Director Deva Katta on why he looks at the functioning of a democracy through a civil servant protagonist in ‘Republic’, starring Sai Dharam Tej
The recent Telugu film Tuck Jagadish showed actor Nani as a Mandal Revenue Officer. In Republic, the Telugu film directed by Deva Katta and slated to release in theatres on October 1, actor Sai Dharam Tej plays a District Collector who stands his ground despite political pressures. The hero as an agent of change and the good versus evil battle is not new, but Deva Katta hopes Republic can challenge people’s understanding of democracy.
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Republic pits Sai Dharam Tej against a powerful politician played by Ramya Krishna.
“Most of us don’t have a deep understanding of terms such as autocracy, democracy, socialism, communism or capitalism. We live in a democracy without truly understanding what it entails,” he says. He does not nurture romantic notions that cinema can spark a change in society, but believes that a well thought-out story can make people understand the root cause of problems.
Deva Katta says the socio-political thriller emerged from his understanding of social and political scenarios over the years.
The director reflects on his journey before elaborating on the film. Born in Kadapa in Andhra Pradesh, he moved with his family to Chennai when he was in Class VII. After completing Engineering in Chennai, he worked in the USA where he also studied Filmmaking. Despite an interest in cinema since school days, a corporate job was a financial necessity for the middle-class youngster. “Remember those black and white portions in 3 Idiots about the financial crisis in Sharman Joshi’s family? My situation was somewhat similar,” he remarks in a lighter vein. He made his first feature film Vennela (2005) while in the US and then moved to Hyderabad to make Prasthanam (2010), regarded his best work to date.
Living in India and the US, he says, gave him a ringside view of politics: “I had the privilege of living in one of the most mature democracies in the world, the US, and had the opportunity to compare the foundations of democracy in India and the United States. We often come across NRIs who find it tough to relate to the happenings in India. Aishwarya Rajesh essays one such character in this film.”
The idea for Republic emerged eight years ago but took shape as a story only a couple of years ago, when he happened to meet Sai Dharam Tej at a gym and mooted the idea of a story exploring the dynamics of democracy. Deva Katta says, “I wanted to narrate this story through a civil servant protagonist because 90% of them want to do good work but end up being crushed by the evil in the system.”
While the director’s Prasthanam showed the repercussions of one man’s greed, Autonagar Surya (2014) was the story of a man rising from humble beginnings and fighting for dignity.
Deva Katta had always been tuned into social and political happenings, but the research for Republic had him poring over endless newspaper articles, podcasts such as The Seen and The Unseen by Amit Varma, and books such as Colin Wilson’s A Criminal History of Mankind, How to Win an Indian Election by Shivam Shankar Singh, A Feast of Vultures by Josy Joseph and Malevolent Republic by Kapil Satish Komireddy. He also had in-depth discussions with Lok Satta’s founder-president Jaya Prakash Narayana and observed scholar Robert Hunter Wade’s papers on Indian politics.
He refers to Robert Wade’s observation of how India has devised a system to punish the good and reward the bad and says that for a democracy to function, there have to be checks and balances: “Any of us, if given too much power, is capable of extreme evil.”
Neutral point of view
Republic, Deva Katta says, is a reflection of political happenings but stays neutral, without being for or against any political party: “Politicians are also victims of the system,” he points out.
An environmental issue is the central conflict between the different stakeholders in the story. The teaser and trailer have elicited a positive response and netizens and film industry circles have commented that Republic seems to be Deva Katta’s most significant work since Prasthanam. The director agrees: “I had a limited crew and budget while working on Vennela and Prasthanam, but I had so much freedom in this project, thanks to Sai Dharam Tej who stood by me, I was assured that I could make Republic the way I wanted to, without any pressure to tweak the narration to suit the star’s image.”
Deva Katta also credits Satish, the actor’s confidante and manager, for mooting the idea of Thank You Collector campaign through which the film’s team has been highlighting the work done by different District Collectors in the Telugu States.
Looking back, Deva Katta admits it wasn’t easy to keep up his morale during the box office failures of Autonagar Surya, the Hindi remake of Prasthanam (which was a commitment from which he couldn’t step away), and Dynamite (in which there were creative differences): “I shot only nine days of Dynamite and stepped back. Yet the film was credited to me, and all this dented the industry’s trust in me. I owe it to Sai Dharam Tej for reimposing faith in me.”
The debacle of Autonagar Surya also meant that Deva Katta’s wife, a dentist, stayed back in the US so as to not upset her career. The director now divides his time between the US and India.
Deva Katta is confident that Republic will do well in theatres and is happy that the audience is embracing theatrical viewing after last week’s smash hit, Love Story.