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Torso of Keerthy Suresh in the look of Savitri in centre and the title appears at bottom in Telugu script.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byNag Ashwin
Produced byC. Ashwini Dutt
Swapna Dutt
Priyanka Dutt
Written byNag Ashwin
Music byMickey J. Meyer
CinematographyDani Sanchez-Lopez
Edited byKotagiri Venkateswara Rao
Release date
  • 9 May 2018 (2018-05-09)
Running time
173 minutes
Budget25 crore[1][2]
Box officeest. 83 crore[3][4]

Mahanati (transl. The great actress) is a 2018 Indian Telugu-language biographical drama film written and directed by Nag Ashwin and produced by C. Ashwini Dutt, Swapna Dutt, and Priyanka Dutt under the banners Vyjayanthi Movies and Swapna Cinema.[5] The film is based on the life of Indian actress Savitri, played by Keerthy Suresh while Dulquer Salmaan, in his Telugu debut, plays the role of Gemini Ganesan. The film also stars Samantha Akkineni and Vijay Deverakonda while Shalini Pandey, Rajendra Prasad, Prakash Raj and Bhanupriya appear in supporting roles. Naga Chaitanya and Mohan Babu, among others, play guest appearances. It follows Savitri's life, depicting her turbulent rise to prominence, marriage with Ganesan, and subsequent fall from grace, which is viewed from the perspective of a journalist and a photographer, played by Samantha and Deverakonda, respectively.

Principal photography of this film commenced on 29 May 2017 in Hyderabad. This is director Ashwin's second film after Yevade Subramanyam (2015). Dani Sanchez-Lopez handled the cinematography, while Kotagiri Venkateswara Rao took care of editing the film. Costume designs were handled by Gaurang Shah and Naveen Sangli. Music for the film is composed by Mickey J. Meyer, which opened to positive reviews.[6] Mahanati is released theatrically on 9 May 2018 while its dubbed versions in Tamil and Malayalam are released on 11 May 2018, with the former titled Nadigaiyar Thilagam (transl. The pride of actresses).[7]

The film was a critical and commercial success, with praise for the performance of Keerthy as Savitri.[8][9] The film was showcased in the Indian Panorama Mainstream section at the 49th International Film Festival of India,[10] and was also screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival.[11] It has also garnered the "Equality in Cinema Award" at the 2018 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.[12] At the 66th National Film Awards 2019, the film won three awards, including Best Feature Film in Telugu, Best Actress for Keerthy and Outstanding Costume Design.[13][14] Keerthy won the Best Actress award at several nominations including the Filmfare Awards South[15] and SIIMA Awards,[16] while she was nominated for Norway Tamil Film Festival Awards and Edison Awards.[17] She won the Special Jury Award at Norway Tamil Film Festival Awards.[18]


In Bangalore, popular yesteryear actress Savitri is found unconscious by her younger son and hospitalised, spending a year in coma. The incident receives heavy media attention, but Savitri's initial life and whereabouts remain unknown to the public. A newspaper editor appoints Madhuravani, a stuttering journalist, and Vijay Anthony, a photographer, to write a biography on Savitri. Madhuravani recovers a letter written by Savitri, in which she wishes to take her son to someone called Shankarayya. Madhuravani continues her research even after she is relieved from writing the memoir by her editor, and sneaks into Savitri's house, overhearing her aunt talk about her childhood.

In 1942 Vijayawada, a widowed Subhadramma and her daughter Savitri are taken in by Subhadramma's sister, Durgamamba, and husband, K. V. Chowdary, much to the latter's chagrin. Magnanimous in dance, thought and action, Savitri and Susheela became best friends. She becomes an accomplished dancer and later earns a profit for Chowdary by acting in plays with Susheela. On one such occasion, she is praised by the Hindi film actor Prithviraj Kapoor for her performance.

The increasing popularity of cinema leads to less attendance for plays, and Chowdary incurs huge losses. He tries to have Savitri join the film industry centred in Madras, but her young age and inability to speak Tamil hinder her prospects. She, however, succeeds in meeting Ramasamy "Gemini" Ganesan who works in the casting department and has her photograph taken for a casting directory. A year later, a director comes across the directory and wants to launch Savitri, but she gets the dialogue wrong and is thrown out. However, she successfully earns a role in a film song, and her distinguished performance helps her in getting major roles.

