Nothing can stop Sanjeev Reddy from holding forth once he begins talking about his one love—Cinema. And this time, he is all excited about his debut release in Tollywood, ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). Starring Allu Sirish as the hero, the movie is a remake of the 2013 Malayalam movie ABCD, which had Dulquer Salmaan in the lead. Though a remake, Sanjeev is confident that ABCD will be well-received by the Telugu audience and will be a winning film for the industry.
This unassuming debutant director talks to TNM about how he accidentally came on board ABCD, the different cinematic elements that strikes a chord with the Telugu audience, working with Allu Sirish and much more.
ABCD wasn’t your pet project and you had a couple of other stories lined up before you came on board the film. So how did it happen?
I have been working with Madhura Sreedhar Reddy (director-producer) for the past six years and we had been working on a couple of stories before ABCD happened. I wrote the script for Ladies and Gentlemen for the production house (Madhura Entertainment) and also had the script ready for Om Mangalam Mangalam, a crime thriller. But for certain reasons, the film didn’t materialise.
It was during the discussions for my next movie Santhaana Praptharasthu that Sridhar gaaru advised me to narrate the story of the film to Sirish. However, when I met Sirish, he listened to the script and in turn suggested that I watch the Malayalam version of ABCD. He felt he couldn’t do justice to his role in Santhaana Praptharasthu but was eager that we remake ABCD in Telugu. Things happened so quickly that in a few days I suggested changes to the script of the movie, the actor was convinced, we bought the rights for the film and the shooting commenced.
ABCD was a big hit in Malayalam. Tollywood, in the past couple of years, has seen quite a few remakes which haven’t done all that well at the Telugu box-office. So what makes you so confident about this remake?
A rich guy coming to India, the struggle he faces, the humour, the transformation that he eventually undergoes - the formula has been tested and tried in Telugu and has always worked well. So even before we began shooting for the film, I was quite sure that the film will suit the sensibilities of the Telugu audience. The soul of ABCD is humour and humour works well with the audience irrespective of industries. But yes, talking about tweaking certain elements in the script, we have made changes to certain portions which we think the Telugu audience can relate to better.
It’s often said that movies in Telugu with an unhappy climax do not perform well at the box-office. At the same time, movies that suit the viewers’ sense of anticipation, is said to have a better success rate. ABCD, in Malayalam, sort of has an anti-climax which worked perfectly for the Malayalam audience. Have you made any changes to this?
The sensibilities of the Telugu audience have had a massive transformation. Until a few years ago, it used to be the case that movies with unhappy endings would often lose the race at the box-office. But for the past couple of years, people do not have any such fixations. For example, Selvaraghavan’s movie 7G Brindavan Colony, has a very depressing climax, but made better money at the Telugu box-office than in Tamil. I think whatever be the climax for a movie, if told in a convincing manner, cannot influence its fate at the box-office. And regarding ABCD, we have definitely made changes, but I cannot reveal what, wait until the movie releases. (laughs)
You have said in an interview before that ABCD is going to a ‘winning film’ for the industry. Why so?
Firstly, ABCD is a comedy film. And Sirish has had an excellent transformation, character-wise, for the film. Also Bharat (who plays the role of Korah from the Malayalam version), who came into the industry as a child artiste, has an impeccable sense of comic timing in the film. He was so popular as a child artiste that people used to come to theatres just to watch him acting. So ABCD will be his first film as a grown-up actor after a long break. A large part of the movie’s success will depend on the duo and they definitely make an excellent combination
Also, Allu Sirish was well-prepared as an actor for the movie. He has so much knowledge of the industry and understands cinema. It’s easy to tell him why a particular change has been made and he works to make the film better, not just towards embellishing his character. For the kind of background he comes from, he could have roped in any big name to direct the movie. But I think the confidence he vested in me will speak volumes about the success of the movie.
What are the few cinematic elements that you think work in contrast for the Malayalam audience and their counterparts in Telugu?
From what I have seen, Malayalam movies take their own sweet time to establish a scene and the writer then gradually develops the story. A lot of focus goes into the cinematography of the film. But in Telugu, we do not stretch scenes. I think except for Drishyam, there are very few Malayalam movies that were remade into Telugu and have performed well at the box-office. The Telugu audience loves watching stories with sharp cuts, they want stories at a better pace and which are outright entertaining. Telugu movies are way more flamboyant.
In the Telugu remake of ABCD, we have focused more on the romance part and have even shot a song that develops the chemistry between Sirish and Rukshar Mir. In Malayalam, the heroine plays a very bold character who does not fall for the hero, but in Telugu we have developed this to make it more likeable to the tastes of the Telugu audience.
Also, in Malayalam, the comedy in dialogues is understood. An actor delivers a punch line and the audience loses no time in reacting to it. But in Telugu, after an actor delivers a line, there should be a counter from another person for the humour to be effective. Humour is more through dialogues and not just through gestures or body language. Here, we need to say aloud what the humour is and how the other person reacts to it.
You made your debut in the film industry with Login in Bollywood, where you donned the hats of a director, script-writer and producer. How different or challenging was it to work as a debutant in Telugu?
Login wasn’t a big-budget movie and had absolutely no stars in the cast. Though the movie was not a commercial hit, it was critically acclaimed and was remade into Telugu as Ladies and Gentlemen. We had pitched in our own money to produce Login and for the same reason, the movie didn’t reach a larger audience. So after Login released, I was keen on making a movie where my ideas would reach a wider audience. Also, since I worked as only as a director for ABCD, I had the freedom to think and function better. That way, in my role as a director for the film, not only did I not face any challenges, but could also do a better job than my debut in Hindi.
What are the kind of movies in Telugu you would like to do in the future?
I love filming comedy-action dramas. For example, Santhaana Praptharasthu is a complete entertainer with a message for the audience. Message doesn’t mean the movie should be preachy but should have something for the audience to take home. When a family comes to the theatre spending maybe 500 rupees, they deserve to be entertained and be a part of the actor’s journey. I think my thing was and would always be comedy.