'I admire Jayalalithaa. What drove her to do and achieve what she did?' first-time director Priyadarshini tells A Ganesh Nadar.
At the best of times making a biopic is not easy.
To make a biopic about a larger-than-life personality who passed away just two years ago is even more difficult, as everyone remembers the person very well so there will always be points of comparison.
Making a biopic about a powerful person can also be dangerous as there is no saying what fanatical followers may do if they don't like how their idol has been portrayed.
And a biopic about a controversial person is the most difficult, as controversies have a habit of never dying but coming back to bite you when you least expect it.
So you wonder what on earth drove A Priyadaarshini, below, to make a biopic on te late Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa, who strode the state's politics for three decades till her untimely death in December 2016.
A first-time film-maker can choose any subject under the sun, so why a biopic on a person who was larger-than-life, powerful and controversial, you wonder.
"I know I am walking on thin ice, but never forget that she was an inspiration to many others," says the young, frail looking, lady, certainly not the image of someone you would imagine who would shoot a biopic on Jayalalithaa.
For one, from Jaya's birth to her career in movies, her entry into politics, her stints as chief minister, her legal battles that took her in and out of jail, her entire life and even death was one long drama, that it is doubtful it can be told in 150 minutes.
But that is exactly what Priyadaarshini is attempting to do, and that too in her very first movie.
Her previous cinematic experience comes from working as an assistant director with successful director Mysskin.
"I was there for three-and-a-half years, two movies, and I think it is enough to teach me to make my own movie," she says softly, but the determination is there in her eyes, a glint as if to challenge you to question her competence.
Sitting in a quaint café in the heart of Chennai, she waxes eloquent about her favourite subject.
"I admire Jayalalithaa and her journey starts from before she became chief minister. I have tried my best to bring out her motivation. What drove her to do and achieve what she did?"
Given her passion, it is but natural that the script is her own. "I read newspapers, magazines and also interviewed people who had interacted with her closely. You have to understand that her life as an actress and as a politician is already in the public domain. The movie spans the years 1948 to 2016 -- her entire life."
When you mention corruption, of which she was convicted, Priyadaarshini's reaction is immediate, almost as if she had been anticipating the question. "Five per cent of her life might involve corruption, but you have to think of the other 95%. I have concentrated on all 100% of her life."
What sparked off tremendous buzz on social media is the choice of actress to play the titular character, for the first look showed actress Nithya Menen as a dead ringer for the former CM.
"I watched a lot of videos of current heroines and then selected Nithya. You know Jayalalithaa used to sit with her hands crossed resting gently on each other. Nithya does the same. She has a lot of mannerisms that are like Jayalalithaa."
Priyadaarshini pulls out a magazine and shows a picture of Nithya Menen's hand. "See this, doesn't it look like her hand?"
"Both were born in Bangalore, both learned Carnatic music and dance and her gestures are similar," adds Priyadaarshini.
There are not too many characters in the movie. There will be M G Ramachandran, C N Annadurai, M Karunanidhi, V K Sasikala, Indira Gandhi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and N T Rama Rao. Apart from Jaya, only one other actor has been finalised so far: Malayalam actor Sugumar who will play MGR.
The shooting will take place in Tamil Nadu and the Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad. She expects the budget to go a little over Rs 10 crores (Rs 100 million) and says she has already arranged the finances. No details were forthcoming, however. The technical crew has also not been finalised so far.
Nor does she expect any controversies or censor trouble,
Priyadaarshini is confident, despite portraying real-life personalities. She will meeting Sasikala, Jaya's longtime confidante, in Bangalore jail to discuss the film.
Although the first look from the movie was released more than a month ago, the shooting will start on February 24, Jayalalithaa's birthday.
"I released the poster early so that I could see how people reacted. She is fresh in everyone's memory and I wanted to know if they liked her image." And, what was the feedback?
"I was very happy with the way people reacted, everyone said Nithya looks like Jayalalithaa. That particular look was done with prosthetics, and added to her natural look."
She expects to finish wrap up the shoot in six months or so. Throw in post-production work etc, it won't be wide of the mark to say the film will release some time in 2020.