Director Bharat Kamma is savouring the response to his debut film Dear Comrade, starring Vijay Deverakonda and Rashmika Mandanna, that has been receiving rave reviews for the way it deals with love, anger issues and sexual harassment.
Bharat was taught Math by director Sukumar (Rangasthalam) when he was studying his intermediate in Kakikada, and he assisted National Award winning director Chandra Sekhar Yeleti before he branched out on his own. Dear Comrade has also received a fair bit of flak for the way it has showcased mental health.
Over a week after it released, hereâ€™s a focussed Q and A with the director, where he explains the why and the how of the film.
In the first half hour, quite a few people had an Arjun Reddy de javuâ€¦
I was prepared for that. Thatâ€™s an iconic character, and any film featuring Vijay will get referenced to that. But, thereâ€™s a lot of difference. Bobby is from a middle class family, and his family bonds are very strong. Heâ€™s impulsive yes, but there are enough people around him who try to show him what his problem is.
In my head, Bobby and Lilly were extreme poles. He exemplified aggression, she fear. They both transform, and meet in the middle at the equator. Thatâ€™s my story.
While you showed anger, you did not celebrate it. Was that an intentional call?
Yes. I was very clear that what we were going to showcase was a character with flaws, but not a character whose surroundings celebrate those flaws. If you notice, heâ€™s hot-headed outside, but soft at home. Heâ€™s the son for both his home and his neighbourâ€™s home. He shares houseworkâ€¦ heâ€™s not a bad person. This is also why I showed the growth arc of the character.
Yes, I was criticised for showing Vijay without a helmet in the first half, but he was like that then. In the latter half, Bobby turns responsible, finds himself.
Reviewers had spoken about how your film silently showcases love. Bobby and Lilly did not need terms of endearmentâ€¦
In fact, while shooting both Vijay and Rashmika asked me if Iâ€™d ever fallen in love. In my head, Bobby and Lilly were so close they did not need words. Their love was rooted in respect, they merely had to look. They sensed each otherâ€™s presence. What else do you need in love? Even when he proposes, and she gently walks away, itâ€™s not really rejection, merely postponement.
For a change, the extended family and friends had clear roles to play. Lillyâ€™s cousin Jaya is an important presence throughout. Where did that come from?
I grew up this way in Kakinada. I was that boy who had a crush on someone elder than me. I was also the person who was told to call her sister at the very first meeting, because thatâ€™s how mothers introduce you to other girls! Bobby quietens in her presence, because heâ€™s still in awe, and also a little guilty that she knows that he liked her. That also allowed for some subtle humour.
When everyone presumed the tragedy/conflict in the film would come from the politician, you actually showcased resolutionâ€¦
We have all met people who have fought but said hello, and turned friendly. Thatâ€™s the hot-headedness of youth. I wanted them to meet again in pleasanter circumstances, so that the circle of their life is complete.
In your mind, who is the tagline of the film â€“ fight for what you love - meant for?
I know many thought it alluded to Bobby fighting for Lilly. I wrote it as Lilly fighting for cricket, her first love.
Speaking of cricket, did you think Lillyâ€™s friend Rubina deserved closure on screen, considering she leads Bobby to the problem?
I wrote many drafts, and one had her sitting at the inquiry. Some people have a plan B and are happy in that space. Some are miserable. In my opinion, Rubina had accepted her lot and moved on, but Lilly had not. That was open-ended, but I do envision Rubina back playing cricket.
How do you react to the accusation that you treated mental health lightly, and did not underline the importance of therapy?
I did spell that out in detail. We shot scenes with the psychiatrist and with alternative healers too, but it went at the edit table.
What was the trigger to include the sexual harassment angle?
I have read of many sportspersons who have fallen by the wayside due to various reasons, including sexual harassment. A national-level volleyball player gave up her game. Reading the testimonies of people put out during the MeToo movement made me weep. So, this was something important that I wanted to showcase, and sensitively, at that.
When did you decide to cast Vijay and Rashmika?
I was impressed with what I saw of Vijay in Yevade Subramanyam. As for Lilly, I first approached Sai Pallavi, but she was a little unsure if she would look the part of the cricketer. Rashmika, I was impressed with after Kirik Party. She looks like a sportsperson, and I realised that people have only seen her smile on screen. And, I realised she cries well too, and draws you to her character. I loved the depth she lent Lilly.
Itâ€™s not often that Karan Johar picks up a debut directorâ€™s film for remaking. Has it sunk in?
It is still surreal, considering Iâ€™m 36 and making my first film now. He really liked the way the film was structured, the performances and the music.
You trimmed the film after release. Did it help with the pacing?
The portions that went were in the latter half. Many, including Karan felt that the pace lagged after Bobby meets Rubina. Trimming is painful, yes, but it did not affect my style of filmmaking. I was told that five or six goosebump moments held the film together.
Iâ€™m on a break for the next two weeks, and then Iâ€™ll hit the writing trail again. Bobby and Lilly are still within me, and till they leave, no one else can step in.