Team Veerappan share their experience on the making of the film in a candid conversation with Box Office India.
Box Office India (BOI): Since biopics are doing well, can we call Veerappan the biopic of a villain?
Ram Gopal Varma (RGV): No, in the conventional sense, a biopic is the life story of a person. This is like a biopic from the point of view of the police. So, if the police want to catch Veerappan, they need to know details about his background, what happened in the past, why he became what he became, the experience of other police officers and other people who interacted with him. They can get to him only by using that knowledge. In this film you get to know him from this perspective, and that’s how it is a little different from a regular ‘biopic’.
BOI: What did you find so intriguing about Veerappan that you decided to make a film on him?
RGV: He was one of the most unique characters who has ever existed, and that too, he operated without the backing of a terrorist organisation or a rouge state. Terrorist organisations like the Al Qaeda have vast resources, a network and many forces giving them support. But this man operated solo and still wrought havoc. It took a country as massive as India 20 years to capture him. I think that calls for a story!
BOI: Was it difficult to collect all the facts you needed about him? There are some people who supported him while there were others who were against him.
RGV: The truth is, he had fewer supporters than people had imagined. Also, it was a misconception that he was a modern-day Robin Hood. He had paid some villagers to become informants and these villagers were scattered and few in number. Also, he was constantly on the move, from Karnataka to Tamil Nadu and other places, so it was not easy to capture him.
BOI: Coming to your actors… tell us why they were cast in their respective roles?
RGV: Usha… I had watched her Marathi film for which she got a National Award. I thought she was most apt for this role because of her performance and because we could make her look like she had lived in the jungle with Veerappan. Sandeep doesn’t look anything like Veerappan but I had this gut feeling when I saw his picture. Then, I sent him some lines, which he performed and he sent me the video. I was convinced that he was a terrific actor. Also, the make-up man said he could make Sandeep look like Veerappan, and even I was taken aback when he finally emerged looking like Veerappan.
Apart from the look, he had also done a lot of homework in developing the characteristics of Veerappan, right from the way he walked to the look in his eyes. With Lisa, I just wanted someone with a sharp contrast. She looks like a foreigner whereas Usha looks very native. I wanted that contrast and the fact is that Lisa plays the kind of a role where she convinces someone to trust her. I think Lisa is very beautiful and when she is lying and conning, there is something very evil that comes out. So she is the female Veerappan in the film. As far as Sachiin is concerned, he never actually wanted to act, he always wanted to produce the film and that is how he approached it. But there is one particular role which is very interesting and I really thought that Sachiin would be very good for it. I forced him to do that role. So that is my principal cast.
BOI: Lisa, why do you think RGV called you a female Veerappan?
Lisa Ray (LR): It is obviously a very big compliment and I take it in that spirit. I mean, this film is really about Sandeep, and his performance is amazing, but I was able to find something very interesting in this character. I was thrilled that he had approached me for a role that required me to be presented in a simple, middle-class way, without any glamour involved, and I had to rely only on my performance. It was also wonderful to work with Usha, who raised my game as well. We had a really interesting dynamic and since I have had the opportunity to work with some interesting directors, I can say that RGV’s brand of working is very distinctive in every way and that adds to the atmosphere. He works very quickly, he has clarity, he knows exactly what he wants out of every shot. When we were to begin the shoot, I asked RGV what preparations I would have to do as I always research my part. Mine is such a complex character but what is brilliant about the director is when he said, ‘Actually, it is very simple, all you have to do is show up and we will find things on the set.’ That was terrifying but also thrilling.
BOI: Were you surprised to see yourself as Veerappan?
Sandeep Bharadwaj (SB): Yes, of course! I never thought I could look so scary, even my family didn’t recognise me. Whether it was a comment or a compliment, I don’t know!
SJ: (Cuts in) When he used to go home late night in the Veerappan costume, people would be like, ‘AreyVeerappan aa gaya,’ aur do char logon ko heart attack aa jata tha.
BOI: What was your first reaction when RGV told you that he wanted you to play Veerappan?
