Mahanati

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Mahanati
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 byPriyanka Dutt
Screenplay byNag Ashwin
Story byNag Ashwin
Starring
Music byMickey J. Meyer
CinematographyDani Sanchez-Lopez
Edited byKotagiri Venkateswara Rao
Production
company
Distributed byTrident Arts (Tamil)
Release date
  • 9 May 2018 (2018-05-09) (Telugu)
  • 11 May 2018 (2018-05-11) (Tamil)
Running time
  • 173 minutes (Telugu)
  • 172 minutes (Tamil)
CountryIndia
Language
Budget25 crore[1][2]
Box office82 crore[3]

Mahanati (transl. The great actress) is a 2018 Indian bilingual biographical film written and directed by Nag Ashwin. It was produced by Priyanka Dutt under the banners Vyjayanthi Movies and Swapna Cinema and made simultaneously in Telugu and Tamil, with the latter titled Nadigaiyar Thilagam (transl. Champion of actresses). The film stars Keerthy Suresh, Dulquer Salmaan (in his Telugu debut), Samantha Akkineni and Vijay Devarakonda. It follows the life of Indian actress Savitri (Keerthy), depicting her turbulent rise to prominence, marriage with Gemini Ganesan (Salmaan), and subsequent fall from grace, viewed from the perspective of a journalist (Akkineni) and a photographer (Deverakonda).

Production began in May 2017, cinematography fell under the vision of Dani Sanchez-Lopez, and music for the film is composed by Mickey J. Meyer. Mahanati was released on 9 May 2018, and Nadigaiyar Thilagam on 11 May 2018.[4] The film was also dubbed in Malayalam. It opened to critical and commercial acclaim;[5] it was showcased in the Indian Panorama Mainstream section at the 49th International Film Festival of India,[6] and has also garnered the "Equality in Cinema Award" at the 2018 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.[7]

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.[8][9]

Plot[edit]

In Bangalore, India, popular yesteryear actress Savitri is found unconscious by her young 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 memoir 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 speech, 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 Bollywood 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 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 visits 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.

Cast[edit]

Guest appearances

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

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, Malayalam and Tamil. Titled Mahanati, 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.[10] 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".[11] He didn't use the conventional biopic format.[12] He was inspired to create a film after listening to the radio about Savitri.[13] Ashwin said the film made him more responsible.[14]

Cast and crew[edit]

Soon after the announcement of the film, the media carried speculative reports that either Anushka Shetty, Sonakshi Sinha or Vidya Balan would be cast in the lead role. Denying the developments in August 2016, Ashwin stated he was still editing the script and intended to cast the lead actress with an audience poll.[15][16]

The team continued to hold talks with actresses for the lead role, and despite discussions with Nithya Menen, things did not work out.[17][18] 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.[19][20] Reports also suggested that she may be appearing as another actress from the era, Jamuna, a close friend of Savitri.[21] Subsequently, Keerthy Suresh was cast in the lead role of Savitri in early January 2017.[22][23] The film's first look poster featuring both actresses was released in March 2017 to coincide with International Women's Day.[24] For the role of Gemini Ganesan, Savitri's husband, Ashwin had considered Suriya or Madhavan, before finalising Dulquer Salmaan for the character.[25][26] Vijay Deverakonda, who had also earlier been considered for Gemini Ganesan's role, was then selected to portray another role in the film.[27][28] Keerthy and Savitri's daughter held conversations for working on the film.[29]

Filming[edit]

The principal shoot of the biopic began on 29 May 2017 at Ramakrishna Studios in Hyderabad, with the Telugu title confirmed as Mahanati and the Tamil title confirmed as Nadigaiyar Thilagam.[30][31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.[34] Prakash Raj also joined the team in August 2017 to play the role of producer Aluri Chakrapani.[35] Deni Sanchez Lopez was the cinematographer.[36]

Music[edit]

Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam
Soundtrack album by
Released1 May 2018 (2018-05-01)
Recorded2017
GenreSoundtrack
Length20:31
LabelAditya Music
ProducerMickey J. Meyer
Mickey J. Meyer chronology
Mister
(2017)
Mahanati/Nadigaiyar Thilagam
(2018)
Srinivasa Kalyanam
(2018)

All music is composed by Mickey J. Meyer.

Telugu track listing
No.TitleLyricsSinger(s)Length
1."Mooga Manasulu"Sirivennela Seetharama SastryShreya Ghoshal, Anurag Kulkarni4:19
2."Sada Nannu"Sirivennela Seetharama SastryCharulatha Mani3:37
3."Mahanati"Ramajogayya SastryAnurag Kulkarni4:44
4."Aagipo Baalyama"Sirivennela Seetharama SastryRamya Behara2:33
5."Chivaraku Migiledi"Sirivennela Seetharama SastrySunitha Upadrashta2:58
6."Gelupuleni Samaram"Sirivennela Seetharama SastryRamya Behara3:41
Total length:20:31

All lyrics are written by Madhan Karky.

