He lived with that legendary forest brigand Veerappan for seven days and seven nights in the thick Satyamangalam forests. A. Rajasekhar – (then) news reporter with India Today, this bold crime and travel correspondent made history – being the first to interview Veerappan and take his photograph, when the entire police force of Karnataka and Tamilnadu were on their heels. Later, he joined the company of Suresh Krishna as assistant/co-director and worked for about half a dozen films, including Rajni’s Basha. A methodical researcher of criminology, Rajasekhar readied a stupefying police story, which he believes will be the Na Bootho Na Bhavishyath-type of entertainer. That is Vishal’s SALUTE, set for release with about 800 prints globally. “A film should be like a newspaper. It should have all the elements to satisfy varied readers. Salute is like that,” this journalist-turned director asserts. Idlebrain.com’s exclusive interview with him:
Tell us about your background before coming to films?
I was born and brought up in Erode, Tamilnadu. My dad was an engineer with TN’s water works department. Since childhood, I have been a good observer of society. I respond to burning social problems around. I genuinely feel like this. After doing my degree in English literature, I took to journalism. It had all that fire, adventure and thrill. It mesmerized me like an enchanting spirit. I always wanted to do something more and more innovative, to be the first to explode flash news.
What’s your major adventure as a reporter?
(Silence for a few seconds) You are putting me in a fix. I love to remain like an ant, though I have some of the most exciting yarns in my real life. Actually, I don’t feel like narrating this. But, this being the context in demand, I will tell you. To start with early 1990s, Forest Brigand Veerappan was almost the uncrowned king of the vast stretch of the Western Ghats – the middle and receding ends of Satyamangalam forests. Everybody heard about him and some could see his victims- brutally killed after kidnap or in fierce shootouts. Who saw Veerappan? Nobody! He was like a ghost moving everywhere, but disappearing everywhere. My fascination for journalism forced me to decide that I should meet Veerappan. After struggling for about six months, scanning almost all the villages where he was suspected to take cover, I finally got the most exciting hour in my life. Accompanied by a relative of mine (a brother), I saw Veerappan. Yes. First, I couldn’t believe. But, it was the naked truth. In an effort to understand his forest-life and to cull out the best interview of him, I moved with him and his deputies, covering torturous routes. Seven days and seven nights! Finally, I got what I wanted. His interview and the first photograph of him. It was in April/May 1993.
What about your film career?
At the fag end of the last millennium, I found myself associated with Suresh Krishna sir. Abhay was my debut film as an assistant director. That was a technical wonder, visual splendor and made me have my zeal for filmmaking burning like the Olympian torch. I worked with him for films – Basha, Daddy, Raghavendra, Gaja (Simhadri’s remake in Tamil) and etc. I found that there should be order in one’s thoughts. Success or failure, we should not flirt from one thing to the other. Thanks to the patronage of Suresh sir, I learnt the art of keen observation. I started observing the nexus between the police and the criminals. I imagined a lot. I matched my thoughts with real happenings. Finally, I got the opportunity to direct Vishal’s Salute. That’s it.
What Salute is all about? When did this idea of the film generate in your mind?
Salute is a tribute to the police department. Several years ago, I dreamt of creating a character like the one Vishal has done in Salute. I bet you would never have seen such performance from anybody, any artiste, in India. It is 100% naturally scripted, screen played and directed. Criminology is something which thrills me a lot. Growth of incredible levels of civilization, we also have equal levels of sophisticated crime, say organized crime. It is not a joke to do a police story. Of course, anybody can take a film on a cop. But, how realistically… it’s my concern and mission.
Why did you select Vishal in particular for your project?
I have watched all the films of Vishal. Somehow, I liked him very much. He holds great ease, flexible movements, pleasant screen presence and above all the urge to pull the real artiste out of him. He never felt like a producer’s brother. I am not praising him. Just I hope you will clearly understand that Vishal is an actor with a down-to-earth adaptability, sans inhibitions. Going by his sexy height and figure, I thought he alone could do justice to my film. He did surpass my expectations. You are going to see a full-fledged actor in Vishal with Salute.
