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Interview with Gunnam Gangaraju

He has two movies to his credit; both are different in their own ways. First was Little Soldiers, which redefined the concept of children's films, then there was the surprise hit Aithe which gave big movies a run for their money. Gangaraju Gunnam is a man with a lot of taste and interest in creative fields. He is the man behind 'Font Cards', which are said to be the best greeting cards ever made in India. Walking into his office one notices the ash-tray, coasters which have Hollywood written all over them. In a chat with he talks about his past, present and future.

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A little about your background and childhood?
I was born and bought up in Kakinada, I studied up to my sixth standard in St. Josephs Convent in Kakinada itself. Then I received a Government of India scholarship and got into Hyderabad Public School through the scholarship. I finished my schooling and wanted to get into medicine but never got through. So, I waited for one year and joined BA English at Andhra Loyola College in Vijaywada. But I was removed from college in the second year as the entire English medium students went for a strike. Then I discontinued studies and worked as a sales rep for Navbharath Cigarettes, door to door sales. Then I did my BA through private, then I joined MA and completed it. During that time I also wrote Probationary officers in State Bank of India. After spending six months at Dibrugarh (last point on Indian Railways) and another five at Shillong, I got bored of that job and I quit.

So where did you go from there?
After that I came back to Hyderabad, I started to work as a copy-writer for my friends Ad agency. Then I had no idea about an ad agency, to be frank I had never seen from inside. I had no idea about type setting or anything else. But we ran it for about five years before we decided that we had wastted a lot of money and energy on it. I decided to set up my own designer studio, a studio that makes the basic designs for ad agencies. It was called Fountain Head Design studio, named after my favorite book. But it didn't workout and I had decided to take up something where I could earn money without using my head. I opened a Vadilal ice-cream parlor, and even there I lost a lot of money. So, I started the business of doing greeting cards (Font Cards) with Rs. 1500/- that I borrowed from a friend.

About Font Cards?
I started drawing greeting cards, but the price I quoted was a little high. The then leaders in cards Hallmark used to sell their cards at nine rupees to the shops, but I wanted to sell mine at Rs. 15. So people asked me how I was planning to sell them at such high prices. My answer was simple if my designs are bad people would not take them for free. But if they are good then people will buy them for what ever price I quote. People don't buy greeting cards by looking at the price. During that time I was successful and Archies also wanted to take up few of my designs.

Foray in Filmmaking
In 1990, after the Shiva's release Ram Gopal Varma has asked me to direct a film. He was approached by CL Narasareddy (Geetanjali producer) to make a film. Ramu redirected the producer to me by saying that he would provide screenplay. Yarlagadda Surendra (one of the producers of Shiva) also joined in with Narasa Reddy for the film. The film was a remake of a Malyalam film Maludi, which starred Shamili in her first role. There is no fun in remaking a good film. The concept of Maludi was good, but execution is bad. I wanted to make that film as I could use different way of narration to execute the film better. I added a brother character and took Tarun for that. This film started much before Anjali (Shamili & Tarun) started. The producers felt that it would not take more than 40 lakhs to produce a children film. When they realized that making of this film would cost much more than what they budgeted for, they developed cold feet. After shooting for about seven days the producers abandoned the film. This film experience was before I started my greeting card career.

When Font Cards business was at high, I started the film Little Soldiers. It was supposed to be produced to by somebody else with me directing it. I was ready to do the film and suddenly the producer had cold feet and backed out. But I decided that whatever happens this time I was not going to back out.

About working on Little Soldiers?
A little later the producer left the project. That is when I decide to do the film on my own. The funniest thing is that I had no idea what a film would cost or how much work it would take. The hardest part of the film was making the three year old girl act. During the first days of shooting she was very moody and acted only when she wanted to, but slowly as the shooting progressed she started doing everything. She also gave her own dubbing for the role (she is a non-Telugu girl) for all 55 scenes by learning Telugu in 3 months.

After working with her, I decided never to make a film with those who didn't have a right to vote. Though the film has clicked, I felt that I could have done a better job of directing the film. The songs in the film are the highlight of the film and I till date feel that there is no better way of making those songs. I can not add anything further to those songs.

I wrote the story of Little Soldiers somewhere in '82, and then told D Suresh Babu who said the film had a very regular story but it all depends on the treatment of the director. I even told him about the final boobytraps sequence. Then Home Alone was released and D Suresh Babu called me to tell me about that film. But I felt happy that I was two years ahead when I wrote the story. But I lost money in Little Soldiers and maybe the film would have done better with different kind of publicity. I spent just above a crore on Little Soldiers and it recovered around 60 lakhs.

