Loved making reels of ‘Naatu Naatu’ from Rajamouli’s RRR? Loved the hook steps by Jr NTR and Ram Charan and the way this peppy number was shot?
The song that the entire world celebrated this year – ‘Naatu Naatu’ – was actually filmed at the Mariinskyi Palace, the official residence of the President of Ukraine, when the pandemic held the world in its grip, with countries imposing lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Director SS Rajamouli, composer Keeravani and choreographer Prem Rakshit might be the men associated with this superhit track, but its filming would not have been possible without ‘Location’ Ramji Natarajan. A well-known location advisor to the film industry, Chennai-based Ramji – with over 30 years of experience – was the person entrusted with the task of finding an ideal location to shoot this now-iconic song.
“This was the second time Rajamouli was trying to create India outside India,” recalled Ramji, during a recent lecture organised by the Chennai International Centre at the Madras School of Economics, “We had earlier recreated the Himalayas at Bulgaria for Baahubali. And now, for RRR, we had to re-create a British ball happening in the Delhi of the 1920s elsewhere!”
It wasn’t easy, because the makers not only wanted a location that would fit in with the budget, but also one to which they could travel to during the peak of the pandemic. “We couldn’t film in England, because it was closed for travel. We had to locate a common country to film this song, and zeroed in on Ukraine.” Thankfully, the RRR cast had US visas, and the rules then permitted travel through Frankfurt. Recalled Ramji, “The Bombay airport was so eerie; there was just one flight taking off.”
The team had to take eight COVID-19 tests at various stages during their travel. They had scouted for three locations but the one Rajamouli gave a go-ahead for happened to be the Mariinskyi Palace, the official residence of the President of Ukraine. “Luckily, during my previous travels to Kiev, I happened to be acquainted with its Mayor, Vitali Klitschko, who is actually a former heavyweight boxing champion. He promised to help us, and thankfully, there were no official visits to President Zelenskyy during that window of 15 days that we had to shoot.”
Though permissions were done, Rajamouli was still not satisfied, and handed over a wish-list to Ramji. He wanted 100 professional dancers, which Ramji organised through the Kyiv Ballet. “He also wanted 100 Indian extras to act as car drivers and bearers, which was going to be a challenge to organise. Then, I suddenly remembered that I had met a few Indians at the airport, who were actually medical students from Tamil Nadu, and called one of them.”
In a few hours, 300 Indians showed up, wanting to star in Rajamouli’s feature. “Being a stickler for detail, he (Rajamouli) also wanted 20 vintage cars, a grand piano weighing more than a ton and a 50-piece orchestra, for which we roped in members of the Kyiv Philharmonic. “All of them turned up in their coattails and tuxedos and looked grand,” recalls Ramji.
Things fell in place quickly for ‘Naatu Naatu’, which had more than 500 people on the sets, and another 500 for back-up, including production and catering. “Rajamouli himself commented that he wouldn’t have gotten this level of perfection even if he had shot this for a month in India. Obviously, while filming, we had no idea that it would go on to fetch world acclaim and win an Oscar,” says Ramji, who has also worked closely with directors Shankar (Rajinikanth’s Enthiran and Vikram’s I), Atlee (Vijay’s Mersal), Rohit Shetty, among others, and is also one of the pioneers in taking film crews to Switzerland for shoots. “I have 17 passport books and have travelled to over 140 countries in the course of my work. My experience is my biggest asset.”