‘When Something Is As Good As Gold, You Don’t Mess With It’, Film Companion

Director Nandini Reddy and actress Samantha Akkineni’s second collaboration, Oh Baby has been long on their mind (for over a year) and also during their hectic promotional tour across the Telugu states that the traits of a few characters in the film are engrained in their lives now. Samantha, in fact, remembers that her good friend, singer Chinmayi has been repeatedly telling her to come out of the Oh Baby mode in the way she talks and behaves. However, that obsession with the film is not to undermine the confidence that the director and actor they have on the remake of the Korean film Miss Granny.

In an era of free-makes of international films where inspiration has been the excuse-word for plagiarism, Nandini Reddy has been a rare director to have been accountable while bagging the official remake rights of the Korean original. It was Samantha who suggested Nandini come on-board for Oh Baby and a day prior to its release, she feels it’s the best thing that could have happened to the film. The story of Oh Baby revolves around a 70-year-old woman who transforms into her 24-year-old self after being photographed in a studio. It has an air of fantasy, simplicity, and humour to it, a zone that Nandini too is quite comfortable with.

However, Samantha didn’t pitch the film to Nandini for her directorial abilities alone, it was also the director’s innate similarity with the lead protagonist that convinced her to do so. “Even after several years in the industry, Nandini has managed to be pure as a human. She’s an adult but with a child’s heart, so optimistic, full of life and simple, exactly like the lead role in the film. Her coming on board was significant also because of the fact that the film revolved around a woman. I am very proud of the decision and she has done 100% justice to the film,” the actress says.

Nandini too feels that, if not for the remake, she could have even written this movie originally too, given how similar the script is to her sensibilities. “I felt Oh Baby was definitely up my alley. Yet, I found it to be different from what I’ve done before and have pushed a few boundaries here. It has the same magic that you would expect from a Disney film. I’ve not ventured into that space before. It has all that quirkiness and a fairy-tale like quality to it. Humour, madness, family drama, it’s a kind of cinema that everyone loves to watch.”

Samantha with the director Pointing to her decision to do a feel-good film that blends several genres featuring as a solo lead, Samantha terms it a lesson that she had learned from the moderate commercial response to U-Turn. “The choice of Oh Baby as a script at this phase of my career has been very intentional. Everyone thinks of dark thrillers, message-heavy films when they talk about women-oriented cinema and as a result, they continue to have reduced commercial appeal. I have understood from U-Turn that thrillers may get great reviews but may not make great money at the box office. I can’t blame the audience, I can only improve upon it. If you make a niche-thriller film, you are destined to get limited crowds. I felt it was important to break that stereotype and make women-centric cinema more universal. The comedy, commercial element, sentimental mix of Oh Baby makes for box-office friendly cinema. If this doesn’t work, I’m not sure what I would do next,” Samantha smiles with a hint of nervousness.

Oh Baby, being an official remake in director Nandini Reddy’s brief film career, the latter was sure about the changes that she wanted to make it palatable to our audiences. It’s a thin-line of maintaining the essence and yet ‘regionalising’ it, she says. “The script needs to fit you like a glove. I can’t wrap my head around it. When I saw it, I worked around the changes and sat with the Korean team to get a better idea. When something is as good as gold, you better don’t want to mess around with it. I explained what I tweaked, why I tweaked it to the Korean producers. I had to explain to them that our films are driven by the interval format. They were patient to understand our sensibilities and finally, were very convinced about the film during the writing stages and even when they watched it,” Nandini adds.

Nandini maintains that she was very nervous until one of Oh Baby‘s producers, Hyunwoo Thomas Kim (who also produced the original) came and saw the film. “Everybody assured me that it’s a good remake but I was waiting for his approval. When he saw and clapped, I was finally confident. He’d told me that it’s the best of seven versions of Miss Granny he’d watched. I couldn’t have asked for more.” Samantha nods in agreement to say, “I don’t remember a remake where the team would have sat on a four-hour meeting with the Korean cast and crew to understand the film better. We asked them all the backstories. We didn’t merely want to buy the remake rights and tinker around with it. We were determined to do a remake that respects the original.”

The remake was also a ‘karmic-reset’ moment for Nandini, whose earlier film Jabardasth (starring Samantha and Siddharth, which was an improvised, unofficial remake of Band Baaja Baraat where the producer ended up getting sued by YRF) didn’t leave her with a good aftertaste. “The accountability that this production house (Suresh Productions) brings is something everyone should learn from. I landed in a big soup with Jabardasth unintentionally and got caught. Because I didn’t correct it then, it was a karmic opportunity to correct it with Sam this time around. If we take the official rights, the film industry grows worldwide and the original makers are also happy. Also, (Hyunwoo) Thomas wants me to do more Korean films,” she quips.

Samantha in Oh BabyMost filmmakers behind the several remakes of Miss Granny went onto cast different actors for the 70-year-old and 24-year-old roles. Nandini too felt it was a no-brainer to pick another actor to play the 70-year-old. “When I put prosthetics on Samantha, the discussion during the movie would all be about her look and the focus on the film would be lost. There was no point in it and I would instead want a viewer to invest emotionally into the character more. I think it was one of the best decisions that we took. And veteran actress Lakshmi garu (in the 70-year-old version of the protagonist) is the root of the film. She holds the foundation of the film so firmly that even when Sam enters the film, you’ll be tricked to understand if it’s Sam or her playing the role,” the filmmaker states.

All along with the making, it was a relief both for the director and the actor to envision the film, the same way. Though both collaborated for Jabardasth six years ago, they are more friends than colleagues and it’s natural for the rapport to translate on the screen as well. “Sam has probably had done a great number of films and learned a lot about the craft in these six years and I’ve worked across a film and a couple of web series too. We both were telling each other that we had changed a lot. More importantly, we found the right story to unite with. Sam and I saw the film from the same perspective. When you have a director and an actor who’re visioning the film in the same way, it makes life easier.”

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