When and how did Just Yellow come into being?
'Just Yellow' is actually my friend Venkat Dega's company, he is a doctor in Canterbury in UK. We started this company in August 2000, his plan was to start a media company. That was because there was this big IT company boom and he started an IT Company with the name Yellow One. When I enquired about the name he said, 'I like yellow and then that one sounds very attractive'. That is when I proposed Just Yellow, earlier it was just designing websites and interactive learning tutorials, and later we wanted to enter into production. After six months we never made enough money so we went to our second option television production. Then we started with Amrutham (TV), Aithe (Film), Nanna (TV) and now Anukokunda Oka Roju (Film).

How did Aithe happen?
After doing television, films was the next best step we were looking out when Chandu (Chandra Sekhar Yeleti) came with the story. We just heard the interval scenes and told him to go ahead with the film then he took about five months to complete the script. Then the film was made.

The film is too intelligent for an average Telugu film viewer to understand and comprehend?
We worked a lot on the script and tried to make it intelligent and simple at the same time. The script has its intelligent moments and yet at the same time can be enjoyed by everyone. Even now many people who see or saw the picture tell me that they thought that the heroes were the four guys selected by the villain.

What about the financial front, did you make money in Aithe?
I did make money but not as much as people claim I did. The film should have made a lot more money, but the theatres were limited and the film was literally playing hide and seek with the audience who wanted to watch it. If Multiplex culture were there then I would have made a lot more money. You can see many Hindi films of today making profits thanks to this culture.

What about the Hindi version of the film Aithe?
Yes we were planning to make it in Hindi but we were on the look out for distributors, Nimbus communications liked the film and agreed to release the film. But it was the first time they were coming into film production so they wanted to release my small film along with a big film they planned. That big film with Sanjay Dutt never took off, so we just took back our film and decided to release it in limited films. We also spoke to a distribution firm for release of the film, it is going to be a multiplex film releasing in the next couple of months.

Is the latest film Anukokunda Oka Roju also going to cater to the same Aithe kind of audience?
This film is going to have a wider audience base than Aithe had; the comedy in this film is going to be more appealing than the subtleness of Aithe. Aithe is a darker film in comparison to Anukokunda, but Anukokunda has more fear in it. It sounds very contradictory but that is how it is going to be. Then there is the beauty factor, people are definitely going to come in to see Charmi who played a simple girl next door character.

The costumes and look of Charmi in this film look very similar to that of Sridevi in Kshanakshanam?
There was no deliberate attempt to make her look like Sridevi, but maybe in some angels the dress and look do look similar. But in Kshanak Kshanam Sridevi never wears long skirts except for a few songs and scenes. In this film she is a girl next door and is seen in those long skirts most of the time.

You are saying the film has a mystery element to it, will people enjoy the film even after knowing the climax?
The film is not a Sherlock Holmes type of mystery, it is simple and entertaining. So, I am assured that people are going to enjoy the film even after the first show. Usually in most of the mystery films as soon as the first show is over the story is known but even if such a thing happens this movie will entertain audience.

You have lent your voice to the villain in Aithe, did you dub for this film also?
No I felt that there was no need for my voice in this film.

What are your plans for the publicity and promotion of the film, Aithe had a very different look and feel in this regard?
We did not plan anything that will be different, we just made posters that look different and will stand out in the crowd of posters. Aithe had a simple scheme of posters with just a black and white screen with a simple line, but for this film we added the shade of red o the poster. Aithe was promoted with teasers on television but this film has only one trailer made for the TV. Even the music of the film is not being promoted in a big way as the film has no big heroes. In the industry today hero's sell music and not the music director.

What was the reason for choosing Charmi for the lead character?
She just fit the role perfectly, there was no doubt. We once saw her in a program on television and saw that she was speaking good Telugu. Then another reason was that she looked gorgeous without make-up also. So she was the best choice for the role.

Plans for release of the film?
The film is going to hit the theatres on June 30 with 35 prints. As that is the only date that was free for the month. We were publicizing for early on that the film will be released in June and that was the only option that we had.

What are your future plans, planning anything other than film and television?
Presently in television we are planning a daily serial in the next three months. Then a weekly serial to replace Nanna, apart from this the movies will be going on. For us making movies is the ultimate thrill, so there is nothing that can replace that feeling for me. But I would also like to set up a studio, not a big one with floors and all, but one with dubbing studio and editing suit for our convenience.

Interview by Jeevi and Aditya

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