Savitri is offered a role opposite Ganesan, now an actor, and he teaches her the Tamil language. The two actors together rise as superstars and Savitri falls in love with the married Ganesan. They secretly marry, which leads to a clash with Savitri's family. Reluctant to act in films after marriage, Savitri gives in to the persuasion of filmmakers and Ganesan, and the films turn out to be successful. Savitri gives birth to two children– a girl and a boy. Initially supportive of her career, Ganesan starts to feel jealous, with Savitri's fame overshadowing his, and starts consuming alcohol. Savitri tries to stop him, but Ganesan instead shares her the drink.

A few ladies urge Savitri to both direct and star in an all-woman cast and crew film. On the day of her film's release, Savitri finds Ganesan in their guesthouse with another woman. Feeling cheated, she angrily refuses to talk to him and shuts him out of their house. Savitri becomes an alcoholic, and also gains weight. Meanwhile, her mother dies, and poor financial decisions lead to a raid by the Income Tax Department, resulting in the loss of her wealth. One day, Savitri fights with her daughter about her excessive alcohol consumption and faints, accidentally setting their house on fire. They learn that Savitri has diabetes.

Chowdary visits Savitri, and she asks both her daughter and uncle for forgiveness and gets her daughter married. Savitri stops drinking and loses weight. She begins living in a smaller house with her son and starts acting in low-budget films. She sets aside money for opening a rehabilitation centre but discovers that she still owes income tax, strongly refusing to part with any more money. She goes to Bangalore with her son the next day; feeling lost, she calls Ganesan but cuts the line before speaking. Angry with him and with herself, she drinks alcohol again, before collapsing into a coma.

Madhuravani realizes her love for Anthony via Savitri's story. She interrupts what is supposedly Anthony's engagement and speaks strongly without a stutter, but discovers it is his sister's engagement and that Anthony loves her. Madhuravani writes the memoir about Savitri and visits the comatose Savitri, and places a picture of her father in her hands, retrieved from a newspaper archive. The film ends showing Savitri's death in December 1981.

In the last credits scene, Shankarraiya is shown to be a statue to which Savitri thinks and call him as her Father affectionately as 'Nanna'.


Guest appearances

Actor N. T. Rama Rao is featured in a cameo appearance as himself using archive footage.



In May 2016, director Nag Ashwin, who had previously made Yevade Subramanyam (2015), announced that his next film would be a biopic of South Indian actress Savitri and that it would be shot simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil.[19] However, the film was only shot in Telugu and dubbed in Tamil.[20] Ashwin revealed that he had finished work on the script and was in the middle of casting actors to be a part of the project.[19] During the pre-production phase, Ashwin spent six months in research by reading articles and books, while meeting old journalists and actors who had been associated with the actress. Explaining why he chose to turn Savitri's career into a film script, he stated "from a penniless origin to the first female superstar, her life is quite a story" and that it was a "moment in time where it has been long enough that film legends have left us" and "that we will have to revisit them and understand why they are legends".[21] He didn't use the conventional biopic format.[22] He was inspired to create a film after listening to the radio about Savitri.[23] Ashwin said the film made him more responsible.[24]


Soon after the announcement of the film, Ashwin stated he was still editing the script and intended to cast the lead actress with an audience poll.[25][26] The team continued to hold talks with actresses for the lead role, and despite discussions with Nithya Menen, things did not work out.[27][28] Samantha was the first lead actor to be cast in the film during December 2016 and revealed she would portray a character from whose point of view the story is narrated, rather than the role of Savitri.[29][30] Reports also suggested that she may be appearing as another actress from the era, Jamuna, a close friend of Savitri.[31] Subsequently, Keerthy Suresh was cast in the lead role of Savitri in early January 2017.[32][33] The film's first look poster featuring both actresses was released in March 2017 to coincide with International Women's Day.[34] For the role of Gemini Ganesan, Savitri's husband, Ashwin had considered Suriya or Madhavan, before finalising Dulquer Salmaan for the character.[35][36] Vijay Deverakonda, who had also earlier been considered for Gemini Ganesan's role, was then selected to portray another role in the film.[37][38] Keerthy and Savitri's daughter held conversations for working on the film.[39]


