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Interview with Hari Yelleti
Date: September 5, 2008, Hyderabad
hari yelleti

After Sekhar Kammula and Krishh, we have another foreign-returned director Hari Yelleti making his debut with Ankit Pallavi & Friends. Here is an exclusive interview with Hari -

I am from Vizag. I finished my ECE bachelors degree in Engineering and moved to US for my Masters and then I was in PhD for a little more than an year before I began to work as a hardware engineer.

What made you to quit job and join films?
Films allow you to express yourself as a humanbeing first and then as an artiste. Working with integrated circuits wasn't allowing me to do that, so I had to quit. I was quite interested in politics and anthropology as well at the same time when boredom crept into my life and I was looking for an avenue that is challenging enough. I realized that I had to quit being an engineer at any cost, my heart just wasn't there. My natural ability to write made me walk towards Films as I felt that Film is a natural progression to literature.

Did your film school course help you while making your debut film?
My Film school courses were very limited in the sense that I just took a lot of production classes(only one theory class I attended, which I abandoned in the middle as well, as it bored me) that allowed me to check out camera, lights and equipment. Production classes teach you nothing but how to use the equipment. Most of my Film craft was derived from watching films, reading various books and reading Roger Ebert's Film reviews. In Film School, I was shooting whenever I could with whoever I would find. Two short Films and a few film festivals later, I felt I was ready to take a plunge and that is how the flight to India happened. For all practical purposes, I am self taught.

You had to wait for 2 years before your APF launched. How did you feel in those two years?
Tiring is the word that could sum it up quite accurately. The lost years had a strange effect on me. They perhaps took away a bit of child in me, I don't know whether that is for good or for bad.

How did APF happen? What is the basic storyline of the film? Did you take any inspirations from incidents happened in your life?
APF didn't happen just like that. It was after numerous drafts and numerous trials that I decided to put in my own money. That was also the time when I was getting a lot of response for my writings on idlebrain and many guys were contacting me from US to produce my Film. Most of them were window-shoppers, they just had a fascination towards Films and were talking to me with no real commitment which is very inhuman if you think about it. That is when Kishore called me and continued to show real commitment, the rest as they say is history.

APF is a lot like conflict between arts and commerce. APF asks if having money could keep one happy! personally, I don't think so! So I created two characters Ankith and Pallavi with conflicting views on life. Ankith wants to live life on his own terms, Pallavi goes by what Society deems as a successful life. I felt there is a fascinating premise in that concept. The entire evolution of man happens because of his pursuit of happiness. Money is an instrument with which man keeps the society running. So at some level, it is a very philosophical question that I was exploring. Could love survive when the reality of survival and personal insecurities stare at you? that is another question I was very interested in. So I created three more characters to give Ankith and Pallavi a domain to operate in with their own lifestyles. What ensues among these five friends is what APF is all about.

How did you arrive at casting and recruiting the crew?
It began with crew. The first guy I roped in was Satya, my chief assistant director(strangely, called co-director in Hyderabad). He knows APF from the beginning and always believed in its content. The next was Vinu Thomas. Kishore sent me Vinu's scratches which were forwarded to him by national award winning director Jayaraj. I knew right away that he is a talent to reckon with and I met Vinu later when I went to audition for my heroine in Mumbai. Vinu talked in terms of styles, structures and patterns which told me that he is a concrete designer with a flair, he had traditional musical background and a keen interest in western orchestrations. That is a deadly combination, I picked him right away. He is a gem.

Earlier, I was auditioning a lot of young kids here for Ankith and was devastated to find none of any substance. I told Kishore that we will have to do APF in Hindi in Mumbai and I was almost ready to shut the shop in Hyderabad when I remembered Nikhil's photos again. I called him for an audition and was floored by his monologue and I also realized that camera loves him. Nikhil is also a lovely dancer. The next day I watched him act on Sekhar Kammula's sets and saw his dedication. I signed him right away.

Megha Burman was a model for Bru(she should have been Megha Bruman :-) ) and a natural actress with sharp intellect. Her sense of dressing is very different and I felt she could bring something different to the table.

Malini happened by accident, I almost signed a DP but wasn't too happy with him. Sudhakar gave Malini my contact and she sent me her demo. It was of very high standards and I picked her. My crew voted 50-50 but it was my vote which tilted the scale towards her. She is the right DP for APF. Her passion for cinema is humbling.

How many working days and footage (negative) did it take you to make APF?
We shot for about 80 days and about 210 cans of footage.

What are the practical difficulties you faced while directing your first film as you did not have any experience on site?
Experience in direction was never a problem, I did shoot 2 shorts earlier at Film School. I had clarity on what I want to do and how I should go about it. It was the lack of production experience which killed me. Kishore, Raghu and Venkatesh all stay in US and didn't have time to be physically present here to take care of the production logistics. So I was exec-producing, producing and directing all at the same time, it was a herculean task! I am amazed that the Film still looks and feels so good despite that. Money was another huge hurdle as well, you can't go for too many takes. In Hollywood they talk about 25th take, 30th take and even 45th take. Damn, I envy those directors, we could hardly go beyond 3 takes.

When you make your first film, you do not know how audience will receive it. What motivated you and given you the strength to believe in the project?
In any form of art, you can't afford to think too much of the Target audience. Film is a form of expression. Express yourself and hope that people like it. If they don't, well, too bad! Go do something else!

What motivated me is primarily my love for cinema. I want to make good movies and entertain people. Give them experiences, give them hope, talk to them through my movies and my characters. It is a fascinating thing to do, expressing one's self. APF has given me strength to believe in myself because it is a very original and relevant Film. I believe in it because there is a strong story in it and many ideas, all relevant to youth.

Why should audience watch APF?
Audiences should watch APF because they deserve it. It is made for them with a lot of love, responsibility, craft and intelligence.

Which kind of Telugu films personally you like the most?
I like poetic films, fresh films like Anand, Gamyam. I also liked Idiot(great characterization) and 7G(simply a great Film). I loved Pokiri as well and definitely Geetanjali and Shiva. Gangleader, Gharanamogudu and Khushi are some of the other Films I simply loved to watch.

Fav hero, heroine and directors (Telugu, Hindi and Hollywood)?

Telugu: Pawan kalyan, Mahesh Babu; Trisha; Sekhar Kammula. I think Krish has a lot of potential as well, he is a serious thinker with a terrific sense of humor. I will watch out for his future works.

Hindi: ShawRukh and Aamir; Kareena and Mallika Sherawat(yes, really!); Rakeysh Mehra and Nikhil Advani(despite Salaam E Ishq, he should have further cut it by 30mins and it would have become as good as kal ho na ho)

Hollywood: Nicolas Cage, Bob Nero; Meg Ryan and Charleze Theron; Alfonso Cueron, Jonathan Demme.

Do you have any advice to guys in USA who have similar profile like you?
Do not mistake passion for Films with ability and persistence. Torture and Frustration are very close cousins of success here. Come in only if you are a long distance horse. The roads are curvy, long and full of god-damn potholes here.

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