What was your inspiration to write Maa Vintha Gadha Vinuma?
Back in the day, it was desperation and the lack of scripts of the kind I wanted to do that led me to write the story. I always knew I had a very familiar face, so I wanted to write something very real, relatable and contemporary. I'm an engineer and engineering colleges in Hyderabad have a vibe — the way freshers are treated, the way boys and girls interact, the ragging, the kind of lecturers we get… All these small experiences and memories from meeting a variety of people in college led me to write the story.
Also sitcoms like How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. and Seinfeld are a huge influence. Every day, I would watch one episode in the morning. I always wondered why we did not have something like that here. So, while primarily trying my luck as an actor, I began to write.
Did you see writing as an alternative career option?
The only thing I planned was to become an actor. My first love is acting. Writing gives me a bigger platform to express myself. In acting, I can only express myself through one role, but in writing I speak on everyone's behalf. They are all my puppets. They listen to the way I want them to talk or act.
Generally, we see actors waiting for a script that will suit them, but you went on to write and collaborate with directors. Is this because you couldn't find the right kind of scripts you wanted to do?
When you come to this industry, you don't have anyone here. It's like a forest. You don't know what you're doing and don't understand how this space works. All you have is to do what you are capable of. So, I thought let's just sit and try to put something together. That's how Guntur Talkies started with Praveen Sir.
While you write, do you decide which character you're going to play, or how much screen time would you have, or is the process organically driven?
I feel a script is supposed to age like a bottle of fine wine. I think you're supposed to put in all the ingredients — the characters, the situations, the vibe, the culture where it is based on — and the script writes itself, and you are just there to facilitate its needs. Every time you read your script, your instincts tell you what's working and what's not. It's equally important for one to be detached enough from the story to analyse these instincts and not ignore them.
Is the story shot from Siddhu's (the protagonist) point of view and does his character drive the story or is it vice-versa?
Definitely, the story is narrated from Siddhu's perspective. Although this is a story about all the people in the film; this is also a journey of a guy from a boy to a man. Everything that happens in the film is portrayed from his perspective. My friends say, "Looks like you've written good characters, but you still take the cake." Of course, I am doing that. (laughs)
How do you manage to write such realistic scenes and dialogues that connect with the audience? Do you think sitcoms have had an influence?
I am influenced by sitcoms. The effort and idea behind writing such scenes and dialogues is to bring out the essence of a conversation, without the usage of jargon, poetic symbolism or heavy literary words. If two characters in real life meet and have a conversation, how they would communicate is what I focus on. I want the conversation to be very casual. So, when I write, I think from the space where this particular character is coming from. For instance, the mathematics professor that you see in the end of teaser, he's excellent in Math but his English sucks. He doesn't bother if he can speak good English or not — he speaks in a certain accent. By understanding the person and where he/she comes from, I think we'll have a casual and real dialogue ready.
In Krishna and his Leela, your character fell in love with two women. Here Siddhu's character seems to be impulsive and egoistic. Both Krishna and Siddhu have grey shades but they're inherently good men. How do you strike a balance of not coming out as too negative when you act?
I think it has to be every scene for itself. Going back to Krishna and his Leela, the audience had to believe that he was in love with two women at the same time. So, when he is with one woman, he just has to be with her. The key was to forget everyone else when he was with that one woman. So when Krishna is with Radha (or Satya), he is completely invested in her. Radha's character did not exist for me when I was doing scenes with Satya. It's that simple for me. Similarly in Maa Vintha Gadha Vinuma Siddhu is flawed but you don't hate him. A very clear straight guy doesn't interest me. Everyone has a secretive darker side. As an actor, I take every scene, shot and dialogue for itself and not think about other scenes. As a writer and editor, I think about it holistically, but as an actor I don't. I stick to the moment in the scene.
Besides being the actor and writer, as the creative producer how have you contributed to this film?
There's no job that's not mine. From lifting lights and writing scenes to editing, I owned the film. The theory that we miss here is, it's the job of the producer to bring the cast and crew of the film along with the money to be invested. The producer is supposed to "produce" a film. If the person is only bringing the money, then he is just an investor. So, I've produced the film under the Silly Monks banner. My job was technically of a producer, but that's not the norm that we follow here. For me, the lines are very blurred and I want to give credit to everyone who has worked for the film. My basic principle of making a film is "Idi naa pani kaadu ane pani ledu. Idi naa pani kaadu ane vaadu naa set meeda naaku oddu" (on a film set, everyone does every work as their own). My boys will never say that this isn't my job. They might cringe about it, but they'll do it.
Did you feel all this responsibility would affect your performance?
No, what I always felt it would take away is the 'surprise' of being an actor. An actor is involved during the shooting and dubbing, so when he/she sees the final cut, there's an element of surprise. I miss that. I have a very short attention span and am fidgety as a person, so I constantly look out for work. If not, I become anxious. There are like 300 tabs open in my mind and I close each one eventually. The approach and sensibility to do all the jobs that I did was just one — what does the film need?
When you expect others to do things for you, you meet with disappointment. It was just me, my boys (including Seerat) and my very sweet producers who did everything. After all this hard work, I hope the film works out well.
This film's conflict takes off from the premise of committing a mistake impulsively. Are you an impulsive person by nature?
Yes, I am. I'll give you an example. The entire Ladakh episode in Krishna and his Leela was supposed to be shot in a studio under the green mat. However, one day I instantly felt this sequence should be shot in Ladakh. I immediately called my director Ravikanth and DOP Shaneil and they agreed. I knew only three of us would go for this shoot because of budget constraints. That's why I call them "my boys", because they don't say no to anything.
Yet, my madness has a method. There is always some sense in what I do. You're screwed if you don't have that confidence and sensibility.
Ranbir Kapoor is someone whom you adore. Was he the inspiration for you to become an actor?
Ranbir Kapoor was not the inspiration to become an actor, but he's the inspiration to be an 'effortless' actor. Be effortless on screen, believe in what you do and let your eyes speak what you feel. That quality of Ranbir inspired me.