December 14, 1967. On that chilly day, Tollywood’s first full-fledged commercial crime thriller – Ave Kallu - was out. Prints of this Krishna-Kanchanamala starrer traveled all over the state, giving a “different” experience to the people, irrespective of the ABCD classes. The wall poster presented a weird look. Frightened cast stood at left side. The masked face with criminally-inclined eyes got protruded on the right… and a knife dangling near the title. Initially, the children were barred from watching it, in each place. But, soon, it became a favorite to all sections. It took a couple of decades to make another thriller Anveshana by Vamsi. It took more than one and half decades to see similar public response to a crime thriller in Andhra Pradesh. It was A Film By Arvind, called as A Shekkar Suri Film. The young director whipped up this bizarre genre from grave, pumped into it a new lease of life. His new film – THREE – projected as a psychological thriller, gets ready for release in the coming weeks. He is averse to the modern-day songs and stunts in Telugu cinemas. Pelvic thrusts, fighting episodes on wires and shouting make him sick. He wants to prepare the Telugu audiences for a realistic journey into Thrillers. “After ten years, I will not be here. My goal is set in Bollywood,” he says. Excerpts from an Idlebrain’s exclusive interview with Shekkar Suri.
Tell us about your journey into filmmaking?
Preparation: I was born at Tanuku in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Now, I am 35-year-old. Mostly I lived in Hyderabad. As a child, I used to watch TV serials a lot. Tamas by Govind Nihlani made the first impact on me. I still recall the flashes of the God Father series came in Door Darshan. The obsession continued with blasting vigor till I reached my graduation (commerce). I was supposed to do cost accountancy and chartered accountancy. I couldn’t concentrate much on studies for three years. I was possessed. Year after year, the pass percentage saw downward trend. My parents and elder brother understood the devil in me - to become a director or cinematographer. Finally, it was decided that I should become a director.
As Ghostwriter in Mumbai: I reached Mumbai. Difficulties didn’t deter my determination. I was stubborn and thought of exploring the edge of Bollywood. It was a mix of niceties and bitter experiences. Come what may, I shouldn’t go back. I turned a prolific ghostwriter for about eight years, penning many suspense shows on TV and scripts in films. Finally, I caught the dates of Sanjay Dutt. Everything seemed rosy, but soon luck seemed to evade me. The actor’s dates kept postponed just like that after the tremendous success of Vastav film. I had no other alternative. Life in Mumbai became difficult. Dazed and flustered, mentally and physically, I landed up in Hyderabad. The 8-year-long absence was too much for me that I lost touch with my friends and surroundings.
Back in Hyderabad: One day, I was standing at the YMCA Bus stop here. Like the Ancient Mariner of Coleridge, I happened to peep into the venue, where a function was about to start. A good friend of mine was the organizer. Hero Tarun (fresh from the success of Nuvve Kavali) was the chief guest. He wanted an extra person as a guest there to cheer up the atmosphere. Suddenly, he introduced me to Tarun, other guest and gathering as Co-director from Mumbai, giving the much required thud to ignore public interest. That happening provided me the foothold. I acquaintance with Tarun started blooming.
Adrustam: It was Tarun who got me the producer (Supergood films). I wanted to do something similar to Roman Holiday where an average guy falls in love with the princess. It was also inspired by a real incident when Bollywood actress Padmini Kolhapuri kissed the Prince Charles when he visted India. It created a huge uproar. I reversed the situation and penned a story in which a common guy kisses a princess. This way, my debut film Adrushtam got started. Of course, the movie miserably bombed at the box office. I honestly say, my failure was due to the fact that I couldn’t do the film in my way. I was never wrong in the selection of the subject. I did not want songs in that film. But, I had to succumb to a lot of pressures. I slowly but steadily understood the real side of Telugu film industry.
A Film By Arvind: Later, I readied a script of my own, working day and night. Each frame is an adventure for me. I visualized entire project before I started shooting it. I am happy; it helped me prove my mettle as a stubborn director with volatile thoughts fit for generating high-level entertainment. I am really thankful to the audience. All sections watched the film.
