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From corporate corridors to palaces

Sajila Saseendran / 13 January 2013

Switching from corporate honchos to historical heroes, two prominent Indian businessmen in the UAE are all set to showcase their acting skills in a new documentary film to be premiered in Dubai this week.

Dr B.R. Shetty, MD and CEO of NMC Group of Companies and Y. Sudhir Kumar Shetty, COO-Global Operations, UAE Exchange, have played two major roles in the award winning docu-film depicting the history of Kerala’s Travancore royal family that ruled the southern parts of the state for centuries with the custody of the world’s richest temple.

Dr B.R. Shetty as Dharmaraja. — Supplied photoSree Padmanabha Swamy Temple’s assets — worth billions of dollars — were found in the vaults in 2011, but only after the filming of Saga of Benevolence was over, according to its director B. Jayachandran, picture editor with the Malayala Manorama newspaper from Kerala, the southern state of India.

Jayachandran chose Sudhir Shetty to play the role of Anizham Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the king of Travancore from 1729—1758, who surrendered the Kingdom of Travancore to the deity of the temple.

Apparently, Sudhir Shetty’s tall physique and royal looks captured the eyes of the director: “He spotted me while we had a chance encounter during a pilgrimage to the Sabarimala Temple in 2007. When he asked me if (I was) interested in (playing the) great role, I said (I was) more than happy if he (felt) I (could) do it,” he said.

B.R. Shetty, meanwhile, was handpicked for the role of Dharmaraja Karthika Thirunal Ramavarma, the king of Travancore from 1758—1790, by the current titular Maharajah (King) of Travancore, Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma.

Though they have been actively involved in promoting Indian arts and community events, the Shetty duo said they had never expected to try their hands at acting.

Sudhir Kumar Shetty as Marthanda. — Supplied photo“It’s a God-given opportunity for both of us to be part of the history,” said B.R. Shetty: “People here have been anxiously enquiring about its GCC premiere especially after it won the Best Documentary Film Award in 2011 from the Kerala State Government last year.”

He said he had a long-term acquaintance with the current Maharajah, now a nonagenarian: “It’s a great thing that in his lifetime the royal family came forward to depict the history of its dynasty. He guided the project and gave access to all royal palaces and other properties for the shooting.”

The scene where he reacts to the news of Tipu Sultan’s decision to wage a battle with Travancore is the favourite one for B.R. Shetty while Sudhir Shetty cherishes the moments he rode horses (belonging to the Kerala police) and performed kalarippayattu — traditional martial art form from Kerala.

“The film gives insights into the dramatic lives of the kings of Travancore with candid capturing of history on celluloid for posterity,” Jayachandran said, adding that the conceptualisation and production of the film came after arduous research and references so that historical facts remain sacrosanct.

The docu-film is penned by Kerala-based writer Madambu Kunjukuttan, drawing inspiration from Mathilakam records — reference papers that tell the story of the Travancore royal dynasty.

The making of the Saga of Benevolence was under the supervision of the renowned Malayalam film director Shaji N. Karun. The film’s introduction is done by the current Maharajah himself while other members of the royal family have portrayed roles of their ancestors in the film.

UAE Premiere

The premiere of the docu-film in the UAE will be in Abu Dhabi National Theatre on Monday, and at the Dubai Women’s College Auditorium, Higher College of Technology, Al Qusais, on Tuesday. There will be two shows on each day at 7.30pm and 9.30pm. Simultaneously, 50 historical paintings and photographs of Jayachandran are being exhibited at the India Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi and at Hotel Down Town Lotus in Dubai.

The four and a half hour original version of the film shot over five years has been reduced to nearly one and a half hours for public screenings.


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