The reception to director Shiva Nirvana's debut film Ninnu Kori was the stuff dreams are made of. He won acclaim in crafting a sensitive film that worked despite its improbable premise; of a married woman permitting her ex-boyfriend to stay with her, only to prove to him that she's moved on in life. The conviction in his treatment and his ability to camouflage the story in an appealing exterior with the right cocktail of wit, humour and emotional subtlety, marked the entry of a storyteller with a distinct voice. Majili (which translates to a halt) is the second halt in Shiva Nirvana's filmmaking journey, a family drama starring Naga Chaitanya, Divyansha Kaushik and Samantha Akkineni in lead roles. This is a more grounded and a deep-rooted story, he feels.
As he settles down for a candid chat, Shiva insists he was particular about not taking the success of Ninnu Kori to his head. "Being my debut film, I tried to enjoy the filmmaking process. The success was sweeter because it helped me land my second film with assurance. I was happy I had delivered what I promised. I was keen on making the second film with the same amount of passion. Besides the box-office, I consider a film a success if I really enjoy the making process. Majili is a very realistic film that I had a blast working on," he remarks.
Majili is poised to be a middle-class drama that has two strong characters Poorna and Sravani, who're poles apart and whose marriage is on the rocks. The casting of the real-life couple, Naga Chaitanya and Samantha Akkineni, whose combos in films such as Ye Maya Chesave and Manam have worked wonders at the box office in the past, adds an element of intrigue to the film. However, Shiva's reasons to cast them were not based on their commercial merit alone. "Chaitanya and Samantha are in the film purely for the value they bring as actors. I did not intend to have an added advantage of casting a popular real-life couple."
To make a marriage work, it's important that either the husband or the wife, surrenders to their spouse. Otherwise, a deep conflict or divorce is inevitable.
In fact, he says it's a tougher challenge for a director to cast a real-life couple, make the audiences forget their off-screen lives and get them invested into the story. "So, the conflict in the film had to be really strong," he adds.
It was Naga Chaitanya who had expressed his keenness to work with Shiva after watching Ninnu Kori. The filmmaker had narrated this script that featured him in a de-glamourised role amid a middle-class backdrop. Shiva quips, "It required him to go beyond love, marriage and be a matured man. Chaitanya, known for his urban-centric films, was excited to traverse this unexplored territory and immediately agreed to the story. A few days later, I had pitched the script to Samantha as well to play Sravani. I told her that her casting was for her performing abilities and not merely because she was Chaitanya's wife."
Sravani, the character of a dutiful wife that Samantha plays, is the rock of the film in many ways. She's the one always willing to steady the ship with her marriage, even if the path seems to be a rocky one. Elaborating more on her role, Shiva states, "To make a marriage work, it's important that either the husband or the wife, surrenders to their spouse. Otherwise, a deep conflict or divorce is inevitable. Here's a woman Sravani, who'd go to any extent to make her marriage work and rise above such conflicts. In reality, my wife has been one such strong force in my life."
Majili isn't about marriage alone, in fact, it's a blend of three distinct worlds, of love, marriage, and cricket. The project's titled Majili (a halt during a journey) because of the various halts in the protagonist's life, marriage being the final one. Naga Chaitanya plays Poorna, a professional cricketer in the earlier portions of the film, a segment that helped the director take a nostalgic dive into his younger days as a sportsperson. The teenage experiences provided great context and authenticity to the story, Shiva feels.
"I feel there's nothing better than a sport to depict the exuberance of the youth (referring to Naga Chaitanya's portions). I have played cricket at various levels for over 15 years, starting from my ninth grade. I used to be an opener for a local team and have a lot of blissful memories with the friendships I made on the field. The sport, for me, was a starting point to experience a gamut of emotions like anger, jealousy, sacrifice, and aggression. I've tried to translate many such instances onto the celluloid," he says.
The film is also Shiva's love letter to Visakhapatnam (even Ninnu Kori's premise was based in this region), a place where he was born and raised. The thought of Visakhapatnam triggers a wave of memories and incidents in Shiva's mind and it helps his story-writing process. "I have an organic connection with it. Once I set my story in Visakhapatnam, the character establishment and the narrative easily fall in place," he smiles. Shiva extends his association with composer Gopi Sundar yet again with Majili, precisely for their wonderful rapport and mutual understanding of each other's tastes.
Now that the filmmaker is done with a family drama, he has set his eyes on a newer genre next time around and hints there's an action film on the cards. There are no butterflies in his stomach prior to April 5, the release day of Majili and Shiva brushes away the fear of being called the one-hit wonder. "You make every film expecting it to be a wonder. Frankly, I'm not worried," he signs off.