Pavan Sadineni: Casting Rajendra Prasad changed everything for us

Director Pavan Sadineni discusses the Telugu crime drama ‘Senapathi’ starring Rajendra Prasad and why he wanted Oggu Katha performers for a song

The promotional video of the Telugu crime drama film Senapathi, which will stream on Aha on December 31, caught attention swiftly for presenting veteran actor Rajendra Prasad in a brooding and menacing avatar and a song steeped in mythological references, rendered by Oggu Katha performers.

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Director Pavan Sadineni and his associate Phani had sketched a look for Rajendra Prasad before they approached him: “We were sceptical if he would agree to an OTT film, given that he is so busy with feature films. Producer Sushmita Konidela suggested we give it a shot. Rajendra Prasad garu was bowled over by the sketch even before we began narrating the story. He was enthusiastic that we wanted to present him in a new manner. Casting him changed everything for us.”

The film’s ensemble cast also includes Naresh Agastya, Gnaneshwari Kandregula, Satya Prakash, Harshavardhan, Jeevan Kumar and Rakendu Mouli.

Senapathi is based on the 2017 Tamil film 8 Thottakkal (eight bullets), written and directed by Sri Ganesh. Sadineni calls Senapathi a semi-remake: “I retained the crux of 8 Thottakkal, but introduced new characters and changed many aspects with the help of Sri Ganesh, writers Rakendu Mouli, Hussain Sha Kiran and Vasant Jurru.”

The story explores what happens when a police officer loses his gun and a series of murders takes place in the city.

Rajendra Prasad in a poster of ‘Senapathi’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sadineni is venturing into the crime drama space for the first time. Though he has worked on a handful of projects, he is best known for his debut feature film Prema, Ishq, Kaadhal (2013), a new-age urban romance: “People still identify me with my first film and often ask if I can work on another urban romance drama or a sequel. I have moved on. If my debut film was my entry card, Senapathi will be my visiting card and re-introduce me to a new generation of movie lovers,” he says.

Senapathi went on floors in September 2021 following five months of pre-production. “We filmed in real locations in Hyderabad — Kavadiguda, Sainikpuri, Moosapet, Quthbullapur and pockets of the Old City. In my mind, I had edited the film to the precise length. We knew exactly what we wanted and did not waste time. We rehearsed and knew which scene to shoot at what time according to the light conditions. We wrapped up the filming in less than 30 days.”

Though Rajendra Prasad is primarily lauded for his comic roles, Sadineni recalls his work in Aa Naluguru and says Senapathi will appeal to those who love to watch the actor in an unusual role: “We have seen enough characters through which he has explored the haasya rasa. This story has the other eight rasas.”

Rajendra Prasad and Pavan Sadineni | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sadineni says the emotional drama is the driving force of Senapathi. Be it romance or a crime story, he looks for a strong drama element: “There are several crime stories and thrillers in the digital space. What sets our film apart is the strong emotional core that comes from the story of a family. A particular scene that involves Rajendra Prasad will be talked about once the film begins streaming. It is a 12-page scene and he finished it in one take. I am not sure if any other actor in his place would have been as effective.”

What Rajendra Prasad says in the promotional video, emphasising that the pawn shouldn’t be taken lightly, is essential to this story, adds Sadineni.

For the Oggu Katha song in the promotional video, that draws parallels to the life of Krishna and a character in this story, Sadineni travelled to the interiors of Telangana to meet Oggu Katha performers. He recorded the voices of eight troupes and chose one of them: “The performers come from remote villages and had never travelled to Hyderabad. They were curious why we wanted them to sing for a film and were excited that it is being produced by Chiranjeevi’s daughter. The lyrics were written by Lakshman, a lawyer who has been working towards popularising native art forms, and the song was recorded by music composer Shravan Bharadwaj. The singers recorded the song dressed in their traditional attire, as a mark of respect to Goddess Saraswathi. I thought a traditional folk song will make the promotional video stand out and it did.”

(Senapathi streams on Aha on December 31.)

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