After AFBA, why did you take a big gap?
Foolish wait for a star hero: I never did take any gap. It came just like that. Actually, I wanted to do a film with a Big Star, whose name I don’t want to tell. I wasted a year and half. I worked for six full months on the script. But, it didn’t materialize. It brought me an experience which I can’t buy even if I spend crores of rupees.
Directors are Star-makers: I realized that a star cannot make a director. But, a director can make a star. If you work with big stars, naturally, you will lose your freedom of thought and expression. Your mind gets stagnated with their ideas. Running after big heroes is just like going mad on the roads. Take the example of Dasari who made many stars. What is the position of Ravi Teja if Puri Jagan did not make Itlu Sravani Subramanyam, Idiot and ANOTA with him? It was Puri Jagan who made Ravi Teja a star. Rishi was nobody before AFBA happened. After that he bagged 7 films due to the success of AFBA.
Hypocrisy: Everything is hypocrisy. Our producers, despite giving flops, continue to do more and more films with stupid subjects. Struggling with flops, our heroes give even bigger flops. They just make films for survival in the industry. They have to. They want to recover their losses this way. If a film flops, can the so-called Heroes get back that money? Or will he hold responsibility for that?
How you got to make THREE? What are its specialties?
A young businessman Phani Raj happened to meet me one day, last year. He asked me to do a film on the lines of AFBA. Ok. I told him I would do a psychological thriller for him. In a few days, the story was narrated to Phani Raj and Shanti Chandra (producer, who also acts as one of the three heroes in Three) and his father. They instantly liked the outline and came out with full support. They never compromised on budget just as I didn’t while making the film for my kind of effect in each and every frame. They insisted that they didn’t really want the so-called commercial cinema, but a Shekkar Suri kind of film – like A Film By Arvind.
This film Three is going to be a scary entertainer. I cannot say anything about the film other than some minor details. It has three heroes and a heroine. The title of the film Three has nothing to do with the three characters (Rajiv, Rishi and Shanti Chandra) as heroes. I readied the script based on a real-life incident happened in Hyderabad, in which I was also part of it.
Other than AFBA cast Rajiv and Rishi, what is special with Shanti Chandra and Urvashi Sharma?
When I studied the option to field Shanti Chandra as one of the three heroes, I had my own doubts. Though coming from military, he weighed more than a hundred kilos. I made it rule that he should cut down his weight by the next few months. When I saw him after five months, he was fantastic, giving an incredible look, slim and trim. Naturally, he held a photogenic face. He is the kind of a guy whom people feel familiar to them. Three will sure hoist a new Shanti Chandra, an actor with great flexibility and commitment.
Heroine Urvashi Sharma worked in our film for about 70 days on a contract with Tips India. After taking her for my film, I was thrilled to the core. She exactly fitted the image of the heroine in my mind. Each passing day, she turned out to be a very admirable girl on the sets. Her looks, features, behavior and acting skills are amazing. People say there will be a lot of expose in my films. But, Urvashi Sharma has that special appeal even without expose.
It seems you are averse to commercial songs in films? What is your concept of romance?
I am never averse to songs. But our current trend of songs in Telugu films. I wish to compare this. Take an NTR and ANR film. The relationship between them is established through songs. They were meaningful and remained part of the subject. Do we really need pelvic thrusts of the hero to express his love for the heroine? Why should they change the dress constantly in a single song? When a narration is taking place, why should we break it with songs? (While saying, Shekkar Suri shows the manner in which the heroes give pelvic strokes during dances – a sign of his vexation with the trend). I don’t understand why utensils and gas cylinders were kept as set properties while shooting dhak dhak songs on hero and heroines during 80’s?
Stupid love stories: Also, I am doubly averse to making melodramas. I don’t believe in stupid love stories. (He makes a big clap) Our hero is made to look into the eyes of the heroine. Immediately, a dream song follows with vulgar moments. In reality, when a man really likes a woman and vice versa, it will end up in physical relationship. They will better enjoy sex. Mine was a love marriage. When I proposed to her, we held our hands. That’s all. We did not break into a song with 10’s of group dancers thrusting their bosoms and pelvises. I don’t understand why we are sticking to the trend of meaningless duets.
