Aakashavaani, an upcoming Telugu film featuring actor Samuthirakani, which was slated for release in theatres on Friday, has been postponed, the makers of the film announced on social media. A new release date is yet to be announced.
A period drama, Aakashavaani is written and directed by debutant filmmaker Ashwin Gangaraju. He has earlier worked as associate director with SS Rajamouli on films such as the Baahubali series (2015, 2017), and Eega (2012).
“In a normal world, we’d have met and celebrated #Aakashavaani today. However, the times are testing and it’s important to stay home and stay strong. In the meanwhile, #TheWorldofAakashavaani will wait to meet you when it’s safe for everyone! We will soon give you an update on the release. After all, what we have created for you deserves to be experienced in the right way at a right time,” said the makers in a statement.
Talking to Silverscreen India, director Ashwin says, “The story was written about 10 years back when I was a filmmaking student. Its core came out of 4-5 ideas that I had then. Initially, I wrote just the one-liner of Aakashavaani in 2010. I was only 22 back then, and I figured that I needed much more maturity to execute this script. Slowly, I began to write other stories and used to develop this script now and then. After I graduated from film school, I began to assist Rajamouli sir with the script of Eega. When we finished the Baahubali series, I decided it was time to make my directorial debut.”
The filmmaker reveals that Aakashavaani was not his first choice for his debut. “I love action films and I love storyboarding action sequences. So I wrote a full-fledged action script, storyboarded it, and pitched it to producers, in 2017. However, as a first-time director, there were budget constraints. That project also needed star actors, and producers were sceptical about backing me.”
So, Ashwin came back to his scribble pad to search for a script that he could make right away. “That was when I found Aakashavaani, which I had initially thought would be my third or fourth film since it is pure drama. When I first wrote this idea, it was vague. Having gained some experience in not just the craft, but also life, I picked it up again and developed it. I started to pitch the story in January 2018 to producers,” he says.
Calling Aakashavaani a “serious drama”, Ashwin tells us that the film is set against the backdrop of a forest. “This film is about people living in the forest. It is a serious drama with heavy emotions in the second half. Though it is a period drama, I am not specifying the time or location. It will have references to the 1970s and 80s, but it is up to the audience to pick up on that. The film happens in a remote forest where people live far away from the normal populated world. It will have references to the zamindar rule which controls the belief system of these people. The film’s theme is based on how their belief system is related to their lifestyle. When people live in the forests unconnected with others, they are not polluted and remain innocent. When you are innocent, your belief system is stronger.”
Ashwin also says the film has some references to Akashvani (All India Radio). He adds that as per the “promotional material” of the film, radio plays an important role in Aakashavaani.
Produced by A Padmanabha Reddy with SS Karthikeya (son of Rajamouli) serving as a financial partner, the film was shot by cinematographer Suresh Ragutu in Paderu village near Araku in Andhra Pradesh. “I wanted a particular (elevated) landform for this film and we roamed all over India. Surprisingly, we found it in Andhra Pradesh itself. We built a set there and shot about 90% of the film in a single schedule from February to April 2019 and the rest at Ramoji Film City in December 2020,” explains Ashwin.
Besides Samuthirakani, the film features Vinay Varma, Teja Kakumanu, Mime Madhu, and Prashant. Aakashavaani’s script required 90% of the actors to be new faces, says Ashwin. “I wanted fresh actors so the characters would stand out and not be associated with the actors’ previous roles. As for Samuthirakani, I had him in mind while scripting because that character could be played by a well-known face.”
The filmmaker found the casting process quite time-consuming. “I wanted Telugu-speaking theatre artists to be part of the film, but I didn’t realise the time and effort involved in casting them. I found some great actors in the process though. There is a kid who plays one of the main characters; he lives in an orphanage in Hyderabad and is first-time actor. That particular character is written based on my childhood friend and this kid looks very similar to him. He was one of the last to be cast but plays one of the best characters.”
Rajamouli’s influence on Ashwin is clear from the film’s teaser. “The grandeur you see in the teaser is not intentional. But travelling with Rajamouli sir for seven years, I’ve naturally picked up a few things from him. I began writing Aakashavaani before I met him, but the idea got more and more clear and grander as I worked with him. It works on subconscious level. For me, the grandeur in the emotions is more important. When you have that in emotions, it reflects in the visuals too,” notes the director.
Ashwin adds that Steven Spielberg is another major influence. Besides these filmmakers, mythological stories have always influenced him as a writer, he says, adding that he bases all his stories “subconsciously or not” on mythology. “Aakashavaani‘s story arc is based on the Hindu mythological characters, Hiranyaksha and Prahlada,” he reveals.
Aakashavaani is in the final stages of production and will be completed in a week. Asked if the team is looking to release it on OTT platforms, Ashwin says, “The idea of me becoming a filmmaker came from theatrical experiences, so my sensibilities come from there. Even if I write for OTTs, I will keep big screens in mind. But now, times are tough and we are not ruling out any options. Big OTT platforms have approached us and we are talks with theatre distributors too. We are looking into our options and will decide towards end of June.”
The director also mentions that he has scripts that will extend the universe in which the film is based, and hence the use of the phrase “World of Aakashavaani” in the promotional materials. However, whether these scripts get made depends on the reception this film gets, he adds.