'Lakshmi’s NTR' may not swing an election, but it will alter opinions ahead of Andhra polls

Ramgopal Verma's biopic of N T Rama Rao, from the perspective of his second wife and Chandrababu Naidu's rival, Lakshmi Parvathy, is politically explosive. It awaits release in Andhra, perhaps due to its volatile depictions.

 |  8-minute read |   09-04-2019
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The maverick movie director Ram Gopal Varma (RGV) set the silver screen afire with his Lakshmi’s NTR — part of the life of the legendary N T Rama Rao. The movie cleared all hurdles, except a release in Andhra Pradesh, owing to the AP High Court’s order that held it back until April 3 for the judge to watch the movie amidst lawyers and then deliver the final verdict. While the producer and the director approached the Supreme Court seeking relief, the apex court refused to hear the petition “urgently” last week, and said it would “come up in due course.”

On April 3, the AP High Court posted the screening to April 9. 

This adjournment means the movie may not see light of the day “officially” in Andhra Pradesh before election day on April 11.

Nonetheless, the movie has surely reached many people — thanks, in part, to piracy. And clearly, through the movie, RGV has taken on Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party supremo N Chandrababu Naidu.

The director minces no words in calling out the alleged role of Naidu within the party which, as per the movie's view, seems dubious.

While the movie may not influence electors against Chandrababu Naidu, it surely serves the purpose of exposing the differences in the "first family" of AP. Recalling the past may not impact electoral fortunes today, but it will, in my view, ignite minds and provoke younger voters in their 20s and 30s to think. If a movie can influence electors, it could have been made and released three months ago, even before the poll schedule was announced. After all, it was known all along that Andhra would go to the polls around this time of year.

main_lakshmis-ntr_040619090446.jpgLakshmi's NTR shows the iconic Andhra leader facing intense political intrigue. (Image: YouTube)

RGV did not take the diplomatic route here. In fact, he began his battle with Naidu off-screen and on social media platforms. He took to Twitter to air his standpoint and was pretty vocal in impaling the political foibles of Naidu. The same has continued in the movie.

The other NTR biopic

What is the trigger for RGV to make Lakshmi’s NTR now? 

On a spur of the moment, NT Rama Rao’s actor-son and TDP Legislator Nandamuri Balakrishna announced he would make a biopic of his father — NTR, the man who held sway among the masses, both as an actor and a politician. Within a few days, RGV came up with an announcement that he would make Lakshmi’s NTR, and started tweeting that it would be the real "untold" story of the veteran actor-politician.

As the world knows, Balakrishna’s two-part biopic flopped at the box office.

To argue that a movie could influence the electorate is immature. If that were the case, Kathanayakudu and Mahanayakudu (the other biopics of NTR) would not have flopped at the box office and would have swayed voters in support of the TDP.

A biopic can, at best, influence some opinion, in my view. It cannot win an election.

However, since Balakrishna's announcement, RGV deployed social media to the best advantage to insulate his project from being thwarted. Varma silently, yet diligently, went on shooting the film, infusing enormous research into the project. He apparently spared no effort to collect every minute detail of the episodes that led to Lakshmi Parvathi’s entry in NTR’s life, how love blossomed between the two and culminated in their marriage, a sensation of the '90s. He went on to explore NTR romping home with a thumping majority in the 1994 elections, the thought process of the people close to him — and how this finally led to a party coup.

main_lakshmis-ntr2_040619090606.jpgSpoon-fed? The movie does not adequately portray Lakshmi Parvathi's alleged interference in party affairs. (Image: YouTube)

Varma did not ignore even the smallest of characters in the process. For instance, no other filmmaker has ever picturised the role of Ramoji Rao and the alleged proximity between him and Chandrababu Naidu as captured in Lakshmi’s NTR.

RGV's cheek has to be mentioned: the movie opened with an acknowledgement — "Special Thanks to Mr Nandamuri Balakrishna". This was probably alluding to Balakrishna's movie being the trigger for making Lakshmi’s NTR.

