Meher Ramesh is a director of commercial sense. He wants to mould himself to in the lines of entertaining commercial directors like K Raghavendra Rao and Puri Jagan. His first Telugu film Kantri was released on 9 May and is running with packed houses all over. Here is idlebrain.com’s exclusive interview with Meher Ramesh -
I am born and brought up in Vijayawada. My father was a police inspector in Vijayawada. I studied in Machavaram till 10th class. I did diploma in Civil engineering at Gudlavalleru (near Gudiwada). After that I went to Botswana for a couple of year to do a job in a company called Marina Amusements that manufactures snooker tables and many other gaming equipment. I was so much fascinated with the cinema that I used to get the information (story, dialogues etc) of about various films though letters as internet was not available. Somebody mailed me a video tape of Big Boss and I celebrated the watching of that film by keeping paper banners and invited all the Telugus from that area. I was also involved in Telugu association activities.
Snooker game – Botswana to Bejawada
I returned to Vijayawada and started manufacturing snooker tables. I was the one who popularized snooker game in AP by establishing various outlets all over AP. We started our first table at REC college, Warangal and it click in a big way. Later on we had our snookers rooms in Bhimavaram and Tirupati opened by Pawan Kalyan. Then we it spread to all other cities. I used to have 12 snooker rooms in Vijayawada itself. Our Kukatpally snooker game room was the first snooker gaming zone opened in Hyderabad. I sold 600 tables that time.
I am a cousin of Chiranjeevi. My brother Durga Babu worked as PS (personal secretary) to Chiranjeevi till Mugguru Monagallu film. I used to go to Chennai whenever I had a chance. I was popular in Vijaywada because I was a cousin of Chiranjeevi. I used to interact more with Pawan Kalyan. I always wanted to direct films and I never expressed it with anyone.
I shifted my family to Hyderabad with the intention of becoming director in the year 2000. I met Puri Jagan during the making of Badri. We became good friends. After Badri is released I expressed my desire of assisting him in direction and Puri Jagan said yes immediately. My first film with Puri Jagan was Bachi. I knew that people would not mix with me if they knew that I am well off. I sold my car and bought a scooter to make sure that everybody in the team would make me one among them. And I worked for a minimum salary. I came to film industry to direct films, not to make money. Hence money will not be the motivating factor. I worked with Puri Jagan till Idiot film. Puri Jagan made the moviemaking process appear so simpler and easy to me.
Dabbling with acting
Sobhan insisted that I should join his team for his debut film ‘Bobby’ with Mahesh Babu. With the consent of Puri Jagan, I joined the team of Bobby. At that time, they had dates problem with Sunil. Hence director made do that role though I was never interested in acting. I sincerely feel that I am also one of the reasons for the flop of Bobby.
I joined Puri Jagan for Shivamani film. After that Andhrawala started. Two months after Andhrawala is shot, KS Rama Rao bought the Kannada rights of the film. During the disc function of Amma Nanna Tamil Ammai Puri Jagan said that I would be directing the Kannada version. When I hesitated he said that I was ready to be a director. We all went to Kannada Raj Kumar’s house and that is where Puri Jagan gave the first narration of the film in front of the family members of Raj Kumar. After that Puri Jagan went to Phuket to shoot Shivamani songs. KS Rama Rao also sent me to Phuket to make sure that I discuss more with Puri Jagan about the script. The plan was to shoot Veera Kannadiga using the script written for Andhrawala (shot by shot execution).
The film was launched on 22 August with a clap of NTR. I shot a couple of songs. After that we took one month break and started the talkie on 28 September. When I went to shoot the first scene, I realized that I should not make the film like somebody else. I called Puri Jagan and told him that I will do it in my own way. He encouraged it. The entire film was ready for the release by 25 December. It was released on 1st Jan and became a big hit. And the entire movie was made with a budget of 2.75 cores where as the Telugu version cost around 12 crores.
Then Raj Kumar called me again to give an offer to direct Kannada version of Okkadu. But Okkadu was made with the budget of 13 crores. They gave me a free hand in budget. I changed the script in second half to give some local flavor after consulting Guna Sekhar. I made that film with a budget of 4 crores and it collected around 12.5 crores.
Meanwhile, I also prepared a script by keeping Ravi teja in mind. KC Sekhara Babu handed me over a novel by Balabhadrapatruni Ramani and asked me to convert it to Ravi Teja. It was later made as Madhumasam. I said that I don’t do such kind of soft subjects and I am interested in doing commercial films. Ravi Teja also asked me to direct a film for him during the time of Amma Nanna O Tamil Ammai. A film was launched with Ravi Teja, Jyotika and Charmme in the main leads in my direction and but was stalled after that.
And Kantri happened
I worked with Puri Jagan for Pokiri and Desamuduru after directing two Kannada films. I narrated the script of Kantri to Puri Jagan when we went to Manali to shoot Desamuduru for 30 days. He listened to the beginning scene, interval block and pre-climax and said that this film will become a hit. He also liked Kantri title and immediately registered it on Vaishno banner so that others won’t squat on it.
Dutt observed me during that time and offered me a film. When he asked who I want to have as hero, I said NTR. I also told him that there will not be any thoda kottatam kind of things in this film. It is going to be stylish and it will showcase NTR in a 25 year old tappori character. Dutt said that he would take 4 days to call me again. He called me right the next day and asked me to narrate it to NTR. I gave a 20 minute narration to NTR and I could see a glow in his face after listening to the script. The next day I got a call from NTR that the project is on. I narrated two more developed versions on 7 April and 20 April. I had the entire script ready by that time. Whatever is there is movie today was there written in that bound script.
