Affectionately referred to as location guru, Natarajan Ramji was the one who facilitated the shooting of Naatu Naatu in the Ukrainian Presidential bungalow that served as an ideal setting for the award-winning song
If there is one person in India who has facilitated film shoots in Switzerland more than 100 times, it must be none other than Natarajan Ramji. Ramji has facilitated film shoots for over 3000 projects over the last three decades. He was featured in the Netflix series Creative Indians, a docu series showcasing, demystifying, and deconstructing the lives, journeys, and processes of the most impactful creative people of India.
It was Ramji, affectionately referred to as “location guru,” who shared pictures of the Ukrainian Presidential bungalow (Kiev’s blue Mariyinsky Palace, residence of the Ukrainian president) with the RRR team when they were scouting for a palace background with an open area, and that is where the Oscar-nominated Naatu Naatu song was shot.
Ramji has buildings and locations all around the world at his fingertips, much like reading a novel and memorizing characters. As soon as he understands how to adapt the writing to the screen, suggestions for topographies and buildings appear on his radar.
Actually, the RRR team was looking for a location in and around Delhi, preferably an old colonial-era structure. But the plan never materialized.
When all roads led to Ukraine, the unthinkable happened. Once the shooting spot was cleared by SS Rajamouli, Ramji showed his professional prowess to make it happen, from reserving the location to arranging people for the backdrop.
“Working with an acclaimed director and the lead stars of RRR was an amazing and dream-come-true project for me,” Ramji says. “What an experience to go through. “It was one of the best crews to work with.” Ramiji has worked in some of the biggest Indian films produced: Baahubali: The Beginning, its sequel, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, and RRR. His primary strength, in addition to researching locales and doing reconnaissance, is connecting with the locals, coordinating between artists and technicians, and preparing the budget. “I am a problem solver.” You get only a couple of minutes to talk to a person like Rajamouli. “In those few moments, you have to understand and provide solutions,” he says.
Ramji says that it is difficult and competitive work, and that one must always stay one step ahead of what is to come.
Ramji was all praise for Kiev mayor, Vitali Volodymyrovych Klitschko, a former boxer, who assisted in getting permissions on time.
There were 150 dancers and extras needed for the song Naatu Naatu (primarily south Asians). Ramji gathered 300 Indian students in Ukraine through local organisations and media advertisements.
When a need for 150 South Asian extras arose, they advertised among foreign student organisations, and nearly 300 Indians studying medicine in Ukraine answered – more than double the minimum number. Over 100 Kiev Ballet dancers stood in for the British extras, and they were disguised as upper-class Britishers. The filming process employed around 1000 people, including an Indian team.
“It was the most satisfied project till date,” recollects Ramji as they never saw war looming over Ukraine. “There’s some divine intervention, we all came back on time. I believe in it. Half of the crew– men and women — who were working with us are fighting the war in the frontlines,” says Ramji, taking a deep breath.
“We were the last to shoot in Kiev. I am very confident that I will go back to shoot in the presidential palace one day,” says Ramji