The principal shoot of the biopic began on 29 May 2017 at Ramakrishna Studios in Hyderabad, with the title confirmed as Mahanati.[40][41] Actor Rajendra Prasad joined the cast during the first schedule, while Mickey J Meyer and Dani Sanchez-Lopez was confirmed as music composer and cinematographer respectively.[42] Ashwin revealed that Dulquer's portrayal of Gemini Ganesan would go beyond just the physical resemblance and the character's emotional side would also be depicted.[43] Keerthy Suresh was requested to put on weight for the film and shot for a vintage song in early June 2017 as a part of the first schedule.[44] Prakash Raj also joined the team in August 2017 to play the role of producer Aluri Chakrapani.[45] Deni Sanchez Lopez was the cinematographer.[46] Shooting for both versions were completed on 22 March 2018.[47][48] Dulquer began dubbing for the film on 26 March, followed by Samantha and Keerthy Suresh.[49][50][51] Veteran actress Bhanupriya provided voice-over for Bhanumathi's character in the film.[52]

Costume designs[edit]

Jewellery designer Naveen Sangli worked with a team of jewellers from Hyderabad by watching her films closely to notice the kind of ornaments she wore and later went on to sketch these ornaments. "A team of five hand artisans worked meticulously to reinvent these classics. Gold, kundan and diamond jewellery was recreated in the same old designs she used to wear and were finished with the antique look. Close to 15 karigars worked to customise and recreate these pieces exclusively for eight months after almost 6 months of study and research and probing into the actress's life story," revealed Naveen. Makers revealed that the biggest challenge was to recreate the chandamama and suryudu necklace with rubies and the vadannams which are more than 60 years old. Some of the antique jewellery was however customised to meet director Nag Ashwin's expectations and his vision for Keerthy Suresh as Savitri, the filmmakers reveal. The jewellery collection includes necklaces, champaswaralu, traditional earrings, jhumkas, bangles, paapidi billas, vaddanams, rings and watches. Director Nag Ashwin revealed that it took the jewellery designer Naveen many days to delve into her past, talk to her family and know about her sensibilities before working on these ornaments. “We used a lot of old methods like gold wire wrapping and dainty stone setting methods to achieve a look as vintage as possible. Matching a few pieces with the sarees designed by designer Gaurang Shah was another major challenge. All his sarees are such antique weaves with vintage dyes, that giving matching jewellery to these was quite a task. Each studded piece has been a piece of art, blending with the era, the actress, the costumes and the imagination of the director,” said Naveen.[53][54] Costume designer Gaurang Shah revealed that the costumes in the film took over a year to make, with the involvement of 100 artisans. The designer came up with these costumes after months of research.[55][56]


While, the film is based on Savitri's biopic, the character Madhuravani, played by Samantha in this film is fictional, and not a real life character. The director wanted to narrate the story through the perspective of a third person.[57]


The film's soundtrack album is composed by Mickey J. Meyer. The album consists of six tracks with Sirivennela Sitaramasastri and Ramajogayya Sastry penning the lyrics for the Telugu version, whereas Madhan Karky penned the Tamil version of the songs. Aditya Music acquired the film's audio rights of both the versions.[58] The full album of Mahanati was released on 1 May 2018, at a grand launch event, featuring the entire cast and crew.[59] Whereas, the album of Nadigayar Thilagam (Tamil version) was launched on 5 May 2018.


Mahanati was initially slated to release worldwide on 29 March 2018.[60] But due to the heavy VFX work, the makers postponed its release to May.[61] The film was released on 9 May 2018 worldwide,[8] while its Tamil version was released on 11 May 2018.[7] The overseas distribution rights of Mahanati and all future films produced by Vyjayanthi Movies and Swapna Cinema were acquired by Nirvana Cinemas,[62] with the amount for the former being 45 million.[63] Chandrababu Naidu, then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, was impressed with the film and offered to exempt Mahanati from taxes in Andhra Pradesh, but Ashwini Dutt politely declined it.[64] Mahanati was pirated on torrent websites from 17 May, taking a toll on its box office.[65] This was partly due to the inavailability of film tickets from holdovers of the year's previous releases Bharat Ane Nenu, Rangasthalam and Naa Peru Surya.[65] The number of screens were increased in the second week.[1] From the third week of June, Mahanati had free screenings conducted in old age homes.[66]

After Mahanati's release, Ganesan's first daughter Kamala Selvaraj alleged that the film was distorted and disagreed with his characterisation. Ashwin responded by stating that Selvaraj was made aware of the plot during its development.[67] Chamundeswari also defended the film, suggesting that Selvaraj may have watched the film through a different perspective.[68]


