Casting prominent theater artists, making the actors take up dialect training and feasting over the same local delicacy for 15 days, are some of the highlights of this film's shoot. First time director Vinod Ananthoju talks about his film Middle Class Melodies, starring Anand Devarakonda and Varsha Bollamma, which releases on Amazon Prime Video this week. Edited excerpts:
Vinod, let's start with a term that grabbed a lot of attention in the trailer. What is 'Bombay Chutney'?
It is a delicacy made with gram flour or chickpea flour typically served as a side dish to idli, and dosa. It's not popular in Andhra or Telangana but has its prominence across rural parts of Guntur.
In the trailer, we come across many moments that seem very organic. There is a certain relatability factor to the characters. How much from real life has gone into the storytelling process?
A large share of the story is inspired by real-life incidents. We were able to relate to the commonality of the characters whom we have met or known in our lives. Our writer Janardhan Pasumarthi got his inspiration from a real-life character named Raghava Rao who was the chef of a tiffin center near his house.
Which aspect of the story inspired you to make this into a feature film? And how was your foray into the film industry?
I choose or write stories that I seem to relate to and have a personal connection with. Though we see films in different genres like action, mysteries, and thrillers, in real life we seldom come across those situations. I belong to a family of humble backgrounds and the incidents that I and my writer have come across have helped in shaping up the story for this film.
My interest in filmmaking comes from early exposure to books. My father worked in a book publishing house which got me reading a lot of Telugu literature. This gave me a sense of storytelling ability and I always felt the stories that I read had to have a wider reach. After my stint as a software engineer, I started making short films and got into filmmaking.
With your prevailing interest in Telugu literature, could you name three books to recommend?
My recommendation to explore Telugu literature will be to start with Amaravati Kathalu by Satyam Sankaramanchi, which is a well-written collection of Telugu short stories. Edu Taralu, which is a translated version of Roots by Alex Haley. And the books written by director Vamshi, where the stories are based in the Godavari district.
The actors mentioned that they had to take up dialect training (Guntur) to obtain the authenticity of the region. How much of an impact does a region-specific dialect have on the story?
I think it's a must to have an authentic dialect of the region where the story takes place because it captures the true essence. Since Anand Devarakonda is from Telangana and Varsha Bollamma from Karnataka, they had to take up the dialect training which helps them in their performance. Mainstream Telugu cinema is set in a space where the audience is already made aware that they are watching a movie. I intend to make the audience feel and relate to what they watch on the screen. So it becomes important that the location and authenticity of the dialect pronounced by the actors seem very natural and organic.
Can you elaborate on how you go about choosing the cast and the technical crew behind this film?
I was very particular that the roles would be played by newcomers who would also be good performers. It was a tough nut to crack since a lot of time went in to casting and audition sessions to find the right actors for their respective roles. Anand Devarakonda has a boy next door appeal and was apt for this role, we roped him in while he was shooting for his debut venture Dorasani. The film also includes a talented set of supporting cast whose subplots also add up the whole narrative. We auditioned most of the prominent theater groups within the Andhra belt for two months and handpicked each one of them for their relevant roles. They were further trained to adapt to the characters. Goparaju Ramana who plays Anand's father might not be prominently known in the film industry, but is a very well established theater artist.
Since the film is titled Middle-Class Melodies music has been a prominent factor in the film and after the success of C/o Kancharapalem, Sweekar Agasthi sense of music matched the story needs. Background score is composed by R.H.Vikram who is based out of Chennai and plays for a band named Staccato.
Do you see an advantage in releasing your film through an OTT Platform?
While I began filming I expected that the film would have a theatrical run across Andhra and Telangana. Since it's releasing on OTT, it gets me excited that people across the world would be able to watch and react to it. OTT platforms help reduce regional boundaries of cinema, it's a boon that we can access films from across our country and world in the comfort of our homes. Down the line, OTT and theater viewing would strike a balance and complement each other.
As the movie is associated with food, can you tell us one Guntur delicacy that everyone should try?
There are numerous delicacies across Guntur but if I have to name one it would be 'Maalpuri Kova'. It's extremely delicious and gives an instant sugar rush. During our 15 days shoot at Guntur, I and the team used to have this savory every day!