Unfortunately Telugu film: Recently, I was taking part in an international film festival. A Mongolian director was sitting besides me. I was a little bit curious about his crushed nose. He noticed my zeal, but kept quite. Unfortunately, a mainstream modern Telugu movie was screened. The Mongolian gave all sorts of expressions he could. He was thundered with stupor-like experience when he saw the song sequences. He kept asking me. How could the heroine change her dress and expression that many times? It shows that moviemaking is going global. They don’t really understand this kind of cheap tricks.
So, you are not going to do such stuff in Tollywood?
I am always a frank person. People call me arrogant, eccentric and such like. I am here in Tollywood, because of my circumstances. I always believe in the theory of compromise. But, not more than 20-30 percent. Even with wife and children, we have to compromise. Under this percentage I might do a film with stupid songs and stunts to satisfy the producers. Whether the film flops or clicks, I will tell the audience that I had made a stupid film and they had watched a stupid film.
What about your philosophy of treating the stunts department?
Yes. I give a lot of importance to stunts. But, I will not allow the ropes to play their role. Let it be natural. Why should we spoil the mood? When a stunts choreographer thinks that people will like a jump from a multistoried building by hero, he is wronged. People are not fools. They will really not enjoy such unrealistic situations. Just they laugh at you.
In THREE, I never allowed any ropes onto the sets. I appreciate the work of fight master Ram Laksham for their realistic composition of action scenes. When you see people fighting in real life, it is more exciting than watching strategically planned screen stunts.
Tell us about the balloon lights used in Telugu films for the first time through Three film?
When we have to light up a large amount of area during night, we typically use 4-5 lights. Since we place these lights in different places, the lighting is not uniform throughout the area. But when we use Balloon light, it gives uniform and ample lighting for kilometers. Another striking feature is that Ballon light gives ‘soft light’ output, which is a pleasing point for any cinematographer to get pleasant visuals on the screen.
Is there any Hollywood inspiration for Three film?
The concept of Three is completely original as it is based on a true incident that happened in Hyderabad. I was also a part of that incident. I might borrow technique and style from Hollywood and French films, but I make sure that the story is always original. I can proudly say that Three subject is original. You will also vouch for it once you watch it.
Who are your favorite directors?
Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. I also love Iranian cinema.
What was the box office result of AFBA?
It was made on a shoe-string budget of 1.8 crores. The producer got his money back and the distributors and exhibitors made their money.
What are your observations on your cousin Mohana Krishna Indraganti who won national award for Grahanam?
I feel that we are not using any of our Telugu literature while making Telugu films. If you look at Hollywood, most of the movies are made by taking novels and literary works as the base. In such a situation, Mohana Krishna Indraganti made Grahanam based on Chalam’s book Maidanam. It was critically acclaimed. I am happy for him. We have another cousin who is venturing into filmmaking.
How important is education to the filmmakers?
I think an educated filmmaker can do a sensible film. I feel that basic education is an essential for filmmakers. Our film industry’s quality will improve if filmmakers are highly educated.
Is Sekhar Suri your real name?
No. My real name is SS Chandra Shekhar. But it is too common and many people are there in the industry with a similar name. Hence I changed my name to Shekar Suri. It was easy to pronounce for Bombay people as I started my career over there. My brother is into astrology and numerology. He suggested that I should have one more K in my name. Hence Shekar Suri became Shekkar Suri.
What is your next project?
I am thoroughly into the thrillers. AFBA was a suspense thriller. Three is going to be a psychological thriller. My next film is going to be an action thriller.
Sindhu Menon (Heroine)
Vinu Thomas (Music director)
Nihal (Music director & Singer)
Smita (Pop singer)
Sonal Chauhan (Actress)
Raghu Kunche (Singer)
Udaya Bhanu (Anchor)
Meher Ramesh (Director)
Rao Ramesh (Actor)
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)