Unhappy that designs submitted by international consultants for the new capital of Andhra Pradesh do not have an Indian flavour, Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has roped in Telugu director Srisaila Sri Rajamouli to give the city of Amaravati a Telugu touch.

Rajamouli is the director of last year’s blockbuster Bahubali: The beginning, a period fantasy movie about two brothers battling for the ancient kingdom of Mahishmati. The movie featured lavish sets and elaborate computer-generated imagery, or CGI, complete with grand temples, palaces, gigantic statues, and massive waterfalls. It was dubbed in several languages including Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada.

Rajamouli is, however, expected to begin work on the Amaravati project only from next April after completing work on Bahubali-2.

“If I want Persian, European and Asian architecture I did rather go visit them,” Naidu said at a meeting of the Capital Region Development Agency, the regulatory and planning authority for the new capital region, in the first week of December. “But at my home and work place, I want a representation of our history, folklore and mythology.”

In the past, Rajamouli has spoken of the deep influence the immensely popular mythological series of Amar Chitra Katha comics had on him.

The Indian Express reported that last week, an architect from the UK-based architecture and integrated design studio Fosters and Partners, which is involved with a few Amaravati projects, met Rajamouli to get his “inputs on Andhra Pradesh’s culture, history and traditions”.

The Rajmouli effect

According to the master plan as displayed by the Capital Region Development Agency, the capital region will be spread over 7,420 sq km on both sides of the Krishna river at the centre of which will be the new capital city, occupying an area of 212 sq km.

Naidu found that the designs for government buildings like the Secretariat, Assembly, Raj Bhavan and the High Court, which form the core of the new city – submitted by international experts from Japan, China, Korea and the US, who are part of a consortium engaged in developing Amaravati – lacked an Indian ethos.

Asked about his assignment with the state government, Rajamouli initially refused to comment. But he confirmed the offer to film reporters early this week.

“It is a challenge and I have to work on brick and mortar more than graphics as final product,” he said.

Naidu has informally discussed with Rajamouli how the Krishna waterfront could be developed into a cultural arena for the promotion of Telugu fine arts and traditions.

Officials in the Chief Minister’s Office said that Naidu was keen on Rajamouli from the beginning.

Said a senior spokesman at the Chief Minister’s Office: “The name of Rajamouli was on top of the list after hundreds of designs for waterfront facilities and the central capital domain were scrutinised and rejected by the chief minister who was keen that Amaravati should be a role model Indian city and not a replica of Dubai or Singapore.”

Rajamouli is known to be a stickler for perfection who is not comfortable working in a bureaucratic environment. Those in the film industry talk of past instances where the director walked out of the offices of ministers and the Director General of Police after being made to wait for over an hour.

Members of his core team say that designing Amaravati would be a challenging project for the director.

“We do a lot in films in the virtual space,” said a team member on condition of anonymity. “I wonder what our sir [Rajamouli] can do in brick and mortar.”

An earlier offer

In 2015, Naidu had approached Rajamouli to design a colourful platform to host the foundation laying ceremony of Amaravati at Uddandarayunipalem village. But Rajamouli, who usually avoids political attention, had politely declined the assignment, and the job was picked up by another Telugu film director, Koratala Shiva.

At the meeting with the Capital Region Development Agency earlier this month, Naidu advised officials to rope in Indian designers, particularly SS Rajamouli, by using the good offices of veteran film director K Raghavendra Rao, who is also the electronic media advisor to the state government.

Rao, the father of glamour sets and costume design in the Telugu film industry, is also Rajamouli’s mentor. It is Rao who gave the director a break to shoot television advertisements, serials and then his first film, Student No-1, in 2001.

Cinema star and former Chief Minister NT Rama Rao, who is the founder of the ruling Telugu Desam Party and Chief Minister Naidu’s father-in-law, had used the services of Raghavendra Rao to design sets for his campaigns too.

Pomp and show

The Telugu Desam Party, originally born out of the fan clubs of NT Rama Rao, popularly known as NTR, has always clubbed politics with film glamour. The Mahanadu events, or annual conferences, of the party have always showcased the party and government. These events have had grand platforms where speeches and cultural events were held.

People should know what we are doing and hence, just as we appear before cameras with mascara and paint, politicians also should appear before public in good shape, NTR was known to tell his party leaders.

It was NTR who took the oath-taking ceremony of the chief minister out from Raj Bhavan’s staid durbar hall to a lavishly-decorated platform in festooned open grounds before a sea of admirers. Naidu has continued the tradition. In 2014, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister took oath from a glittering dais on a huge field near a state highway between Vijayawada and Guntur. The mandate of the state Information and Public Relations Department, which hosts all such events, is to make it as glamorous as possible to ensure widespread media publicity.

In true Telugu Desam Party tradition, Amaravati is poised to get a touch of Telugu cinema’s lavish sets. But will Amaravati compete with Mahishmati, the mythical kingdom in Bahubali? With Rajamouli and Naidu in charge, anything, really, could unfold.