Sekhar Kammula's Love Story with Naga Chaitanya and Sai Pallavi as leads releases theatrically on September 24. The director talks about working with Naga Chaitanya, his next film starring Dhanush, and why he's always been open to working with big stars, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
How was it working with an actor like Naga Chaitanya who comes in with a decade of experience, which also means people expect them to, say, smile or cry a certain way. How do you break this?
Unfortunately, in Indian films we call it 'mannerism'. For example, people love Dev Anand for his mannerisms and he might not do anything different. It's a different matter that they're legends now. Our team watched every film of Naga Chaitanya and also his interviews. I realized that in-person, he was much more the way I like. We cut off his smile and did it differently. He has a natural, open smile when he's not conscious of the camera.
There are things that he's done in his previous films that I asked him to stop. His diction used to be a bit slow and dramatic, and we cut that off too. Similarly, we modified his hand movements and gestures.
How did your collaboration with Dhanush happen? I didn't see it coming at all…
Dhanush is the kind of actor that no director can ignore. You fall in love with his body of work. He will be suitable for any genre of films and 200% represents the common Indian man. I was watching Karnan during the pandemic at home and realized that I haven't even spoken to him. I'm actually a bit shy approaching stars but I felt like I should call him. My producer told me that he could put me in touch with Dhanush. He was in Los Angeles and I narrated the idea for thirty minutes over the phone. The next minute, he said that he was sold — he would do the film. That's it.
What zone is the film in?
It's a socio-political thriller; it's not like Love Story at all. The story allows for a more pan-Indian film.
Have you written it yet? With big actors, the dates are very specific because they're committed to several projects. How do you handle the pressure?
I've written about 50% of it. Only after I finish the draft, I go to shoot. I always typically don't redraft. I shoot in a single schedule. Not just with Dhanush, I always go with a bound script.
The moment I have the script, I'll ask for specific dates. Dhanush can work 24×7 and do any number of films.
Are there reasons you haven't done films with stars like Mahesh Babu and Chiranjeevi? Is it about the budget?
To be frank, I have approached people and sometimes it's 'yes' and sometimes it's 'no'. I'm very selfish and non-egotistical about my films. I narrated Anand to any number of producers. At one point, if a producer liked the script, I'd worry whether it had problems. Perhaps, Mahesh Babu would have accepted Leader if I had narrated it to him, but I went with Rana.
Sometimes, it might not suit their timeframe. Stars have timing issues. If they have done a romantic film, they do an action film next. They don't want to stereotype themselves. Sometimes, it gets missed because of that.