Tharun Bhascker’s third feature Keedaa Cola, is set to hit screens on November 3, five years after his sophomore film, Ee Nagaraniki Emaindhi (ENE) came out. Five years is a significant time between two releases for a filmmaker unless you are a Thiagarajan Kumararaja, but Tharun has his reasons. His first film, Pelli Choopulu, which came out in 2016, is often considered one of the early new-age films in Telugu cinema. A movement that was further pronounced by the release of remarkable films like Arjun Reddy (2017) and Care of Kancharapalem (2018) in the years to follow.
But to Tharun, his first big break became a double-edged sword. “I was very happy with the massive success of Pelli Choopulu but I started experiencing anxiety attacks after that,” Tharun says, recalling the confounding phase of his life. “I went into a zone to introspect why I was suffering from anxiety, and I understood that it was due to the pressure of delivering another film with all the expectations that were building up. I wanted to run away from that nonsense. Nobody knew me before Pelli Choopulu but the film’s success immediately put me in a box, and I wanted to get out of there. I didn’t want to be a slave to these expectations.”
And then came ENE, which drew heavily from his own life and experiences. Although ENE is considered to have underperformed at the box office during its initial release in 2018 (the film reportedly made more money during its re-release on the fifth anniversary), Tharun didn’t go the conventional way and make a more wholesome, family film like Pelli Choopulu, unlike ENE, whose appeal was restricted to the youth. He is coming up with Keedaa Cola, a crime comedy. It’s a conscious decision, he says.
“I remember this. I wrote ENE to fail. I was like, ‘Let me fail. It’s okay.’ I was very particular about the financial aspects like the budget, interest, and the return on investment. I wanted to know whether it was recoverable for the producers and every single stakeholder in the chain of distribution and exhibition. I didn’t want anyone to curse me for delivering a product that caused a financial dent for them. That is my major agenda as a filmmaker; to ensure that the filmmaker recovers his money. I’m scared of debt. I think it’s the biggest nightmare for any filmmaker,” Tharun says, adding that he was well aware that ENE wouldn’t replicate the success of Pelli Choopulu (2016) at the box office. “Had I made ENE with ₹10 crores, it would have been a big mistake. But we made it with ₹2 crores, knowing the market we had after Pelli Choopulu. I spoke the same with Suresh Babu sir also and we went ahead, knowing, for a fact, that it wouldn’t gross some ₹40 crores as Pelli Choopulu did.”
Tharun is a much relieved and peaceful filmmaker today. “I would have hated to be that Pelli Choopulu guy who talks about marriage and family all the time. When you see other filmmakers make the kind of films you want to make, it feels terrible. It’s like being stuck in a 9-5 job and seeing others live the life you wish to live,” Tharun confidently says.
“And speaking of all these expectations on me, I want to break them every time. Because that is freedom for me. I came here to make a film after fighting a lot for my freedom. Making a film is just not freedom, it’s the way you live your life. Even after making the film, you will be entangled with expectations and you will be surrounded by bosses again. It’s an everyday battle. Even if you are doing the job that you love, there will be ups and downs, but what matters is whether you are at peace by the time you go to sleep. That matters the most,” Tharun signs off, perhaps not realising how inspiring his statement is.