After presenting us with a chance to LOL in theatres after a long long time, it's pleasing to listen to director Anudeep laugh himself. It's infectious and you catch yourself laughing loudly and without inhibitions, just like Anudeep, as you talk more to the director who has just made, Jathi Ratnalu, a massive blockbuster. The comedy in his film is an extension of Anudeep's personality, and there's more autobiography in the film than you think, especially when the director himself calls it a film filled with the dumbest people. After a tiring week of extreme happiness, Anudeep settles for an interview. Edited excerpts:
What's the last week been like? Has life changed a lot? Also, how many times do you have to charge your phone in a day?
Hahahahha. It has changed a lot. I've been getting a lot of phone calls from producers and other people from the industry. I've been trying to save my energy because it's also been very tiring with the post release work. I'm not on social media so I don't get many messages from that side. And my phone number is secure too so I don't get too many messages from people I don't know. But overall, it has been overwhelming with a crazy amount of happiness.
Can you compare your happiness now to the feeling when the film was stuck during the pandemic?
Obviously there was a phase when we were all going through a depressing state of mind. We didn't start making this movie for money or to make it a blockbuster. We just wanted to watch the film with the audience in theatres and see their reactions. That's all. To listen to them laugh for a joke we wrote was what it was always about. So when OTT's approached us with crazy offers that's what we would have lost out on. For the producer's sake even I had brought myself to accept the idea that this would become an OTT release. But Nag Ashwin, the producer always stood by it. He being a director himself knows what a theatre release meant for a first time director. I feel blessed that he understood the feeling.
I think the Telugu film industry is the first to really survive the pandemic. Not only has it witnessed three super hits at a time of such uncertainty, but it has also gone ahead and announced massive new projects. What's with the conviction you guys have about your films?
I agree. See I'm someone who has grown up watching films from childhood, that too in theatres. For us, watching a film is a celebration. If its comedy, we want a film that's a riot and even in action, it has to be the next level. If you don't get the feeling of a celebration, then a film's not worth it. We don't want dark or miserable movies.
Would you say that the timing of Jathi Ratnalu's release helped too? I felt like it was an outpouring of laughter in the theatre after so long. It was like people had forgotten the joy of laughing together with hundreds of others.
Yes, definitely. People have had one of the most stressful years of their lives and Jathi Ratnalu is certainly a celebration of things going back to normal. That feeling you described is finally back and it is something they missed while watching movies at home. The timing has certainly helped.
Let's get into the movie now. I'm a Malayali settled in Chennai and I watched it without subtitles. Despite my limited understanding of the language, I laughed till my cheeks started hurting. How do you explain that? Is it because the situations are as funny as the dialogues?
I think it's because we were very clear about the film's comedy. It is set in a silly and dumb world where every character is behaving dumb. Even without understanding the dialogues, some form of comedy has gone into everything from the locations to the costumes and even the yellow car they drive in the film. Even when we were narrating the film to the producers, with all these elements, we knew that the humour would click even if we stick to what's on paper.
But isn't comedy much more about execution than the writing?
Nag Ashwin had seen a short film of mine from nine years ago and he was confident about my humour timing. He also knew my narrative skills so he didn't have second thoughts. But my strength is comedy and the way I pitched the film was in full awareness of what we wanted to do. So we had that clarity.
Does that mean you'll continue making comedies?
At least for now. If I make a comedy I want it to be riot. The same way, I want to make an intense drama in the future. And when I do that, people should cry. They should get that catharsis. The emotions should be extreme.
What about humour? Does it come naturally to you?
Of course. Humour is a very big part of me. Humour is the base of all my conversations with friends. From my interviews, I might seem serious but that's because I'm camera shy. I like to think of myself as a funny guy.
Are there any autobiographical elements in the film, even if you're describing all the characters to be dumb?
Hahahaha. Yes, yes, lots of it is from my life. Me and my friends are exactly like the three leads. We have really talked for hours about the first person in my town to wear jeans pants. We have also worried about who has the best hairstyle and the longest hair in my town. Playing cricket, going to a dabba, that's what our life was about. I'm from Sangareddy and we are Jathi Rathnalu.
Did you face the same situations when you came to Hyderabad first?
