Tuesday, 19 May 2009

“The sheer impossibility of odds against which Veerappan survived strikes you hard as a writer” - Prashant Pandey

by Devansh Patel

Films that chronicles the life of someone famous are often award contenders and crowd pleasers. However, biopic scripts can be difficult to write. However, one of the more difficult challenges inherent to the biopic film making is the task of creating dramatic tension when everyone knows how the story will end anyway. Prashant Pandey, the writer who has previously written films like Contract and Sarkar Raj has now finished writing a gripping biopic on India's dreaded bandit of the South – Veerappan. He is currently writing his second biopic on Paritala Ravi, one of the most dreaded political leaders of South India who was assassinated in 2005. Veerappan ain't a cradle-to-the-grave traditional portrait of the consecutive events in a bandits life but it's more of a collage and, in many ways, it will feel like an album itself. It's a collection of various moments and impressions in the life of Veerappan and together Prashant and Ram Gopal Varma believe that it'll be one of the best biopics our Indian Film Industry will ever see on the big screen. In many biopics already made, you were a witness to the precious life of an individual. Well, now get prepared to witness an extraordinary one in this Bollywood Hungama exclusive as we bring you the second edition of the Writers Note Pad – Prashant Pandey on Veerappan.

How Veerappan was born:
I badly wanted to become a screenplay dialogue writer but I wasn't getting any major substantial break. So I kept going back to television to make ends meet. Three years back, I used to work as a creative head for Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa but then to get back into films I took a writing break for three to four months. I didn’t know what I was writing but I just wrote endlessly. During that period I met Ram Gopal Varma. He gave me an idea of a Mafia film. I don’t know whether he was testing me but he had this remarkable ability to switch from idea to idea to tell and engage people to work with immediate effect on a diametrically opposite ideas. Within fifteen days of writing the first draft of that yet-to-be-made Mafia film, I found myself in a hotel room in Chennai, preparing anxiously to enter the heart of darkness, the forests, where once lived and operated, the worlds’ most vicious villain- Veerappan.

The research on Veerappan:
RGV’s idea was that I meet individuals affected by Veerappans' reign and write a screen play based on those accounts. So I met a tribal who had supplied food to Veerappan, his distant relatives and people of his gang who've now ventured out into different professions. Someone is running a hotel, somebody has a shop. Then I met many cops who ran some successful and many unsuccessful operations on Veerappan and finally met and spent days with the officers who played a key role in in killing the bandit. The sheer opinions on Veerappan that came out were confusing but insightful, you can say some sort of rashomon effect started playing out on my mind ; you get a completely different version from two different people narrating you essentially the same story. Despite easy availability and recall of Veerappan, his life is wrapped in a pall of mist. No one really knows his truth. So finally, I wrote a rudimentary sort of a screenplay and came to Mumbai after two months. RGV was impressed by the work but then as Sarkar Raj had started gaining steam, he told me to write Sarkar Raj and hold on to Veerappan.

RGV's Veerappan:
In Sarkar Raj, there is a dialogue which goes, 'Mujhe Tumhare Vishwas pe Vishwas hain'. That's how RGV works. RGV breathes and lives larger than life characters and people. Veerappan happens to be just one of them. When he told me to work on the film, 'Veerappan' was just a name and a largely a huge mystery, but the script and work we have put in will surely make this one of the greatest biopics to come out of Indian cinema. If people think that Veerappan is shelved, then they don't know Ram Gopal Varma. For him, nothing is shelved but on hold and ever-evolving. The script has become even better than before. We are even better prepared with various aspects of making the film. The film starts with the making of the legend called Veerappan, what went into the making of such a bandit. The middle portion of the film focuses on the catching of Veerappan and post the interval, it's all about his downfall and killing if the dreaded bandit. The film is chaptered like a simple story book.

The casting of Veerappan:
I have a huge fascination like RGV for characters more than just well known faces. Veerappan is the hero of the film and not the actor. That is the design we are looking forward to. Actors and non-actors with tremendous potential coupled with a striking on-screen resemblance to Veerappan have been found and we are working with them.

Tough Task:
The whole physical aspect of it was tough. The violence just gets to you. I remember a prominent cop in Bangalore, who narrated to me over many hot cups of tea in great detail how a fatal bullet from Veerappan blew his food pipe and lungs. What was striking that this cop had tremendous respect for the intelligence and instincts of Veerappan, a man who had him nearly killed. The mock ups on real locations, as in with the help of cops tried to understand how certain ambushes happened. “ He was here! Right here with his gun!”, old constables would tell pointing at a rock or a bush. Cops will show bullet rattled doors of police stations that he blew up and bullet wounds on their own bodies. I have had it all…Conspiracy theories, emotional outbursts, threats and whole thing of whether to believe someone or not. Everybody including the waiters in the hotel had their Veerappan story to tell. The sheer impossibility of odds against which Veerappan survived strikes you hard as a writer. They test your mettle, challenge and inspire you.

Veerappan's acceptance:
No one can tell how the audience shall respond to a film like Veerappan once released. Given the richness of the subject and Ram Gopal’s Varma’s skill in pitching a film to audiences, I am sure it’s a great project to watch out for everyone.

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