NTR’s Lakshmi

The first half could be rechristened "NTR’s Lakshmi" with the showcasing of bonding and love of NTR for the scholarly lady. The second half, however, was a trenchant attack on Chandrababu Naidu. The portrayal of the character seems to have been done with a vengeance. A signature tune of 'Nagin' is used as the background score, to signify the director’s intent to show Naidu was apparently the proverbial snake in the grass who waited for an opportunity to usurp power from NTR. Lakshmi Paravthi’s character was overly glorified and the director completely skipped showing her alleged interference in the government and party affairs. The reactions of NTR’s family from an emotional and financial standpoint as portrayed in the movie are quite natural. If viewed from a political prism, the role of Chandrababu Naidu as depicted is also not unnatural.

When RGV released the first stills of the film, it became the talking point across the Telugu-speaking regions. The first song and the first trailer on YouTube became a rage. The subsequent trailer and song, again released on Youtube, became a runaway hit with millions of views.

RGV’s got gall

RGV’s tweet on March 29, depicting a caricature (presumably Chandrababu Naidu) backstabbing the still from the movie came with a comment — “history repeats”, creating a frenzy among tweeple.

 He tweeted this on the anniversary of the date that TDP was formed on in 1982.

The party’s rank and file — especially Chandrababu Naidu — must have been hit where it hurts the most.

 

“I and crores of NTR fans like me are sprinkling holy water and cursing the ‘backstabbing’ director, who deprived the people of watching the movie for which the man was born and grew into becoming a Chief Minister because of movies, to embrace defeat in the upcoming elections.”

Ram Gopal Verma's politics 

Even though RGV has repeatedly maintained that he is a storyteller and made the movie for the sake of cinema, and not politics, his tweets and statements have belied this and clearly brought out his politics.

For instance, RGV coolly and firmly announced his intent of approaching the Supreme Court over the decision of the Andhra Pradesh High Court which stalled the screening. The announcement was made in a specially-convened press conference. This was after two individuals approached the High Court, stating that the movie would damage the political interests of the TDP as Chandrababu Naidu was apparently projected in a poor light.

In fact, the TDP had reportedly urged the Election Commission to prevent the release of the movie, but the ECI apparently refused to intervene. The party reportedly also appealed to the Central Board of Film Certification against giving clearance to the movie. Ironically, the CBFC accorded the movie a “U” certificate.

main_lakshmis-ntr3_040619090820.jpgRGV's focus seems to have been vilifying Chandrababu Naidu as apparently causing NTR strain. (Image: YouTube)

A beaming RGV, after the release of the movie worldwide, except in Andhra Pradesh said, “Any attempt to suppress the facts or the movie scenes would backfire. I don’t need industry's support. I know that you (the public) know who is behind the stalling the release in AP. If you try to suppress the truth, it explodes with all the force. It never happened that a movie was allowed in one state and stopped in another. We don’t want to influence the election. However, this is not fiction. It is a real story. The movie brings up emotion. You may lose trust on some people you respected all along if you trust what I have said in the movie as the truth.”

RGV claims that he was aware of NTR’s agony in the last four months of the latter’s life — especially after the palace coup. The filmmaker alludes that the incident did not happen between two people, but in front of hundreds. RGV posted on his social media that actor Harshavardhan had apparently complimented him, saying, ”Sir just saw #LakshmIsNTR and I think YOU ARE THE ONLY TRUE SON OF NTR” and says this the best compliment he got in his entire career."

It wouldn't be too wrong to say that Lakshmi’s NTR is RGV's filmy-political attempt to show who is the boss.

Also read: The most complex and complicated election in the offing in Andhra Pradesh

Writer

A Saye Sekhar A Saye Sekhar @sayesekhar

Saye Sekhar is a political analyst and an independent journalist.

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