Sunitha Tati produces Telugu films under the banner Guru Films. After completing her Post Graduate degree in film-making, she began to produce films in 2011. A decade into the field, she talks with Baradwaj Rangan about the important qualities of a producer, how she nurtured Oh Baby and how instinct works.
Edited Excerpts Below.
Congratulations on ten years of Guru Films. Thank you.
What do you think has been your biggest achievement?
That I am still here! (laughs) It's not an easy place to be. After 10 years, I have to say I am where I am supposed to be and it will be an exciting next 10 years. I feel that we are a small sampling, but I can already see the tree being very big.
I am holding on and surviving in the business. Say we look back and see the production houses that started with the humbling beginnings as we did. If we see who has sustained, you will see very few. People make a couple of films and go. I decided to leave a comfortable corporate job and said 'let's start a production house'. There have been many hiccups in the journey – finding out the space, knowing what is your niche and then rediscovering yourself constantly, again constantly staying inspired and aspired. When I look back now after 10 years, I realise it took a lot out of me but it also filled me with a lot of hope.
Let's say I want to become a producer. What is the number one quality I should have?
Resilience and knowing exactly what you want to do. There are many distractions here and the producer is like in many ways 'the other half of the marriage'. Put aside the gender aspect of it, it is a marriage. Creating something together hand in hand is what marriage is all about, and so is cinema. So you should be very clear about which role you want to play.
Sometimes you are the husband, you are the provider. Sometimes you are the caretaker like a mother. You need to be switching the role constantly based on who the other half is. Therefore, you should be constantly changing the roles to be a producer. People say that you should come with a suitcase of money and then you can become the producer, maybe that works for some people, but not for the real producer.
Can you define that caretaker aspect with Oh Baby? What was the care taking aspect of that film?
The care taking aspect of the film is that I nurtured the story for literally two years, believed in it and went after it. I saw the film in 2016, I was consulting for a Korean company called Cross Pictures and that is when I had to re-question myself about the storytelling as a producer in India because I already failed at what I was doing and I wanted to do something very different.
So about Oh Baby, I love the story, it's not a hero story. Here nobody listens to stories unless it's a hero. The idea was what to do. Then, I got on the flight that day. Guess who was sitting in the two seats ahead of me. It happened to be Samantha and something just clicked in me. I just walked up to her and I said 'I have something for you, would you like to look at it?'. She said to just send her the trailer.
I sent her this and she said 'I love the trailer. I don't think I can work in 2017 but let's re-look at it in 2018'. It means for one year you are sitting on a film and then you come to know what's happening in her personal life and you kind of wait patiently. I didn't go to anybody else, it was always Sam for me from day one.
I just believed in that and you have to nurture it, you have to wait for it. So many people will come at you and say why don't you take it to Keerthy Suresh or Sai Pallavi. Then you are like, 'No, this is what I believe'. It is something instinctive that tells you who is going to play it.
So 2018 comes and I take the film to Suresh. Then, you are again kind of nurturing it. Suresh hasn't done a very strong female-centric story in recent times. He is like, 'Are you sure? Oh, do you have any film we could do with Venki or Rana?' The conversation changes and it gets diluted to what somebody else wants to do from what I want to do. Then you are again holding on to the thought, 'this is my instinct and it is telling me this is how it should be'.
That is a very defining moment in my life and that's when I had to be both matriarchal and patriarchal about what I believe in and say, 'this is the arrow I am going to go at'. When Sam saw the film, she believed in it. Then Nandhini happened, Suresh believed in us as a team and then you just become the provider. You trust that person you are marrying, who happens to be Nandhini. She is a very dear friend and she believed in it. You just ride it and go at it.
When we are talking about instinct, How does instinct work in this producer business? In this case, instinct has given your first big hit Oh Baby. But the same instinct was at work in the earlier films also. Were you able to reassess like 'I had the instinct that this would work, but this is why it didn't work'?
Totally. I think if you don't do that, you won't arrive at a film like Oh Baby. Please remember that instinct always doesn't translate to success, especially box office success. Instinct is sometimes good. Depending on your state of mind, your instinct works.
If you take my first film, I was just coming out of Shor in the City with Raj and D.K, which I have executive produced. I believed in a certain kind of cinema, I believed in very strong storytelling. For me, Bangaru Kodipetta was that. Even today, a lot of people come up to me and tell me that the film is ahead of its time, which I think is something I did with my earlier projects. They were ahead of their time. It is just that sometimes instinct meets with the timeline of life very correctly. That intersection is a success.