things properly,” she said.

Keerthy Suresh/Image from Twitter.

Keerthy Suresh/Image from Twitter.

Talking about the film’s specially customized costumes, Keerthy said, “I wore nearly 120 costumes for the film. We have done extensive work on the costumes, thanks to Gaurav who designed the sarees and stylist Indrakshi. I have put on the same kind of jewelry that Savitri Amma used to wear, thanks to Swapna Dutt’s friend, who did thorough research. We have meticulously worked on each scene and referred to umpteen number of sequences to portray everything as accurately as possible.”

Keerthy also refuted rumors that she beefed up for a crucial part of the story. “We had to use prosthetics to show me a little fatty. I read a lot of articles that I put on weight for the role. It was completely false. I actually had to lose weight to look a little young. It took nearly four hours every day to finish my make up. After it’s done, I couldn’t have solid food and had to survive on liquid drinks since I was not supposed to open my mouth widely. Although the experience was stressful, our spirits would be lifted every time Nag narrates a scene,” she said.

Keerthy said 80% of the scenes in the movie are based on Savitri’s off-screen character and mannerisms. “Mahanati will be very unlike the regular biopics that we have seen so far. The most challenging part of the role was to enact her off-screen personality. While we had references for her on-screen appearance, we had to depend on her daughter Vijaya Chamundeswari to know how she was in her real life,” she said on a concluding note.

Also starring Samantha Ruth Prabhu, Dulquer Salmaan, Shalini Pandey and Vijay Deverakonda in important roles, Mahanati has music composed by Mickey J. Meyer. The film also features special cameos by Anushka Shetty and Naga Chaitanya.

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