Anand Ranga's first and only feature film, Oy, is set to be re-released in theatres this Valentine's week. But as I spoke with the director two days before the re-release, he barely sounded emotional. Filmmakers often liberally throw around terms of endearment and ownership like, "my baby" and "my vision" as they describe their films and rightfully so. And as someone who made a pleasing romantic drama, the fact that he wasn’t romanticising the redemptive arc of the film, getting a coveted second chance on the big screens after a lukewarm response during its initial release, was quite surprising. Most of his responses were simply factual, and it looked like time had done its job. 15 years later, Oy might have been a film, or, say, a job, from the past. While there was no question about his attachment to the film, it made one wonder where his practicality was coming from. “I am very attached to the film, no two ways about it,” he asserts. “I own every bit of it—both its positives and negatives. But I’m not very emotional about it either.”
I acknowledge his current objectivity and ask him how he handled the film’s result when he was 15 years younger. He gives yet another very factual response. “Somehow, I had the maturity to accept it and I handled it just fine. I’m glad we made a film and it continues to be relevant, 15 years later.”
Excerpts from the interview:
Do you remember what your headspace was on July 3, 2009, the day Oy came out?
Yes, I do very well. The team—including our producer—was nervous because a distributor who had seen the film a couple of days back expressed his disappointment over the film’s tragic ending, saying it might not work out at the box office. But I remained hopeful till the last moment. On the morning of the release, I received 50-60 phone calls from people in the industry after the first half was complete. But after the second half, I didn’t get a single call. I immediately understood the result of the film.
We all know that tragic ending is why Oy couldn’t become a blockbuster despite being a jolly-good crowd-pleaser for the most part. In an interview days after the film's release, you said that the ending is semi-biographical. Is that why you were so adamant about sticking to the tragic ending despite having an easy way out?
Well, it didn’t happen to me but I know a person like Sandhya. I meant semi-biographical in that sense. The person is still alive. And yes, a lot of people asked me to change the ending, saying it was risky to kill the heroine but I wanted it to be a tragedy. Except for Siddharth, everyone told me to change the ending to keep her alive. But I didn’t see it as such a major risk because 7/G Brindhavan Colony had come out a few years back and it was a blockbuster. In fact, the ending of 7/G is much more disturbing. So I knew that the audience wasn’t averse to sad endings.
And since everyone was telling me about the risk involved in the ending, I subconsciously gave more prominence to the comedy track featuring Sunil, hoping this commercial element would balance out the so-called risk factor. I don't have any second thoughts about the ending but I felt I should have dealt with the second half in a much better way. I felt the travel episode in the second half—where the story doesn’t move forward as new characters keep coming in—felt outdated even in 2009.
In the film’s titles, you are credited with ‘Story, Scenario and Direction’, which I don’t think I have ever seen in any other Telugu movie.
The thing with our working style is that we tend to have a separate writer for screenplay and dialogues, which is not the case with the European style of filmmaking. Screenplay and dialogues don’t exist as separate processes. So what I wrote for the film was a scenario, not a screenplay, which includes dialogue too.
Speaking of writing, I love the contrast between Uday and Sandhya. While the contrast in their names is obvious, it can also be seen in the 12 gifts they give each other. For instance, he gifts her a greeting made out of ice, signifying impermanence, while she gifts him a greeting made out of rock. Or Uday trying to lift the anchor, symbolising the impossible task of curing Sandhya’s illness…
Yes, we wanted the contrast to be spelt out clearly. If you look at Sandhya’s house, which was a set built in Rushikonda, there are no glass windows because she wants everything to be long-lasting. And the 12 gifts scene was inspired by Sweet November (also acknowledged in the film). My cameraman referred me to that scene and we added depth to this angle. I could sit and write every bit of detail, like incorporating Christmas, New Year, Sankranthi, Valentine’s Day, and Holi chronologically into the screenplay or rounding up Sandhya’s spats with her neighbours, I had time to work on it.
Moreover, I was very sure that I wanted the audience to travel with Uday, not Sandhya. I could have made Sandhya a bubbly, lovely girl like Genelia from Bommarillu (2006) and this would have made her death much more emotional. But then, the audience would have felt bad for her more than Uday. I wanted them to feel for Uday, who lost his first love and continues to live with her memory, despite having all the money. He might have moved on later but at the end of the movie, I wanted the audience to sympathise with him.
Also, the scene where Uday sees Sandhya for the first time is lovely.
It’s an event from 'Bommarillu' Bhaskar’s life. We were very close back then and when he was in a pub, he saw a lady in a churidar. She was the woman he later married. The scene was inspired by this.
Were you affected by the result of the film?
No, not at all. I believe more in the process than the result. It took me ten years to make the film after passing out of film school in 1999 so I know what it takes to make a film. The result is just a part. And no, I don’t believe in hypothetical things like the blockbuster of Oy would have steered my life in a different direction and all. Moreover, matching up to your first blockbuster is an insurmountable task for any filmmaker.
Over the years, the film began getting more love, and 15 years later, it is being re-released. Is this second chance something you saw coming, or at least hoped for?
Never. I would attribute it to Yuvan Shankar Raja’s score. The songs of the film kept it alive. If you ask me, I’d say it’s got more to do with the music than the content of the film. And re-releases were a thing of the past. The trend picked up post-pandemic and I really didn’t think it would happen to Oy until a distributor went up to the producer and asked them for the re-release rights.
You sound very objective about the film but do tell us about the process of creating the soundtrack with Yuvan Shankar Raja. It has aged wonderfully.
Yes. Pubs still play the title song. I’d just say that there is a lot of pain in Yuvan’s voice and this story needed that pain. I like everything he sings and we would approve tunes in less than half a day. It was a difficult time for Yuvan on the personal front and I think it helped him give his best. Moreover, Siddharth used to be very involved in the music back then and he closely worked with Yuvan. In the film too, he is credited as a music producer.
Even recently, Siddharth said he still remembers all the “hateful stuff” some critics wrote about the film when it came out. Were you affected by them?
Honestly, I don’t remember reading any reviews that intended to sabotage the film but Siddharth might have been targeted by some because back then because of his success streak, he was giving back-to-back 20-crore films.
How do you feel about the re-release? Excited? Relieved? Happy?
I’m curious to see how the younger generation is going to respond to it. I mean, they might have seen parts of it on YouTube or TV but to experience it as a whole in a dark auditorium is a different feeling altogether. I think it’s going to be a good exercise to understand the young viewers.
Will you be seeing it in a theatre now?
Yes, I’m planning to go to Sudarshan with my son, who was born after the film and is 11 now. Should be an interesting experience.