The poster of Savitri biopic, featuring Keerthy Suresh and Samantha Akkineni was released on 8 March 2017, coinciding with International Women's Day.[34] Dulquer Salmaan's look as Gemini Ganesan, was released on 28 July 2017, on his birthday.[69] The first glimpse of Keerthy Suresh's character as Savitri was unveiled on her birthday, on 17 October 2017.[70] Later, on 6 December 2017, on the occasion of Savitri's birthday, the makers released the logo video of Mahanati on YouTube.[71][72]

On 6 April and 10 April respectively, the first look posters featuring Samantha and Devarakonda's characters were released, and received positive response.[73] A new poster featuring Devarakonda and Samantha was released on 13 April 2018.[74] On 14 April 2018, the film's teaser and first look poster were released digitally.[73] They were positively received, and the teaser crossed 1 million views on YouTube within half a day.[73] 20 different looks of the 110 played by Keerthy in Mahanati were released by the makers through publicity posters, first looks and film stills.[75] The following week, a series of teasers revealed the various special appearances in the film.[76] Mahanati did not have theatrical trailers released, which was rare for an Indian film.[77]

Home media[edit]

The film's digital rights were acquired by Amazon Prime Video.[78] The television broadcast rights of Mahanati were acquired by Star Maa; upon its initial run on 19 August, the film registered a high target rating point (TRP) rating of 20.16.[79] The satellite rights of the film's Tamil version Nadigayar Thilagam were purchased by Zee Tamil.[80]


Critical reception[edit]


Keerthy received critical acclaim for her performance as Savitri and went on to win the National Film Award for Best actress.[81]

Mahanati received positive reviews from critics.[81] Writing for The Times of India, Neeshita Nyayapati gave the film four stars out of five and commented, "To call Mahanati a celebration of Savitri's life would be an understatement, because the film breathes her life in a span of almost 3 hours. There are few films in the Telugu film industry that make you feel the way this one does – empathize and fall head over heels in love with the protagonist even in her lowest of lows."[82] A review carried by Sify opines, "As a director, Nag Ashwin has told the story of Savitri in an emotional and poignant manner. His direction, his grip on emotions is outstanding". They found Keerthy "pitch perfect" as Savitri and felt Salmaan "gives the best performance".[9] Referring to the importance given to seemingly minor events, Janani K of India Today writes, "It is these little things that make Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam, one of the best biopics of all time".[83]

Manoj Kumar of The Indian Express gave the film four stars out of five, praising the performances, writing, "The four best things to happen to Nag's film are Dulquer Salmaan, Keerthy Suresh, Samantha Akkineni and the costume designers. These three actors are in top form and equally shoulder this film".[84] Priyanka Sundar of The Hindustan Times gave Mahanati 3.5 stars out of five and applauded Salmaan's performance "whether it is a frustrated and rude Ganesan when Savitri succumbs to coma or his cheesy Romeo avatar wooing Savitri".[85] Sangeetha Devi Dundoo of The Hindu writes, "The film belongs to Keerthy and Dulquer as they imbibe the mannerisms of the legendary actors they’re portraying but don't end up as caricatures. Dulquer scores with his effortless ease, and Keerthy owns every moment on screen."[86]

Suresh Kavirayani, in his review for Deccan Chronicle, gave the film four stars out of five and praised the aspects of production, writing, "Avish deserves a pat on the back for creating the right atmosphere and old-world feel, and Mickey J. Mayer's music and background score elevate the film".[87] Writing for, Archana Nathan particularly praised the execution: "The 176-minute movie is evenly paced, and the director ensures that the cameo-heavy screenplay is not reduced to a series of entries and exits."[88] Mridula Ramadugu of Firstpost felt the best part of the film was the lack of dramatising Savitri's life, opining, "It's hard not to be biased towards such a film".[89] Krishna Sripada of The News Minute writes, "[T]he story of Mahanati, probably south Indian film industry's most revered female figure, is a once-in-a-lifetime epic. It is safe to say we are indebted now to Nag Ashwin, who has pulled off a stunner". She suggested that the film "will make you smile through the tears".[90]

Hemnath Kumar of Firstpost gave Mahanati three stars out of five; he felt that the film "leaves you craving for more drama", writing, "It is like reading a Wikipedia page of a famous person. You might get all that you are looking for but it is not the same as reading an in-depth book about the same person".[91] Akshara K. V. of Mathrubhumi also gave the film three stars out five and writes, "The length of the film could have been reduced because the second part after the interval gets lagging".[92] Writing for Film Companion, Baradwaj Rangan said, "Mahanati, despite its numerous failings, cannot be easily dismissed – because it remembers a forgotten era, whose clips are lovingly recreated via scratchy prints and computerised colour".[93]