So many of them. Like the reference to Rayal House is about how we struggled to find a place to stay as bachelors. Even our address, we used to tell everyone that we stayed behind Chiranjeevi blood bank. For outsiders they might think we stay in Banjara Hills but in reality it was a slum. So there are lots from my own life.
I also love the way you have referenced other films in Jathi…These references are a part of the writing itself and not simply there to appease fans. Like how the heroine Chitti keeps watching Lawyer Suhasini…
That's again because I'm a film buff. I love Madhuri Dixit and her kind of dance and I'm also a huge fan of Andaz Apna Apna. Even Venkat Prabhu is my favourite. That's why I used the Chennai 28 BGM when Chitti makes her entry. It's my tribute to the films that have shaped me.
Usually in humour movies, the heroine gets a big glamorous introduction and a few comedy scenes. But they get very little to do later on. But in here, the cutaways to Chitti in the climax really elevate the scene. She was phenomenal in it…
I agree. But like I said I wanted a world filled with dumb people. Though it might not appear like that first, the writing for her comedy base was there right from the start. Chitti tells us early on that she has finished a degree even though she has learnt nothing from it. So when she comes back in the courtroom portions as a lawyer, we realise what she was talking about. From there on, her character has the space to contribute to the comedy just like anyone else. We already like her by then. It was funny even at the paper level. But we chose Faria Abdulla only because of the way she performed the courtroom portions during the audition.
What about the actual performance in such a film. Scenes like the one where Naveen explains how they're going to get the phone back from their car is so, so random but insanely hilarious. How do you plan that?
We always had the option or a backup if something's not working. We've written something and when the actors perform it we get a sense if it's coming together. Even the actors have an instinct for it. When we shot certain things for the montage, they would themselves say, "leave this, let's shoot something else." But that distance and judgement is very tough to get with material you've written yourself. Both me and Naveen are really tough to please in terms of comedy. Which means that if we have to approve a scene it's because we have laughed at it.
Are there lots of scenes you've edited out in the table too?
Yes, yes. When we started, I wanted to make a one hour 30 minute comedy. But I wrote and shot freely and the first edit was coming to two hours 55 minutes. I felt no one would want to watch a three-hour movie so we trimmed a few scenes based on the reactions during edit. We want to release them as deleted videos now.
Did you change anything major in edit during the Covid break because you got the extra time?
Nothing because of that. We got the confidence by then because we were seeing how people were reacting to the rushes during dubbing and edit.
The only serious character in the film is the factory owner who the leads end up helping. Was that character there only because you need one stable, sane person in such a crazy world?
Not really. I added that sub plot because I wanted that emotion. Three dumb people getting together to do something that will end up helping a factory, even without their knowledge. That was the novel bit. But in theatres, I could sense the audience getting tired of these parts. They are waiting for the story to switch back the main three. I think I'll re-edit or cut those parts further before we give it to Amazon Prime or TV.
What do you say about people complaining about the lack of logic in the film?
I think most movies, in any language will come with certain logical flaws. But I don't know what makes people worry about logic in a film that wants to be silly right from the start. Shouldn't they see the intention of the director too? Maybe it's because the humour overpowered the logic that they're saying this. But I didn't want the film to be realistic at all. In fact, I wanted this to be the silliest film ever. I didn't want any seriousness. Seriousness is like a disease.
Are you someone who gets stressed on the sets, even though its a comedy?
Not at all. There was no stress during the shoot because we were crystal clear about the film. I also had a cooperative producer who didn't put any pressure. The fun you guys are having now is just the joy we had while making it.
Was there one scene that was tough to shoot though?
That has to be the courtroom climax. Initially, we had planned a crazy chase scene as climax to end it on a higher note. Something along the Priyadarshan line. The idea to make it a courtroom climax came much later. It's a result of the confidence I got in Naveen's performance. So we wrote it and we started working on it and when we finally saw his monologue on the edit table, we became confident that it would work. And when the audience exploded laughing, we knew we made the right choice even though it was a risk.
Exactly. Naveen's comic timing is something else…
It is. His sense of humour is something that clicked right from the first time I met him. His gestures, expressions complement his thinking perfectly. But what I love most is his lack of ego. Even our unit was like that. No one had an ego that we were making a film with a big banner or anything. I feel the essence of great comedy itself is in not having an ego.