Reaching homes one at a time
Anand Deverakonda and Varsha Bollamma, the lead pair of the recent successful OTT release Middle Class Melodies talk about their film and their journey so far in cinema
It is not often you see a small regional language film, made by a bunch of youngsters, transcending linguistic and geographical boundaries, and receiving love from all corners. Middle Class Melodies is one such film that has managed the feat, thanks to its digital release on the streaming platform Amazon Prime. The film's lead actors, Anand Deverakonda and Varsha Bollamma, are overwhelmed by all the love. "It is still sinking in. We were confident about our film, but we did not anticipate such a warm reception within hours of its premiere," says Varsha. Anand shares that the underwhelming response to his debut film, Dorasani, increased the pressure on him and he was extremely nervous until the reviews started to flow in. "The trailer gave us hope. A lot of people started supporting us even before the release," he says.
The success of Middle Class Melodies, a drama based on the life of a restaurateur, has not just made Anand the actor ecstatic, it has also led to creation of Anand the restaurateur. He has started his own food outlet called Good Vibes Only Cafe, along with a couple of friends. "It was actually my friend's dream to start a restaurant. MCM's success encouraged me to do something related to the food business. Also, it is a lovely coincidence that both Vijay (Deverakonda, his brother, who rose to fame after Pelli Choopulu) and I got our big break through films associated with food."
Excerpts from the conversation with Varsha and Anand:
How 'middle-class' was your upbringing?
Varsha: (Laughs) I wasn't the rich kid in the class who brings imported chocolates to school to make friends. Mine was a typical middle-class family. My upbringing helped me a learn a lot about life and made me strong mentally. I feel fortunate to have had such a childhood.
Anand: My upbringing was nothing closer to that of a rich person. In fact, I studied in a school where they provided free education. Vijay and I only had to pay for the accommodation there. Middle-class life is a mixed bag of joy and sorrow. For the most part, you feel you have everything you need, but sometimes you feel you have barely enough.
Having got your big break with an OTT release, are you concerned that the offers you get for theatrical films will be limited?
Anand: Digital is an effective alternative to theatres and it is booming in recent years. If our film was a theatrical release, it wouldn't have reached the non-Telugu states. But now, it is being enjoyed all over. On the flip side, the success of MCM hasn't changed the business aspect of my upcoming films. I am actually yet to figure out the budget that can be allocated for my next film.
Varsha, you had Manne Number 13, a Kannada digital release, exactly a week after MCM. Did you think you would be taking over the OTT space with two consecutive releases in such a short span?
Varsha: I haven't thought about this. The release of Manne Number 13 was a surprise for me actually, as I shot for it three years ago. I just go with the flow.
Anand, you had mentioned in a couple of interviews that you are consciously avoiding films similar to Vijay's. Does that restrict your choices?
Anand: No, certainly not. In fact, I am getting more offers because I choose to be this way. There are a lot of actors who can do a great job with commercial masala films. But there aren't enough takers when it comes to the films which are rooted to reality. This space has tons of stories waiting to be explored. So, I guess I will explore these less-explored suburban and rural stories for a while.
Varsha: Would you do a rural Arjun Reddy, Anand?
Anand: (Laughs) The soul of Arjun Reddy has been drained by now with all the multiple remakes. And even if I sign one, the comparisons would be extreme. So, no, I would never do that. My focus is to make the audience forget that I am Vijay's brother within the 15-minute mark in any film.
Anand, your father is a director and your brother is an important name in Telugu cinema now. Does that give you an upper hand in the industry?
Anand: It is somewhat complicated. Vijay is considered an outsider and I am considered an insider (laughs). Having grown up in a family with ties to cinema (along with my theatre experience), helps me really understand the process behind the craft. However, I don't have producers lining up for me even after a decent hit like MCM. Only after I deliver hits like Vijay's Taxiwaala or Arjun Reddy will things change.
Varsha, you have been a part of films in all South Indian languages. How do you manage to do it comfortably?
Varsha: I get the dialogue sheets a month ahead of the shoot, regardless of the language. I switch off from everything else and focus only on it. Fortunately, I am good with languages; I speak Kannada, Hindi, and Tamil. Understanding the language helps me give my best.
Anand, when can we expect a non-Telugu film from you?
Anand: Sadly, I don't know any other regional language apart from Telugu, and it would be weird for me to have someone else dub for me. I will have to sit down and learn the language like Vijay did for NOTA. I am definitely game for a non-Telugu film as long as I can do justice to the language and character.