The Free Press Journal gave 4.5 stars out of 5 and stated that "Director Nag Ashwin demonstrates a surprising level of maturity in apportioning flamboyance to the real-life tale. The film is shot with a dash of adrenaline which constantly pumps up the drama without distorting the credibility of the proceedings. There is an intrinsic hollowness and hypocrisy in the way a successful woman professional was treated by those whom she trusted. Savitri never failed. Those around her did. “Mahanati” celebrates a life that finally failed because of its generosity."[94] TS Sudhir of The Quint on reviewing the film wrote that "Tollywood, barring the political-cum-crime ventures by Ramgopal Varma, has not ventured into biopics. So, in that sense, Mahanati is a brave effort. It brings to life an effervescent girl, who longs to know how her late father looked like, is so overawed by the thought of sharing screen space with Akkineni Nageswara Rao (played by his grandson Naga Chaitanya) that she goofs up the scene and cannot make sense of the praise Prithviraj Kapoor showers on her in Hindi. Mahanati is also a commentary on life beyond the arc lights. Savitri’s life is, in fact, a testimony to how letting her heart rule her mind led to wrong decisions that finally ended up taking her life at a young age. You can’t help but leave the theatre with a heavy heart."[95]

Rahul Devalapalli of The Week gave 4 stars out of 5 and wrote about the film that "In a movie with a large number of senior and well-known artistes, Keerthy Suresh emerges the true hero. With a tough job on hand, to act the part of a supremely talented actress, a doting wife and a kind human, she mesmerises. The resemblance to the late actress is striking and so is the infectious laughter, which she seems to have mastered. In some of the scenes, shot in black and white, it is tough to tell if it is Savitri or Keerthy.Dulquer, Samantha and Vijay play their parts well. The cameos by directors and actors add to the appeal of Mahanati. The costumes and the sets need a special mention for beautifully recreating the 1940s and 80s."[96]

Must mention that my favorite non-Hindi film this year was #Mahanati. Such an incredible story, and so beautifully told. Huge props to @KeerthyOfficial for that terrific performance and to director Nag Ashwin for the vision and execution.


Mythily Ramachandran of Gulf News on reviewing the film wrote that " Behind the facade of celluloid glamour and fame, lay a deeply hurt soul, who lived with her dignity and honesty intact. Well researched and an engaging screenplay, this bio-pic features Keerthy Suresh as Savitri. Suresh completely owns her character and delivers a powerful performance. Dulquer Salmaan as Gemini Ganesan plays the perfect tango. Samantha, Vijay Devarkonda and Rajendra Prasad in supporting roles are brilliant. When curtains fall, you are left with a lump in the throat and realise the magnanimous human being that Savitri was. Mickey J Meyer’s melodious compositions and cinematographer Dani Sanchez Lopez’s frames that juggle between sepia tones and colour are added strengths."[97]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 100% based on 6 reviews, with an average rating of 7.50/10.[98]

Box office[edit]

Mahanati became the highest-grossing South Indian film that starred a woman as the primary character.[99] It became the fourth-best Telugu opener in the United States in 2018, earning more money than in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana combined on its first day.[100] The film collected beyond 35 crore (US$4.9 million) in the first weekend and 28.70 crore (US$4.0 million) at the worldwide box office in both versions.[101]


On the day of its premiere show, celebrities such as directors Atlee, S. S. Rajamouli and actor and producer Ram Charan, heaped praise on the team,[102] which Rajamouli stated that he is a fan of Dulquer's acting,[103] and Ram Charan also praising the team for making the tremendous biopic.[104] A deleted scene of the movie was released on 30 May 2018.[105] The makers also screened the film on old age homes in June 2018.[66]

The first look which features Keerthy suresh as Savitri was parodied in the promotional poster of Tamizh Padam 2, which was released in July 2018.[106] An art series titled "The Mahanati Retrospective" was showcased at the Telugu Film Chamber, as a tribute to the actress, which captured the cinematic glory of Savitri in various phases of her life. The proceeds of the exhibition amount to 3,00,000 was donated to the victims of 2018 Kerala floods through the Telugu Movie Artists Association.[107]


Mahanati won three National Film Awards, four Filmfare Awards South, ten awards at Zee Cine Awards Telugu, and three South Indian International Movie Awards, in addition to several other awards.[108][109][110] The film was also listed in many top film charts of year-end and decade-end.[111]


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