Aswini Dutt gave me a free hand. He is a very good visionary and possesses a great judgment skill. The each and every scene in Kantri was approved by both Aswini Dutt and NTR before going to the sets.
New look for NTR
I wanted to show NTR in a new look. We did a photo shoot and bought costumes from places around to make sure that each costume is not costlier than 1500 rupees. Deepa designed the costumes of NTR. We had all costumes ready even before the movie is started.
Music sittings in USA
At that time Mani Sharma was in USA doing live concerts. Aswini Dutt made me travel there so that I could participate music sittings right away. I traveled along with Mani. 123 song was that first one he composed. I wanted to shoot a hip-hop song on NTR. We needed a lyricist and we did not have anybody around us. Hence I wrote the lyrics for that song. all the words in that song came from my observations on NTR – especially ‘by birth undi timmiri’. I reserved a portion of the rendition to NTR. Mani Sharma composed three tunes in USA only.
We started the shoot of Kantri with a song on 1st October. We had to wait for a month because cinematographer Sameer Reddy was busy with Athidi at that time.
Aswini Dutt does not compromize on locations
We had to shoot a vital portion of the film abroad. Aswini Dutt gave us an option to shoot in any country around the word. We finalized on Hong Kong and Dubai. But Hong Kong shoot costs 60 lakhs more. When I put forth the budgets in front of Dutt, he selected Hong Kong. We shot the transit part in Singapore and action episodes in Hong Kong. Aswini Dutt also produced Ram Gopal Varma’s Company in Hong Kong in the past. I could able to shoot 75% of what I had imagined in Hong Kong episodes. Sameer Reddy and Stun Shiva shot the entire portion efficiently. I showcased the skyline of Hong Kong effectively. We shot at an area where the latest version of Hollywood film Batman was shot a couple of days earlier. We also shot in a most dangerous airport strip in the middle of the city. Aswini Dutt also did not compromised on songs. We could have easily shot the songs in Singapore and Hong Kong. But he wanted us to go to other places. We went to Cape town in South Africa as no Telugu film was shot over there after Badri.
I was brought up watching Vyjayanthi banner films and K Raghavendra Rao’s films in Apsara theater of Vijayawada. I always feel that those films was paisa vasool films with lot of grandeur. I felt really lucky to work for the same banner which awed me when I was a kid. Aswini Dutt got me every body I wanted. Prakash Raj is the costliest character actor in South India. I also had three other villains Asish Vidyardhi, Murali Sharma and sayaji Shinde.
The set erected for Vaji Vaji song in Sivaji was the most talked about so far. We had three such sets of similar dimensions for ‘Vayassunami’ song. I asked Mani Sharma to give fresh tunes and I told him that those songs should not sound like NTR’s songs. We had Bollywood kind of ambiance in Ramare song. For I go Crazy song, NTR had taken lot of personal interest. The rerecording for the entire film is done by live musicians. That is why the film looks grand and sounds grand.
3-d animated character
We worked over 8 months with the help of Pixelloid to do 3-d animation of NTR. NTR gracefully accepted when he is asked to wear a body suit and do certain things. The sensitive points in that body suit are captured and they act as reference points while doing the 3-d animation. We had 3-d characters in only 4 scenes because we could not complete the film in time if we had a separate thread running for 3-d character. Incidentally Kantri is the first Indian film that has a 3-d character developed by motion capture on an actor.
Aswini Dutt is the best
A producer is like a father. If producer involves in moviemaking, the product will be good. If a new director approaches him and narrate him a convincing story, Dutt is capable of doing 12 films an year with the kind of execution speed he possess. He understands typical south Indians pulse and has a great music sense. He has always given his best.
Delayed for Parugu
Aswini Dutt is a kind of producer who wants films of other producers to do well. He never enjoys others flops. He wants everybody to produce hit films. When Dil Raju requested him delay the release of Kantri by a day from 7th to 8th May, Dutt gladly postponed it to 9th May by saying that entire team would visit Tirupati on that day to seek the blessings of God.
How is the box-office performance?
It collected more than Yamadonga with less number of prints. Some of the people I know in USA saw back-to-back shows over there. It is getting great response all over.
What is your answer to the comment that there are striking similarities to Pokiri?
I take it as compliment if they are comparing my style to that of my guru Puri Jagan’s. I would be surprised if they compared me to VV Vinayak or SS Rajamouli. There might be some inspiration as I worked for that film too. But it was not deliberate.
What are your future projects?
I have three scripts ready with me. I am getting lots of producers now.
Rao Ramesh (Writer)
Gopi Mohan (Writer)
Ajay Sastri (Director)
Vara Mullapudi (Director)
Bhumika Chawla (Actress)
Jagapati Babu (Actor)
Vijay C Kumar (Cinematographer)
Sekhar Kammula (Director)
Ram Gopal Varma (Director)
Srinivasa Reddy (Director)
Mickey J Meyer (Music director)
R Narayana Murthy (Producer)
Baba Sehgal (Singer)
Buddhadev Dasgupta (Director)
Tom Alter (Actor)
Kundan Shah (Director)
Priyadarshini Ram (Director)
Selva Raghavan (Director)
Vijaya Bhaskar (Director)
R Ravinder (Art director)
Chandra Sekhar Yeleti (Director)
Mohana Krishna Indraganti (Director)
Dega Deva Kumar Reddy (Producer)
Nidhi Prasad (Director)
Hema Chandra (Singer)
Vijay C Chakravarthy (Cinematographer)
VN Aditya (Director)