Ammachi Yemba Nenapu which released last week has succeeded in getting traction with a certain section of the audience who have an appetite for appreciating good content. The film, directed by Champa Shetty, is based on the literary works of popular writer Dr Vaidehi and has been appreciated by renowned film directors like Girish Kasarvalli and Yograj Bhat.
The critics have also described the film as a unique watching experience with a strong narrative revolving around feminine characters. Here is an excerpt from an interview we had with Champa Shetty.
Ammachi Yemba Nenapu is based on three different stories by Dr Vaidehi. How did you conceptualise and combine the three stories to make a film?
Right from my childhood, I have been an avid reader of Kannada literature works and now being a theatre practitioner, it becomes a part of my routine to read and find stories that can be adapted as plays. One day, while browsing through Prajavani, a popular newspaper, a column written by Ashadevi reviewing the story of Akku caught my attention. The characterisation and the conflict that Akku carried haunted me. But that alone could not be made as a full feature.
When I read other stories of Vaidehi I could sense a close connection between the characters of her different stories. This made me bring in the characters of Puttamathe and Ammachi to tag along with Akku. In the original story of Akku, she leads her miserable life in a big house even though it's not that rich and grand. Also, Puttamathe and her granddaughter Ammachi in their original story stay adjacent to a big house. So this setup where a big house was common helped me bridge the connections among these three main characters. The surroundings and the events in these different stories were more or less similar and gave me a strong sign that this will be interesting and will work.
Whenever we felt a song needs to be placed in the narrative, we referred to Dr Vaidehis poetry from Hoovu kattuva kaayaka.
Did you take any suggestions from the author? Is the original story based out of Kundapur region?
I have been in touch with Dr Vaidehi right from the time I had this concept. She has been a strong support in this project and has provided critical and valuable suggestions during the screenwriting process. Yes, the story is rooted in Kundapur region.
Akku comes out as a very strong character. There is a sense of closure for her character. The same does not seem to be the same in case of Ammacchi. Do you think Akku's character is better crafted compared to the other two or was this a decision made during the screenplay?
I never thought of or projected Akku as a strong character. For me, all looked similar. Everyone has a conflict of their own. The only difference is that Akku, despite having this mental illness, she still stands correct in terms of her viewpoints and arguments which probably makes her stand out and gives a feeling that it is a strongly written character.
Ammachhi also experiences a similar conflict but since she is capable of decision-making, her character takes a different form; but it doesn't mean that her character is weak.
Raj Shetty had done Ondu Motteya Kathe, which is a light-hearted film. Why did you feel he may be the right person to play Venkappayya?
I have watched Ondu Motteya Kathe several times. What amazed me about this film is honesty and the teamwork. During my repeat watch, I used to concentrate especially on the performances. The way Raj has underplayed the character of Janardhan is commendable. In some sequences where he has to show anger, we can see that he just did not act those, he feels and experiences the anger and just performed with that feel.
In my narrative, I wanted someone who isn't a typical villain but a performer who could give out a feeling of threat. I felt Raj would be a perfect fit for this role. Even though it is a small role, it has a significance to the narrative and leaves an impact.
Also for the role of Putammaatte, you have cast a male actor. Was that a conscious decision?
Radhakrishna Ural has been a close friend of mine for over more than a decade. Even before the screenplay was written, when I was reading Puttamatte's story for exploring a possibility of clubbing it with Akku's narrative, I had him in my mind. Why I visualised him as that character when I was reading, I really do not know, even now! Ural is a versatile actor. Also, all of us innately have both the qualities of a male and a female. I always felt that Ural had this strong quality of forgiveness, showing concern and more importantly patience.
I have worked with him in several theatre plays. He has been playing female-oriented characters on stage. He belongs to Kundapur region where the narrative of our film is placed. During his childhood, he has seen personalities like Puttamathe which gave him enough inspiration to perform this role.
There is a lot of praise for the cinematography. How did you manage to get the look and feel? What were the discussions that went on especially for the blocking perspective? Did the theatre experience help?
When we did the location hunt, Naveen and I had several discussions. The first song that we have is very critical. We had to establish the character of Ammachi. We did not have much narrative to show her backstory and the only way we could do this is through a song. We explored some places with this in mind and to our surprise, we found some great locations.
The view was so beautiful to our eyes and there was no doubt that the camera would capture those well. Every time we had a shot, Naveen gave some great suggestions. While showing happy moments, we have shot it in full light and during the sad moments, we have shot it in dark. These were improvements that were made as a result of our discussion at the location. The blocking from the theatre has really helped. While performing the play, there were some limitations as it was on stage, but while making it a film, I found locations which helped me in bringing the best in terms of visuals.
What were the difficulties of challenges in raising the funds for this? How did the distribution happen?
When I discussed the idea of making this a film with my close circle, many of them wanted to be a part of this. Since we had worked on several projects, this was yet another project for us but a bit bigger in terms of investment.
There were contributions from family and friends and it was a conscious decision not approaching a traditional producer as we would be asked to compromise on several fronts with respect to casting and the screenplay. With the limited budget that we had, we could get the first copy out. I am thankful to my team who helped me in realising this product.
We did not have money for distribution. This kind of film is quite risky for a distributor. We ourselves took the responsibility of distribution. We worked on a plan to maximise the reach, not spending much on media.
How do you feel when the film has been appreciated by critics and the audience?
I am not really aware of the commercial or money-making aspects of the film. For me, more challenging was to maintain the tone of the film with regards to the sensibilities of the original story. The stories are strong and I always felt that it would bring out a connection with the audience. There is happiness and there is sorrow in everyone's life. When people are saying that they could connect with the film, I feel happy that my efforts were in the right direction.
Do you think that original, content oriented films have a chance in an industry where stars and remakes rule? Do you feel the audience should get more exposure than the usual films they get to see?
If you see during the '80s, these were the kind of films that were being made. The narratives had family values apart from the entertainment. The current trend is quite different with a focus on fantasy and heroism than on realism. When fantasy attracts so much, I think that even realistic stories should attract as it gives a chance to reflect oneself.
I am of the thought that there is a set of audience which likes these kinds of films. For a typical film which provides thrills, comedy or entertainment you come out with a feeling that it is a great film and talk to others. But for a film like ours, since the narrative is deep, the audience is lost in their thoughts. It takes some time to get out of that sunken feel and comment on the film.
This is a film which is made to provide an experience rather than just entertaining. I am aware that it will pick up slowly. I am not expecting a blockbuster. I feel happy that I have made an attempt to make a film that is sensible and touching. If more films like these are made, we definitely will build a strong base and can help increase exposure of the audience.