Yatra 2, Vyooham, Shapadham — it’s a race to make films on Jagan in poll-bound Andhra Pradesh

Hyderabad: If elections are near, can films be far behind in Andhra Pradesh? Hyderabad — the home to the Telugu film industry — is abuzz with activities to bring to celluloid the trials and tribulations of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy ahead of the state election next April.

Yatra 2, a sequel to Yatra released in 2019 before the previous election, is planned for release on 8 February — two months ahead of the assembly and Lok Sabha polls. But, that is not all. Film director Ram Gopal Varma, popularly known as RGV, this week announced that Vyooham (strategy) will be coming out on 10 November and its sequel Shapadham (oath) on 25 January.

— Ram Gopal Varma (@RGVzoomin) October 11, 2023

The Yatra series can be considered more or less an official version, as its director Mahi V. Raghav says that Jagan has endorsed the concept.

Yatra centres on former Congress chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s life, his rise to power in the 2004 election. It refers to YSR’s 1,500-plus km marathon walk from Chevella (in Telangana, near to Karnataka border) to Ichapuram (in north Andhra, touching Odisha) that helped him connect with the masses, become the CM and also one of the most charismatic Indian leaders whose welfare agenda lives on in the two Telugu states.

Yatra 2 will be the story of a father, son and a promise made to the people,” Raghav told ThePrint. “The promise of Odarpu Yatra, Jagan announced from Pavuralagutta, permission for which was denied by the Congress high command. If it was allowed and Jagan given what was his rightful claim, there would have been no Yatra 2 or perhaps Yatra 1 too.”

Raghav made no qualms about him being a YSR admirer. Yatra’s opening credits declare: “This is my story of my beloved leader Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.”

Odarpu Yatra is the tour which the then Congress Kadapa MP Jagan went on defiantly, consoling the families of scores of people across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana who either allegedly ended lives overcome with grief or purportedly died of shock hearing YSR’s death.

Pavuralagutta in the thick Nallamala forests is the spot where YSR’s helicopter crashed in September 2009, a few months after he was sworn in as the chief minister for a second consecutive term. In 2011, Jagan formed the YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) and later occupied the chief minister seat in 2019.

Yatra 2 is the story of the satrap from 2009 to 2019. Popular Malayalam star Mammotty, who emulated the YSR character in Yatra, will reprise the role in Yatra 2, while Tamil actor Jiiva will essay Jagan’s character.

In the Telugu film industry dominated by actors from the Kamma and Kapu communities, generally associated with Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Jana Sena Party (JSP), the choice of outsiders for a Reddy CM seems a well calculated one?

“Actually, I could not spot the calibre to play YSR in any other actor, and Mammootty is known to Telugu audiences with Swathikiranam (1992), Dalapathi (1991). For Jagan’s character I wanted a not so exposed actor here and took Jiiva,” Raghav said.

The sequel has gone on floors. The film director didn’t reveal Yatra 2 budget, but said it’s “big, 4-5 times of Yatra”. Shiva Meka is the producer.

Also Read: Andhra CM’s new outreach campaign is ‘Why AP needs Jagan’. TDP’s counter slogan: ‘Why AP hates Jagan’ 

Can popular culture influence polls?

Though the Yatra franchise’s apparent intention is to shore up electoral support for the YSRCP, Raghav said movies are made primarily with commercial interests in mind and that “voters are wiser than letting a film influence their choice of leader, chief minister”.

“I don’t know if it will help the YSRCP but I hope Yatra 2 will help us financially. (Jokes apart), let us not underestimate Andhra voters, they are extremely smart, sharp and know what they want. In 2014, everyone thought the YSRCP would win but the result was otherwise. A new state was formed and they chose someone else,” Raghav said.

Raghav’s other movies are of entirely different genres like Anando Brahma (2017), a horror comedy.

And, the film director said there can be no correlation established between how a “political agenda” movie fares at the box office even as the protagonist comes to power with a spectacular victory.

Yatra did fairly well but given that 50 percent of Andhra Pradesh voted for Jagan, the movie should have collected about Rs 500 crore,” Raghav said.

Boasting of a stellar cast including Suhasini Maniratnam, Jagapathi Babu, and Sachin Khedekar, Yatra earned positive 2.5-to-3-star reviews from critics, carries 84 percent approval on Google and is available on Amazon Prime.

The RGV genre

More than focusing on Jagan, Ram Gopal Varma’s Vyooham and Shapadham, film critic Rajeshwari Kalyanam said, can be expected to be a comic to critical portrayal of Jagan’s opponents, Chandrababu Naidu and Pawan Kalyan.

Varma’s tweets often disparage the two opposition leaders. His 2019 film Amma Rajyamlo Kadapa Biddalu, originally titled Kamma Rajyamlo Kadapa Reddlu, released months after Jagan stormed to power, is considered a below-the-belt attack on the two.

In contrast, Yatra 1 does not even once show Naidu’s character.

“Party, political propaganda movies are not new to the film crazy Telugu people. There were movies mocking even N.T. Rama Rao made by superstar G. Krishna (Mahesh Babu’s now demised father). Films have become a major tool, means to reach out to the masses but the voters have also evolved,” Kalyanam, who runs a film news portal Friday Wall, told ThePrint.

Similarly, ‘superstar’ Krishna joined the Congress under the late Rajiv Gandhi and was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1989 from Eluru.

Andhra Pradesh irrigation minister Ambati Rambabu, who played a few characters in Telugu films before venturing into politics, agreed with the point of matured voters.

“If the atmosphere is favourable to one party, such movies might make it more pleasant for the party. But when there is, suppose a strong anti-incumbency or unending dislike for the opposition, these movies will be of no use for the respective political group,” Ambati told ThePrint.

A sequence in Pawan Kalyan’s latest movie Bro, on Netflix now, apparently mocks Ambati. Kalyan also displays his party symbol tea-glass liberally in the film.

“Raghav did good homework, got a grasp by talking to political leaders including me, to make Yatra series. I don’t know if RGV had such consultations with us,” Ambati said.

Tamil-Malayalam actor Ajmal Ameer, who played the slightly tweaked ‘VS Jagannatha Reddy’ character in Amma Rajyamlo Kadapa Biddalu, is RGV’s pick to reprise the YSRCP chief role in Vyooham and its sequel Shapadham.

The scenes in RGV’s movies on Jagan though will be keeping up with the latest developments in the state, it appears. “The money that was embezzled in the skill development scheme went into whose pocket?” questions Jagan’s character in the Vyooham trailer released Friday.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

Also Read: Pawan Kalyan’s JSP declares alliance with TDP in Andhra. What’s keeping BJP from joining them