Tamil Track-List
No.TitleSinger(s)Length
1."Mauna Mazhaiyilae"
4:19
2."Thandhaay"Charulatha Mani3:37
3."Mahanadi"Anurag Kulkarni4:44
4."Kutti Rani"Nayana Nair2:33
5."Irudhiyil Enna Enjum"Nayana Nair2:58
6."Amudhai Pole Kidaithaai"Nayana Nair3:10
Total length:20:01

Scroll.in review said, "soulful and dramatic, just like Savitri".[37]

Release[edit]

On 6 April and 10 April 2018 respectively, the first look posters featuring Akkineni and Devarakonda's characters were released, and received positive response.[38] On 14 April, the film's teaser and first look poster were released digitally.[38] They were positively received, and the teaser crossed 1 million views on YouTube within half a day.[38] 20 different looks of the 110 played by Keerthy in Mahanati were released by the makers through publicity posters, first looks and film stills.[39] The following week, a series of teasers revealed the various special appearances in the film.[40] Mahanati and Nadigaiyar Thilagam did not have theatrical trailers released, which was rare for an Indian film.[41]

Mahanati was released on 9 May 2018 worldwide,[5] while Nadigaiyar Thilagam was released on 11 May 2018.[4] The overseas distribution rights of Mahanati and all future films produced by Vyjayanthi Movies and Swapna Cinema were acquired by Nirvana Cinemas,[42] with the amount for the former being 45 million.[43] 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.[44] Mahanati was pirated on torrent websites from 17 May, taking a toll on its box office.[45] 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.[45] 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.[46]

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.[47] Chamundeswari also defended the film, suggesting that Selvaraj may have watched the film through a different perspective.[48] The film's digital rights were acquired by Amazon Prime.[49] The television broadcast rights of Mahanati were acquired by Star India's subsidiary Star Maa; upon its initial run, the film registered a high target rating point (TRP) rating of 20.16.[50]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Mahanati received positive reviews from critics.[51] 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."[52] 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".[53] 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".[54]

Woman facing the camera, smiling
Keerthy was praised for her performances as Savitri.[51][55]

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".[56] 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".[57] 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."[58]

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".[59] Writing for Scroll.in, 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."[60] 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".[61] 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".[62]

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".[63] 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".[64] Reviewing Nadigaiyar Thilagam, Sudhir Srinivasan of Cinema Express was critical, calling it "a dubbed film in disguise" since, despite being promoted as a straight Tamil film, it retained many scenes from Mahanati without changing the lip-sync scenes.[65] 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".[66]

Box office[edit]

Mahanati and Nadigaiyar Thilagam became the highest-grossing South Indian film that starred a woman as the primary character.[67] 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.[68]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Date of ceremony Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref.
6 January 2019 Zee Cine Awards (Telugu) Best Film Vyjayanthi Movies Won [69]
Best Director Nag Ashwin Won
Best Actress Keerthy Suresh Won
Best Supporting Actor Rajendra Prasad (actor) Won
Best Playback Singer - Male Anurag Kulkarni for Mahanati song Won
Best Child Artist Baby Sai Tejaswini Won
Best Makeup Moovendran Won
Best Costume Designer Gourang Shah Won
Best Stylist Indrakshi Pattanaik Won
Best Crew Mahanati Team - Swapna Dutt & priyanka Dutt Won
2019 Norway Tamil Film Festival Awards Best Actress Keerthy Suresh Nominated [70]
Special Jury Award Keerthy Suresh Won
17 February 2019 Edison Awards Best Film Vyjayanthi Movies Nominated [71]
Best Actress Keerthy Suresh Nominated
09 August 2019 National Film Award Best Feature Film in Telugu Mahanati Won [9]
Best Actress Keerthy Suresh Won
Best Costume Design Indrakshi Pattanaik, Gaurang Shah, Archana Rao Won
15 August 2019 SIIMA Awards Siima for Best Actress – Telugu Keerthi Suresh Won [72]
SIIMA Award for Best Best Film Vyjayanthi Movies Won
SIIMA Award for Best Best Actor in a Supporting Role Rajendra Prasad Won
SIIMA Award for Best Female Playback Singer Sunitha Upadrashta Nominated
SIIMA Award for Best Lyricist Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry Nominated
SIIMA Award for Best Music Director Mickey J Meyer Nominated
Siima for Best Actor – Telugu Dulquer Salman Nominated
Siima for Best Cinematographer – Telugu Dani Sanclez-Lopez Nominated
Siima for Best Director – Telugu Nag Ashwin Nominated
2019 Radio City Cine Awards Best Heroine Keerthy Suresh Won [73]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]