In 2018, with a quaint film set in a sleepy town in Vizag, director Maha Venkatesh gave Telugu audiences a story that brought with it a wave of change for Telugu cinema. C/O Kancherapalem came as a breath of fresh air with its four heart-warming tales of love and 86 debutants in the cast. Maha won critical acclaim for the film, which went to multiple film festivals across the world.
Maha is now all set to release his next film Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya in April this year. An official remake of Maheshinte Prathikaram from Malayalam, Maha’s second film has actor Satyadev reprising the role of Fahadh Faasil from the original. Praveena, the producer of C/O Kancherapalem, is co-producing the film along with Mahayana.
A bitter-sweet revenge story, Maheshinte Prathikaram is still etched in the memory of the Malayali audience for its delightful portrayal of the lives of the common people in Prakash, a town in Kerala’s Idukki district. Maha’s Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya is set in Araku, a hill station situated in Andhra Pradesh, another small town like Kancherapalem, close to Vizag.
Maha calls Uma Maheswara an “intern project”, a film before his next big budget directorial that is on the cards.
“I came across Maheshinte Prathikaram during the post-production of C/O Kancherapalem. I really liked the film and had then decided that if I ever get a chance to remake a film, this would be my choice,” Maha tells TNM.
In a candid chat with TNM, Maha tells what made him go for a remake after the phenomenal success of C/O Kancherapalem (for which he had written the script too), on choosing Satyadev to play Fahadh’s part, and why it is not right for directors to underestimate the audiences’ intelligence.
After a movie like C/O Kancherapalem that was hailed for its raw and novel content, what made you choose a remake of a Malayalam film for your next?
When I first watched Maheshinte Prathikaram, I thought this was something that should be made for the Telugu audience. I didn’t immediately want to make a remake, but thought if I ever get a chance to do one, this would be my choice.
In 2018, we made Kancherapalem with hardly 15 members in the entire crew. So my plans next were to make a moderate budget film which had a larger cast and crew. My next directorial is a big-budget movie, so I wanted to make an in-between movie, which wasn’t as small as Kancherapalem and also not as big as my next movie would be. I gave Praveena all the scripts I had written but nothing fitted the budget bracket we had in mind. That’s when Praveena asked if I wanted to do any remakes and Mahesinte Prathikaram was my first choice… Uma Maheswara will be our intern project for making a bigger film.
Remakes come with a lot of challenges, especially when the original is a celebrated movie. So what made you pick a tough one like Mahesinte Prathikaram?
This is the first question that Praveena asked when I suggested Maheshinte Prathikaram. But it’s been three years since its release and no one has picked it up yet for a remake. I met Dileesh Pothan and Syam Pushkaran before making the film and came to know the movie was inspired by a true event that happened in Idukki. So I took the screenplay as it is and tweaked it a bit to suit the sensibilities of Telugu audiences. But let me tell you, Satya is going to look very different from Fahadh in Maheshinte Prathikaram. This is Maha’s Mahesh and I have added bits to the screenplay from my experiences of staying at Araku.
Also, comparisons to Kancherapalem should be drawn with my next film, which is my original content. Uma Maheswara is my directorial project and it is told purely out of my love for its original version.
Fahad Fazil in Maheshinte Prathikaram
Maheshinte Prathikaram is a movie that gave a lot of importance to its geographical location and the culture of the people in Idukki. Does Uma Maheswara also follow the same course?
The nuances in Maheshinte Prathikaram are tiny; one needs to understand the culture to realise why Syam has added a particular bit to the script. During the pre-production of the film, I used to clarify my doubts with my cinematographer who is a Malayali. Also, the film in Malayalam is a little dramatised. So, wherever I wasn’t able to add more than what Syam has written, I added my style of filmmaking to it. Talking about cultural nuances, so far for our audiences Araku has been a place where actors go to dance between trees and flowers, but after watching Uma Maheswara, Araku is never going to be the same place for them ever again.
After Kancherapalem, you could have chosen any big name to play Maheswara’s character. How did Satyadev come into the picture?
I wanted a person who looked like a layman to play Uma Maheswara’s role. If I throw Satya into a crowd, it’d take people some time to notice that he’s an actor. While making casting choices for Uma Maheswara, we had written down 52 names that would fit the bill for the lead actor. We started striking off one name after the other and finally zeroed in on Satyadev, who was also my first choice for the role.
After Kancherapalem, small budget films have been working extremely well with Telugu audiences. Do you think the next wave of change in Telugu cinema is finally here?
Audiences are now like the spectators of a football match. They know when it’s a foul and when it’s a goal. They know what is coming up next. And so do our movie viewers who are tired of redundant movie plots.
The success of small films like Brochevaevarura, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya clearly points to one thing: that our audiences are not dumb. They are craving new content. I wouldn’t say small films come without flaws. For example, C/O Kancherapalem lacked technical sophistication. But the audience accepted it for its novel content. I think we should stop questioning a viewer’s intellect. Audiences are much more intelligent than directors think them to be.
There have been a slew of remakes in Telugu cinema, most of them tanking at the box-office. Why do you think Uma Maheswara will be different?
Whatever I have done for Uma Maheswara is from the perspective of the audience. And not just the Telugu audience, something that will have a universal appeal. I started my career in films being a part of the audience. I grew up in Vijayawada where they were close to 30 theatres and I used to watch a film every single week. I think we’re confident of having done a good job because at no point have we questioned the intelligence of the people who will be watching the film.
With Uma Maheswara, is there a fear of being stereotyped as a director who chooses only slice-of-life subjects?
I don’t have that fear since this is only my second film. My third film is going to be a different setup where you can label it neither as an urban nor a rural film. I am also collaborating with a friend of mine who is doing a proper urban film. Whatever you have seen in Kancherapalem or will be seeing in Uma Maheswara, none of that would be there in my next film.