Radhamohan's ode to a plane hijacking
It's a bilingual -- Payanam (Journey) in Tamil and Gaganam (Sky) in Telugu -- starring Nagarjuna, Prakashraj and a whole lot of newcomers. It is based on a plane hijacking.
Radhamohan tells Shobha Warrier more about the movie and why he chose to a make it without songs. Excerpts:
Were you inspired by the Kandahar hijacking?
Not exactly. It is based on a plane hijacking. Of course, I have taken a a lot of reference points from the Kandahar hijacking but the story is purely imaginary and different from what happened at Kandahar.
I told Prakashraj about the idea and he liked it. After that, I started working on the script.
Is there a political angle to the hijacking?
Terrorism is an issue by itself and entangled with politics. Terrorists have their own agenda. But I don't give any thrust to politics in my film.
Image: Prakashraj, Radhamohan and Nagarjuna
'Nagarjuna will be seen acting in a Tamil film after a long time'
Where does the hijacking take place?
It takes place in India. The flight out of Chennai is hijacked and makes an emergency landing at Tirupati airport. That is where the drama unfolds.
Why did you decide to make it a bilingual?
A film like this needs a big budget and for commercial viability, we had to make it in two languages. Another reason was, when my last film Abhiyum Naanum was dubbed and released in Telugu, it was very well received. So we decided to make this a bilingual. That is when the Telugu producer Dil Raju came forward to produce the Telugu version. The Tamil Payanam is produced by Prakashraj.
So, we shot every scene twice, in Tamil and Telugu. Luckily, we had the same actors for both the versions.
Nagarjuna was acting in a Tamil film after a long time. His last film was Rakshakan.
Image: A scene from Payanam
'This is not a hero-oriented film'
Was it because you wanted to make it in Telugu and Tamil that you thought of Nagarjuna?
As it is a high budget film, we wanted a big name. That is to make the films commercially viable. The set of the film itself cost us Rs 3 crore.
But I must say that this is not a hero-oriented film. It's not like one man trying to save the world! There are about 10-15 characters who have equally important roles. Nobody can say that I am the hero or the heroine of the film. There is no introduction scene for the hero. There are no songs.
Was it easy getting Nagarjuna to play an important role in the film?
He plays Major Ravindra, a commando, in the film. I was not too sure whether he would do the role as he is an extremely popular mass hero. And what I was offering was a simple role. But when he heard the script he accepted the role immediately. He said it was high time he did roles like this. I was indeed thrilled to work with an actor like Nagarjuna.
Image: Nagarjuna and Prakashraj
'I have not shown that terrorists are bad people'
Does the film show only the hijacking or are there any flashbacks?
Yes, there are some flashbacks. But most of the story takes place at the Tirupati airport. I don't show only the commando rescuing the passengers; the emotional turmoil that the passengers go through is also very important in the film. For five days they are inside the plane, and do not see the outside world.
The only communication they have is among themselves and with the terrorists. Till then, they were so and so in society but once inside the kidnapped flight, they become victims and there is no other identity for them other than that.
Who are the terrorists? Are they home grown?
Yes, they are home grown but I have not specifically said who they are. There are many terror outfits in India and these people belong to one of them. Terrorism, after all is a universal phenomenon.
I have not shown that terrorists are bad people. I try to show their point of view and ideologies also. It is to show their justification for such an act.
Other than the passengers and terrorists, who are the others who get prominence in the film?
Inside the flight, I show the anguished passengers and terrorists while outside, you see the government machinery working hard to end the crisis. I show red tapism, the indecisiveness of the government. The commandos are there but they can't act unless they get permission from the government. There is a long wait for the commandos.
Outside the airport, the entire media is there. How they look at the whole thing is another angle. Then, there are the relatives of the passengers who try to put pressure on the government machinery to bow down to the terrorists.
Image: A replica of aircraft used in the movie Payanam
'The biggest challenge was in creating the cockpit'
How much of research did you do?
Lots and lots. I met a lot of government officials, pilots, flight engineers, airport authorities. I thoroughly read the book (Flight into Fear) written by Devi Saran, the pilot of the Indian Airlines flight hijacked to Kandahar.
You said earlier that the sets cost Rs 3 crore. Tell us something about the sets created for the film?
Kathir is the art director who needs special mention. We first created the inside of the plane in a very authentic manner at the Ramoji Film city in Hyderabad. It was made exactly on the specifications of a real Airbus.
The biggest challenge was in creating the cockpit. Then, we created the Tirupati airport and the tarmac. Everything was made to scale.
Image: A replica of aircraft used in the movie Payanam
'Everyone had to be in character all the time'
Was it tough shooting inside the plane?
Very, very tough. There were a lot of restrictions because of space constraint. We had to redesign some equipments to keep inside the flight and shoot. For example, we can't use the cranes we normally use.
It was an awesome experience shooting with 120 people inside the flight. Everyone had to be there in all the shots with the right expression and involvement. Even the person sitting in the 15th row had to be in character all the time.
Also, small details like a 5-day stubble on the faces of the passengers and crew also had to be genuine.
As a director, was this the toughest film to make?
Yes, in terms of size, number of people, etc. I have made films where only 4-5 characters dominate but in this film, all the characters are equally important.
Everything was huge and it was a different and a learning experience for me as a director. I could finish shooting the film in 65 days.
Songs played a major part in your earlier films but this film is without songs...
The story of Payanam does not require any songs and if you forcibly introduce a song, it will spoil the whole film. In a thriller like this, songs will affect the smooth flow of the film. I am sure the audience will not miss the songs in the film.
Humour is my forte and blending humour into a film like this was a big challenge. Hope it goes well with the audience.
What are your expectations from the film? Are you excited?
Yes, I am excited because it was an amazing payanam I took!
Image: A replica of Tirupati Airport