I want to leave no genre untouched: Tharun Bhascker
With his upcoming Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi, the Pelli Choopulu director is confident of meeting the lofty standards he has set for himself
After years of struggle, director Tharun Bhascker made his debut with Pelli Choopulu (2016), which won two National awards and was also hugely profitable. His next, Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi (ENE), is a buddy comedy, and as he awaits its release, he’s tempted to look back on his formative years. “When I was in my 12th grade (2006) at Hyderabad Public School, my mother Vinoothna Geetha, got me a video camera. I made a video clip that my principal, Sobhana Nair, decided to showcase on graduation day. The response I received gave me a high; I can never forget that day,” he says. “And then for some reason, I took to painting, which didn’t go down too well with my relatives. I was deeply hurt by some of their comments. Slowly, I got drawn to making short films and during engineering, my friends and I attended an IIT cultural festival. We made a short film based on a poem penned by my mother and the video won second prize. Eventually, we formed a short-film making group and made The Journey which was screened at the Imphal International Short Film Festival and won much recognition.”
I have always flirted with the idea of making a sequel to Pelli Choopulu. If Vijay Deverakonda and Ritu Varma have the inclination to do it again, I will definitely love to recreate that world.
He believes filmmaking to be a medium with which he can effectively communicate with the entire human race. “My father used to tell me that instead of giving alms, I could make films; that it is also a sort of social service. That’s when I took it all seriously. I began designing posters for popular pubs in the city and after some odd jobs, we started Vinoothna Geetha Media Pvt Ltd, built a portfolio with over 50 clients and used that money to fuel my passion for cinema. When my short film Anukokunda was selected for screening at Cannes, my confidence was boosted.”
He’s coming off the back of a cult hit, and yet, has made his second with a fresh cast. “With the kind of scripts I choose, it is risky to cast a star. The only way I can experiment is by having lesser known actors, who come with no baggage. That way, it’s easy for me to create a sense of freshness and a world which is more intriguing. As my budget is low, the risk is also minimal,” he says.
He doesn’t underplay making money though. “I’m definitely here to make money but that’s my second priority. I want to have fun while doing it. It’s only when I take risks do I feel alive,” he says.
The film’s title is inspired by a line from the anti-tobacco advertisements, and Bhascker credits the executive producer of the film, Kaushik, for coming up with it. “The film is targeted at the youth, and so we have to think like them. It’s a coming-of-age buddy comedy of four friends, who are also short-film makers,” he says. “Most of their conversations happen after a couple of beers. The film’s theme is related to alcohol and so we have to maintain honesty. We liked the title as it’s a nice metaphor for the characters, their lives and their introspections.”
He’s also hoping to make a point or two about friendship. “The forgotten bond of friendship exists in the short-film community. The journey of life is in a sense cinematic. I feel it has to be celebrated.” Alcohol, friendship, buddy-comedy… it’s impossible not to ask him if the film’s related to The Hangover. “The structure of any buddy comedy is pretty much the same. The personalities of the characters, Kaushik, Upendra and Vivek are inspired by my close friends, but their journey is totally fictional. I can assure you that it’s a unique, original story.”
He owes his inspirations to the content he’s consumed as a viewer. “Directors like K Vishwanath and Mani Ratnam have dealt with stories that celebrate cinema and also reflect our own life. I feel the need to tell such stories in Telugu all over again.” He enjoys the process of filmmaking and the hard work put into each shot. “We have used the anamorphic lens that was used in olden days in order to get better exposure. They have no loss of light and are sharp in quality. It helps bring a flavour of nostalgia and reminds viewers of films that were lost in translation. We have also got sync sound equipment that was used in La La Land. Technically, the film looks richer than its budget.”
He feels little pressure to replicate the success of Pelli Choopulu. “As a filmmaker, my job is to make a good film and protect my producer’s money. Every film has its own destiny. But now that you ask, perhaps I do feel a bit of pressure,” he says with a laugh.
The first step is the hardest, they say. But it’s the second step that decides the course of the journey. “I want to experiment and be the best at every genre I take on. Ten years later, when I look back at life, I should have something interesting to talk about and proudly show people the films I’ve made. I can see that I’m good at making slice-of-life comedy films. Eventually maybe, I will want to work on a film like Baahubali. I want to leave no genre untouched.”
Tharun’s already signed two other films. “Both are for Suresh Productions. I feel like a permanent part of Ramanaidu Studios. I told Suresh Babu sir (MD) that I want to retire as a faculty there as everything is about filmmaking there. He has been a wonderful mentor and is like my father when it comes to filmmaking..”