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'I made Athidhi with Mahesh's image in mind'
Radhika Rajamani | October 22, 2007
Surender Reddy is a happy man these days. After all, not everyday you get to direct Mahesh Babu, the Prince of Telugu cinema. The happiness is all the more when the film does well at the box office.
Athidhi, like his earlier films Athanokkade (with Kalyan Ram and Sindhu Tolani) and Ashok (NTR Jr and Sameera Reddy [Images]) coincidentally starts with the letter A. In this chat, the young director Reddy talks about Athidhi, his passion for films and the desire to make his films technically magnificent.
Are you happy with the response to Athidhi?
Yes I am.
Athidhi has a wafer-thin story. How did you decide on it?
I see a lot of films and thought of doing one based on kidnapping as it is rampant everywhere. So I wove a love angle into it. I worked hard on the screenplay.
Did you build up the screenplay based on Mahesh's image especially the fights and songs?
I did so keeping him and his image in mind.
What is the best quality in Mahesh? How is he to direct?
He is a quality hero. He respects whoever he works with, and more so, the director. He would not do anything without the director okaying it.
Is he then a director's actor? Does he give his inputs?
He gives 100 per cent inputs but at the same time he does what I want him to do. There was a lot of improvisation on the sets and I used his inputs in dialogue and performance. After he gave a shot, he would look at me and see my expression. If he sensed a little bit of hesitation, he would immediately request for another take. Sometimes if he was not satisfied with his performance, he would give another take.
I admire his total passion for films. So immersed is he while shooting that he will not think about any thing else -- not even another film. He concentrates totally on one film. He is a perfectionist.
On the sets, he was friendly and jolly, mixed with everyone and never showed off his hero status or threw tantrums.
How was Amrita Rao chosen? How challenging was it to direct someone who does not know the language?
I had seen her films and liked her performances. I felt she was apt for the role and had the 'native' look I wanted. She is a thorough professional. She was good with the dialogues and would even learn a page and repeat it correctly without interspersing any Hindi in it. She was very good in grasping. She would do the scenes in just one or two takes. In fact even Mahesh complimented her on her performance and said she was the best actress he has acted with.
Why did you give Ashish Vidyaarthi a 'hip-hop' appearance in the film?
His character is one of a drug addict in Delhi, so I designed the appearance accordingly.
Why is there so much violence in the film?
I haven't shown violence in a vulgar way. I felt it was necessary in the climax as the character Mahesh plays was so helpless that he had to be violent in the end.
I came to know that the theatres have chopped off some of the violent bits towards the end without our permission. Since they have done it for the audience, I have not taken up the issue.
Your film seemed to be a tad too long...
Since it's a big hero film, I needed that much time to tell the story. Most films, these days, are about 2 hours 45-50 minutes long.
You have taken great effort to picturise and shoot the songs. Satyam [Get Quote] Emito... is breathtaking -- the rugged country looked so picturesque. Sameer Reddy has done a great job with the camera. How did you locate the area around Hatta Dam in Dubai to shoot this?
I went to see the first show in a theatre, and it was really heartening to see the audience clapping at the end of the song. I was extremely happy with their response.
While shooting the film, I felt the whole film was dependent on the song. So I worked on it with a lot of passion. I had thought of using a desert backdrop and I scouted around Dubai. When I saw the Hatta Dam area, I felt it was the right spot to do so.
Your song shot in Graz (Austria) too was good. You avoided the normal spots there and did something different...
I went around with Sameer (cameraman) for a week in Austria -- particularly the Innsbruck region. I realised that all the Telugu films had used those places. So I went to the opposite side -- Graz and shot it there.
You seem to work with good directors of photography -- Senthil Kumar in Ashok and now Sameer Reddy in Athidhi�
Photography and films are my passion. Also, these days, Telugu films are released abroad. So one has to make them technically superior, otherwise we may be laughed at. So I concentrate on the technical aspects and get the right people to do so.
You have made films in the commercial format so far. Do you want to experiment with different and offbeat ideas?
Yes, I have made three commercial films to establish myself in the industry. Personally I like to do feel-good, emotional love stories which entertain. I will work on that in future.
Like heroines, Telugu films import villains from outside the Telugu film industry -- mostly from Mumbai. Athidhi too has Ashish Vidyaarthi and Murli Sharma [Images]. Why can't we find villains in Andhra itself?
It is difficult to get heroines from Andhra but one can certainly get villains. Big directors should come forward and get Telugu villains. I too saw many villains but I chose Murli Sharma because he fitted the role. Also, not many know he is a Telugu-speaking person who acts in Hindi films.
I want to work with Pawan Kalyan as he suits my style. I must go with a befitting subject to him. I want to direct Sunil (comedian) as a hero. This may be a film I will indulge in some experimentation.
Do you have any dream projects?
I do have one but I would perhaps take it up after two or three films. I want to do a period film -- a historical. And I would not want to talk about it now.