SB: It was a dream come true. Films like Satya, Company and Sarkar are iconic Hindi movies and every actor wants to work with him. And RGV can make a newcomer act so well. There are many reputed director-producers who think one needs to market a film really well, that the film should do roaring business, so they concentrate on those aspects and look for bigger stars as star power brings money. This is not the case with RGV, who is focused on the subject of a film. The way he makes you understand a film, especially realistic subjects, is amazing. It was a blessing to work with him.
BOI: How different is the Hindi version from the Kannada version?
RGV: The Kannada version is predominantly designed for people who already know a lot about Veerappan because he operated in that region. On the other hand, the Hindi audience is aware of him but they don’t know too much about him. Second, it’s grittier, it’s darker, it’s much more elaborate and made on a much bigger scale.
BOI: Do you think you were destined to direct Veerappan, given that you also directed a film called Jungle, which was on the same lines, and then you wanted to produce a film too?
RGV: Jungle was a love story and that particular villain happened to be in the forest. Actually, many gangs operate in other forests but the fact is that Veerappan’s stories were known stories. Veerappan was also hot news at the time because the Rajkumar kidnapping happened at the same time. So I think that’s why the media looked at similarities. But I never pitched the Jungle villain as Veerappan or even a character based on Veerappan.
BOI: RGV, how much has the industry changed from Factory to Company?
RGV: I think change is a natural process. There have been advancements in the filmmaking process, in acting, in technology, and technicians are getting better trained, and you are constantly exposed to different kinds of advanced cinema from various countries. Like any other aspect of life, change is natural.
BOI: Sachiin, why did you decide to produce this film? Was it after watching the South version?
SJ: I met RGV and we were discussing various subjects when he told me about his South film on Veerappan called Killing Veerappan. And it took only a few lines to intrigue me. Veerappan is the type of character that everyone wants to know about, and the Kannada film was more about the killing of Veerappan. So when I listened to RGV’s point of view, Veerappan’s 20-year journey and kind of things he had done, it had me hooked. The way I saw the film made me immediately decide to make it for a wider audience.
BOI: There was a lot of written material available on Veerappan but not much video footage. How did you get his body language and mannerisms right?
RGV: I met people who had met Veerappan and they gave me different versions. Some said he was a joker who used to make them laugh, then there were two people who had been kidnapped by him and had spent around 10 days with him. When I listened to their version of Veerappan, I thought I should shelve the film. When you hear so many versions to connect the dots… it is not that I invented him but I took bits and pieces. Some might think I am a crackpot, some might think I am intelligent, some might think I am mad. I could be all of those things but only depending on that person. When I finally thought I knew who he was, I said to Sandeep, ‘Let’s make our own Veerappan, let’s forget the original guy.’
Then I met this guy called Hanif, who had infiltrated Veerappan’s camp for some time. He said Veerappan was such a dangerous guy and anything I knew would not be strong enough. Then Muthulakshmi told me he was the nicest man on this planet, after Mahatma Gandhi, because he used to protect the forest from corrupt officials and corrupt governments. Strangely, when the film released, people said Veerappan was exactly like this, even those who had diametrically opposite views on him! On the character… Sandeep had to work on his walk as he was not used to walking uneven terrain. Moreover, one had to keep in mind that Veerappan was either hunting someone or being hunted by somebody all the time and his body language and the look in his eyes had to reflect that. As a director, I can tell the theory but I cannot make an actor perform unless he already has it in him.
BOI: Sandeep, was it easy for you?
SB: It was not easy because all this was very new to me. But the way RGV sir briefs you about the part and even if you grasp only 60 per cent of his input, your effort doubles. That’s how RGV sir makes you understand the character. Like RGV sir said, there are people who had met Veerappan a few times and they said I looked more real than the real Veerappan!
RGV: It makes sense because the real Veerappan probably had to act a lot of the time, to make people believe certain things. But the reel Veerappan didn’t need to act, he had to be the real guy. (Laughs)
BOI: Does your film glorify him, make him a villain, or did you strike a middle ground?
RGV: We have portrayed him just as I believe he was, with all the information I got. I don’t want to be judgmental about him. I am showing him from the perspective of the police and the way they were trying to get rid of him.