Salute is one of the biggest budget films to be ever made in the South. You are a debutant director. How did you win the confidence of the producer?
The real hero off the screen is my producer Vikram Krishna. When I narrated the script to him, he equally felt excited like me. Vishal appreciated me very much. That very moment, I saw the zeal in Vishal. In no time, he got into reality and trained himself to suit the script. As it is, I repeat. After all, if they (producer) want to do big budget films with Vishal, they can do it with others. There are a number of highly talented directors at their disposal. But, it was the confidence of Vikram Krishna which I can’t stop appreciating. It is the story, screenplay and direction with which he got totally convinced.
What’s the specialty in taking Nayantara for Vishal? It is to build craze for the project?
You observe Nayantara. She holds that innocent and childlike look, which most of the heroines don’t have. Going by my script, I need such a girl to play the heroine. She moves along with a group of children. She is like Tom and her mates are like Jerry. Naturally, you can’t deny her strengths as a ravishing actress.
Will Salute fulfill the ambition of Vishal to become a Telugu hero?
One thousand percent. In fact, Vishal is a Telugu boy. He speaks fine Telugu. I am confident that Telugu audience will like him very much with this film. Fulfillment of his ambition is a foregone conclusion.
Do you find any improvement in Vishal’s Telugu in this film?
I say, Vishal will rock. His Telugu is chaste and beautiful. Of course, you might have heard his diction at the audio release function. A good number of guests and my friends were thrilled hearing him speak superb Telugu.
Why Salute (Satyam in Tamil) got U/A in Tamilnadu and A in Andhra Pradesh?
It might be the discretion of the Censor Board authorities. I don’t interfere into that. But, I am happy that it passed through the process without much cuts. It is natural and not a big issue.
Though you people (producers and director) say it’s a bilingual, do you think it would completely free from Tamil odor?
Yes. It is a bilingual film. You watch it frame by frame. For instance, you observe the police uniform and watch the difference between the badges and other symbols of both the states. It is enough. I can’t cheat public. They are very shrewd. You also have Telugu artistes like Brahmanandam, Ali and others.
What are the major highlights of the film?
The story itself is a big highlight. It is a visual splendor. I always dream big and work hard to make them a reality. You have art work by Padma Shri Thota Tharani. Music by Harris Jayaraj. Excellent cinematography. You have a great car chase sequence. You don’t find such scene anywhere in Indian films. We specially deployed Hollywood team for executing that. The airport scene will be another big lure. Terrific fights in close conformity with real stunts will thrill one and all.
You are very much fascinated about Vishal’s character as Police officer. Did you impart any training to him?
Yes. I got him trained like a real cop under the able guidance of a good friend of mine – an IPS officer in the rank of an IG. Vishal moved with him for about two months. Also, you will see the hero in the crazy 6-packs.
It is announced that Salute will release with 800 Prints? Why going for such a hysterical release?
It is the dream of all of us to give a great entertainer to the people of South. In Telugu, perhaps Salute is the first biggest budget film. Already big arrangements are made in Tamilnadu for the release. It is also simultaneously releasing in Kerala and Karnataka. Other than the US, UK releases, we are going to release it all over Europe, Australia, South East Asia and Middle East. This is first of its kind in global release. I am satisfied that – this big release is really a worthy exercise.
Being a journalist, what is your opinion about filmmaking?
I would like to compare the making of a film with the publishing of a newspaper. When you start touring the pages of a daily, you have different columns – politics, economics, crime, sports etc., etc. Like this, a film needs to be made with all elements – comedy, thrills, politics, crime and such like. I followed this Journalist-point of view in this film. After all, I am nearer to the public thinking and what they witness daily.
What are your next projects?
I am getting a good number of offers. Immediately, I am going to do a Telugu film soon. At this moment, I am in no mood to tell you about this. I need the blessings of all Telugu audience for the film, particularly for Vishal.
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