Hyderabad’s history is equivalent to partition stories, says Unheard director Aditya KV

Though Hyderabad’s struggle for independence is extremely beautiful, that story has largely been unheard of, Aditya says.

ByY Krishna Jyothi

Published Sep 21, 2022 | 10:00 AMUpdatedSep 21, 2022 | 11:14 AM

aditya kv unheard

A year ago, on 17 September, Telugu audiences were treated to a first-of-its-kind web series streamed on Disney+Hotstar that created quite a buzz on social media.

Author Aditya KV (of Daitya Diaries) debuted as a director with Unheard, a historical fiction drama set in the 1900s that showcased, through conversations, the common man’s perspective and how it shaped the Indian Independence movement and the Razakar movement.

The television series (of six episodes) featured an ensemble cast including Ajay, Srinivas Avasarala, Priyadarshi, Baladitya, Chandini Chowdary, Anand Chakrapani and Jay Jha. Though it was planned for release on 15 August, Unheard was aired on 17 September — which marked the annexation of Hyderabad by the Union government in 1948.

The occasion made headlines after the NDA government declared year-long ‘Liberation Day’ celebrations, while the Telangana government called it Telangana National Unity Day. Amid the heated debate, director Aditya KV recalls how his years of research prompted him to film Unheard and highlight the role of Hyderabad in Indian history.

“We do have conversational cinema across the world, but not as much in India. I think we have forgotten that words are powerful. So, I wanted to do a first-of-its-kind project where I could showcase conversations between people and how dramatic they can get,” Aditya told South First.

However, on the philosophical level, the author-director wanted to highlight the fact that we somehow ended up ignoring the role of south India, specifically the Deccan region (Hyderabad), in the Indian freedom struggle.

“Most of the lessons we learnt in schools/colleges dealt with northern leaders. Though Hyderabad’s struggle for independence is extremely painful and equally beautiful, that story has largely been unheard of. In fact, we never bothered to talk about why Hyderabad is important.”

Freedom struggle & Razakar movement

While India became independent on 15 August, 1947, Hyderabad was integrated into India on 17 September, 1948. Nevertheless, the pain and suffering the Hyderabadis of that period had to go through has largely been ignored.

“This was a holistic spectrum rather than a region-specific spectrum. We conveniently did not bother about Liberation Day until recently, though it was an important chapter in our history. This has never been told and Unheard was an attempt to try and bring that perspective forward,” he clarified.

Episodes 5 and 6 (Ekatva – Identity and A Tribute to Hyderabad) of the web series talk about the Razakar movement. “The entire state of Hyderabad with over 20,000 people had so many stories to tell but we never heard them. Not many know that we had one of the largest militias of women fighting against the Razakars,” Aditya explained.

He believes that Razakars’ was a cautionary tale, a realistic tale about what happened in Hyderabad. “Hyderabad’s history is as equivalent to the kind of stories we hear about the partition. We’ve documented the stories of partition, but not Hyderabad’s. Indeed, we have a Partition Museum in Amritsar!”

This prompted him to document Hyderabad’s history, which also is the story of South India. “That’s exactly what Unheard was: That history is Unheard, we’re Unheard, we as Hyderabadis are Unheard.”

Nearly 14 years of research

The author-director spent nearly 13-14 years researching the Indian Independence movement. Though he wrote Unheard in 2020, he had a tough time compiling the stories out of the vast body of research.

“The 1900s (till 1950) was probably the most tumultuous period when humankind had witnessed one of the largest people’s movements. My biggest concern was: Am I omitting out something that is far more important than adding that’s meaningful,” Aditya recalled.

He referred to several peer-reviewed journals and even history textbooks from NCERT. He even interviewed historians to get the details. In fact, after finishing the shoot, the makers asked those historians and the former head of the History Department in Osmania University to review the web series.

The common man’s perspective

“When I started writing Unheard, many people said that it was a pretty easy job. But they didn’t realise that I did a lot of research to convey my perspective through fictional characters,” Aditya pointed out.

There have been enough movies about Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and other major historical figures. But Unheard tried and talked about the freedom struggle from the perspective of a common man.

“The common man’s perspective is more important than that of a leader because one has to understand why he decided to follow a leader and put so much at stake for attaining freedom or fighting against Razakars,” he said.

“How many people know that the late Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao was a freedom fighter? That he used to smuggle weapons into Hyderabad to fight against the Nizam’s atrocities? Today, when we look at Hyderabad’s place in Indian history, it is not recognised — maybe because of local leaders or previous history textbooks. These are the kind of stories that we just didn’t care to hear.”

aditya kv

Unheard director Aditya KV. (EllanarFilms/Facebook)

Aditya’s Unheard showcases complex characters who were willing to put their life at stake for ideology. For example, Priyadarshi’s character Badri is portrayed as someone who believes in Gandhi initially and then moves on to believe in Bhagat Singh.

“We wanted to showcase Gandhism, but women being a part of the freedom struggle was something that we didn’t want to ignore. That’s how Padma’s (played by Chandini Choudhary) character came into being,” the filmmaker explained.

Similarly, Anwar’s (played by Srinivas Avasarala) character plays a crucial role in the plot. “He is a man who is bound by duty and loves Hyderabad. But he’s so involved in his philosophy that he doesn’t care about what people want.”

“Chalapathi was the eyes and ears for us. We’ll find the evolution of India through his character. The ideologies of regular people of India who are not part of the Indian Independence struggle can be found in Chalapathi.”

The achievements

Surprisingly, Aditya didn’t have to visit many producers to get Unheard on the floors. “Luckily for me, Radhika Lavu of Ellanar Films was quite supportive all through. We finalised the script by August and went to shoot in November. It was as if Unheard had to be heard and everything fell in place,” he smiled.

The conversational web series was selected for major film festivals including the 11th Dada Saheb Film Festival 2021 and Toronto International Women Film Festival 2021. It was also streamed on Hulu, an American OTT platform.

unheard

Unheard was screened at major film festivals across the world. (EllanarFilms/Facebook)

“We initially thought of making a film but ended up bringing out a web series. Since history is considered a dry and bland subject, not many people are inclined to study it. However, I was glad that people wanted to know more after watching Unheard,” Aditya said.

While the author-director wrote the screenplay and conversations in English, Anirudh Krishna Murthy worked on the Telugu dialogues and Ryan Ain Asrar on the Deccani dialect.

Interestingly, one of Asrar’s grandfathers was working for the Nizam and the other was working against the Nizam. “Though I was working on these conversations through hindsight, I was worried if my hindsight would be enough to convey the details. However, after reading them, Asrar confirmed that his grandfathers used to discuss the freedom struggle and the Razakar movement in the same way. It was one of the biggest compliments I got for my writing,” Aditya guffawed.

He also asserts that we shouldn’t stop talking about history just because it tastes a little bad. “We need to talk about and record history in cinema to ensure that the future generations are well aware of it and it doesn’t repeat!”