Actor and producer Allu Sirish is all excited about his upcoming release ABCD- American Born Confused Desi, the remake of the 2013 Malayalam film that goes by the same name. After a couple of releases that failed to make a mark at the Tollywood box-office, Allu Sirish is hopeful that ABCD, which is releasing on May 17, will be a game changer in his career.
Coming from a family of successful actors and producers, Allu Sirish is still struggling to carve a niche for himself in the industry. The actor was last seen in Okka Kshanam, which tanked at the box-office despite good reviews. The actor, in an interview to TNM, talks about his upcoming release, why he thinks he hasn’t cracked the success formula yet and his thoughts on the representation of women in the industry.
ABCD was an average box-office hit in Malayalam. How did you come across the film and how did the remake happen?
Two years ago, I was sitting with my cousin (and actor) Ram Charan and I asked him, “Dude, what do you think? What kind of movies should I be doing?” He told me he liked me doing entertainers and he gave me the DVD of ABCD. I watched the movie and really liked it. I thought about a remake but then it needed a director.
It was during that period that I met director Sanjeev Reddy. But he had approached me with another script. I liked his style of writing - coming of age, observing what happens in real life and tweaking it and less dramatic. But I said no to his script.
He then suggested another Malayalam movie remake. But I told, “If you are open to remakes, go for something more entertaining.” Instantly, he suggested ABCD! I was happy and asked him to adapt the movie instead of a direct remake, because, every actor fears if he/she would destroy something that was already done so beautifully. He gave me the script in the next couple of days. I had already liked his style of writing and, yes, that is how ABCD happened!
Sanjeev Reddy is a new entrant into Tollywood. Were there apprehensions about letting a debutant do a remake?
Maruthi (Dasari) was not a big director when I first worked with him in Kotha Janta. He had then done only a film called Bus Stop, an adult comedy. But when he narrated Kotha Janta, I was quite sure I could do it. Even while working with Vi Anand (director of Okka Kshanam), he had only a single movie to his credit, which had tanked big-time at the box-office. But his script was so convincing that I never thought the movie would be a risk. Among all the hit movies that have come out in the past, most of them were made by debutant directors. With risk comes reward. Seeing Sanjeev’s conviction and the kind of homework he had done for the movie, I thought the risk was worth taking.
Sanjeev, in an interview to TNM earlier, had said that comedy works in different ways for a different audience. So what in ABCD do you think will strike a chord with the Telugu audience?
I do respect his opinion but that said, I love Malayalam comedy as much I love Telugu comedy. For that matter, of late, I see a lot of Malayalam influence on Tollywood movie. And Kerala has a lot of commercial movies, such as Pullimurugan, which has certain Tollywood influence. So comedy per se, I don’t think there will be a difference in the way the audience would perceive it.
But having said that, the climax of the Malayalam version (of ABCD) was a letdown for me. I don’t believe in creating an anti-climax just to be seen as edgy. Our adaption of ABCD is our interpretation of the movie. For example, we auditioned a lot of NRIs for Korah, the main character’s friend in the Malayalam version. We then tweaked the script a bit because we couldn’t find someone who could adapt to that kind of comedy. Also, the Telugu version will have more romantic elements in it because it’s coming-of-age, it’s a movie about young people. And how can we show the story of a man without certain elements of romance in it?
How did it feel to reprise the role played by Dulquer Salmaan who now has a pan-India fan base? Did you fear comparisons?
ABCD has a cult following. Dulquer did a fantastic job in Malayalam. But I never put that as a benchmark. I didn’t watch the movie after the remake was on cards because once it constantly starts playing in your mind, unknowingly you will tend to imitate, and I didn’t want to get influenced by Dulquer. Before I began shooting for the film, I interacted with a lot of NRIs who have come and lived in India. Though many of them didn’t know Telugu, they would try talking and switch to English in between with a hint of an accent. Though they looked Indian, their gestures and mannerisms were totally American. I picked it from there rather than observing what Dulquer did. You are setting yourself up for failure if you want to match to what someone else did.
Korah, the character in the Malayalam version, has had a cult following after the release of ABCD. How did you zero in on Bharath for the role, who is appearing on screen after a gap of at least 10 years?
I knew Bharath from the time he acted in Happy along with Bunny (Allu Arjun). He used to be a quiet kid on sets but the minute he is in front of the camera, he flips like an Aparichit!
For many Malayalees (I spoke to), ABCD is synonymous with Korah. So we wanted someone who would come close to Korah in terms of humour. For a new audience, Bharath has done a fabulous job. We had good chemistry and we used to go off the script half the time. We improvised many times and the director, too, was happy with it.
Allu Sirish and Bharath in ABCD
You have done a variety of roles, which don’t just include entertainers. After a dozen films in your kitty, what is that now you look for in a script?
I prefer scripts to be narrated than to be read. For example, while listening to the script of Okka Kshanam, I was mind-blown. The idea of parallel lives and the sci-fi elements had got me so inquisitive. So the bottom line for me in any script is engagement. Okka Kshanam wasn’t entertaining, but it was engaging. ABCD is entertaining. So for me, it’s novelty and entertainment that work in a script.
Tollywood is seeing a lot of experimental content now. As a young actor, do you think the industry now has better scope in terms of acting?
Yes, Tollywood is experimenting with a lot of novel content these days. But having said that, I haven’t really ventured much and the two times I did, I got a whack on my face. One was Gaurava, when I opened my career with a social drama, which didn’t do well. After two safe films, I did Okka Kshanam. It got amazing reviews but didn’t do well at the box-office and I couldn’t convert it into a commercial success. But it doesn’t mean the audience is not open to novel content because everyone else has done it and it has worked. So maybe I should find a better formula to crack it. I am waiting.
Sirish in Okka Kshanam
Tollywood was rocked with a couple of sexual harassment allegations last year. It has time and again been reprimanded for not providing adequate attention to the problems of women artistes. What do you think of the industry’s response to the situation?
I think things are getting better now. The industry has set up a committee called CASH- Committee Against Sexual Harassment. Now I think people in the industry are also more aware that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable. Also, when it comes to films, over the last one to two years, women have been bagging prominent roles and our scripts have some sort of gender balance now. Personally, even I don’t prefer female actors to be a sub-plot. It doesn’t always need a U Turn to give women great roles. I am not a feminist but I think it’s our responsibility to at least give them safe working conditions.