Asuccessful failure: that is how K.V. Vijayendra Prasad—best known as the writer behind such hit films as Magadheera, Eega and Baahubali—describes his professional life before he took up screenwriting 30 years ago. Today, at the age of 75, he is one of the most sought-after writers in the country, with industries from Kollywood to Bollywood seeking his creative services. Hindi TV also wants Prasad’s recipe for success, and Star Plus has hired him to write a 65-episode fantasy epic series, Aarambh.
“Movies are very fast-paced,” says Prasad about the difference between writing for small- and big-screen. “So much of the story gets left out because of time constraints. With TV, you have the opportunity to explore characters and situations in more depth.” For Aarambh, Prasad has taken inspiration from the Mahabharata, and created two different civilisations to develop a “clash of ideologies and lifestyles”. Referring to Aarambh as an Indian Game of Thrones, he says the series has no hero, and instead focuses on several characters.
Cinema, however, remains his obsession. Aside from Baahubali 2, another of Prasad’s stories will hit the big screen this year—Vijay 61, releasing in October. Prasad has also directed a film himself—Srivalli,a trilingual sci-fi drama about the workings of the mind. He also has another period film in development (starring Raghava Lawrence), not to mention his script for Manikarnika (with Kangana Ranaut as Rani Laxmibai), for which filming will soon begin. But Prasad doesn’t want to talk about his busy work life, which sees him shuttling from Hyderabad to Mumbai and Chennai. He is eager to pay tribute to his writing gurus—Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar. “I learned by watching their movies,” he says. “Whenever I start writing a film, I religiously watch Sholay once, just to warm myself up—just like [how other] people go to Siddhivinayak temple or Sai Baba’s temple.” It’s one of the few films he can watch in a single sitting, he says, adding: “I have a weakness. The moment I start watching a film, I become sleepy.”
Prasad himself doesn’t write; instead, he has assistants take down his narration. The best ideas, he says, come during his morning walk. One idea that is recurrent in some of his biggest films is reincarnation. A firm believer in the concept, he calls it an effective means “to grip the audience”. Curiously, however, for someone who routinely refers to the Mahabharata for character sketches, Prasad hasn’t read the epic in its entirety. “Whatever I know from anecdotes and from movies stays in my mind,” he says. But he just might end up having to read it—if his son, S.S. Rajamouli, makes an adaptation, as he has said he will. “God willing,” says Prasad, “I’ll be a part of it.” —Suhani Singh
“WHEN I START WRITING A FILM, I MAKE SURE TO WATCH SHOLAY ONCE—JUST TO WARM MYSELF UP”