Q & A with Anil Ravipudi
Anil Ravipudi gets candid about his style of work
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15 January 2019

Director Anil Ravipudi is on quite a high after the phenomenal response to his recently released mass entertainer Sarileru Neekevvaru starring Superstar Mahesh Babu in the lead. Having started off with the film Pataas that had Kalyan Ram in the lead, Anil has proved over time that he is a director that understands the pulse of the audience and has created his own brand of entertainment in Telugu cinema. Blending comedy, action and mass appeal together and packaging it in a way that the audiences love, has become a thing he is recognized for now.

After Pataas, Anil directed films like Supreme, Raja The Great and F2 – Fun and Frustration, before taking a major leap into the big league with Sarileru Neekevvaru.

He sat down with us for a candid chat. Here’s what he told us:

Starting off in Tollywood
Anil’s first brush with working in Telugu cinema was when he joined as an apprentice under his uncle PA Arun Prasad in 2005 for his film Gowtham SSC. Post that he worked for the film Boss under VN Aditya before working with director Siva for Souryam and Sankham in which he was the dialogue writer. He moved on to play the same role with screenplay or/and dialogue writing in films like Masala, Kandireega, Sudigadu and other films.

His first break as a director came with Pataas in 2015. Post that, Supreme, Raja The Great and F2 happened under the production of Dil Raju. Even Sarileru Neekevvaru had the producer play a key part.

Career graph
With every film, Anil’s career kept soaring to a higher level. And the Sankranti 2018 release F2 was a success that was quite phenomenal in every way. After all, it marked a comeback of sorts for Venkatesh as well. Speaking about the film, Anil shares, “F2 was an unexpected box office shock for me. I knew it will reach the audiences and had great belief in the genre. I remember watching the film Kshemamga Velli Labhamga Randi when I was in my Intermediate. It was an industry hit in those days without star cast. Other films in the genre were Pellam Oorellithe and Pellam Chepithe Vinali. I felt that a film in the genre came in once in 7-8 years and it worked very well at the box office. I wanted to create something like that. A film in the family genre that explores the trope of the common bickering between a husband and wife. I decided to make a fun film in that space and that’s why I knew the result would be good. But the way it worked out was unexpected and quite exciting for me. In a way, F2 gave my career a kickstart and push in the right direction.”

How Sarileru Neekevvaru happened
It’s no easy task to land a film with a big star like Mahesh Babu so quickly in one’s career. But Anil managed to do his fifth film with the actor, and that too with a success in tow. “I had given a 40-minute narration to him while working on F2. Unexpectedly, post the film he asked me if I can get the script ready and I told him that four months would be enough for the process. By around June-July we began shooting and were done by December,” he recalls.

The idea of Sarileru Neekevvaru originated when Anil was travelling from Jodhpur to Hyderabad in a train during Supreme. “A soldier was travelling with us on that journey. I always thought a soldier is someone who is tough but this man’s behavior was very new to me. He was very funny and kept cracking jokes all the time when he spoke. I really liked his characterization and how he said everything with an air of fun. That’s when I thought of how it would be to write a story about an army guy who comes into the common public and what kind of conversations he would have with them. Ajay’s dialogues in the film are a reflection of what I thought an army guy would feel about us all. The fact that they are going all out to protect us on the border and we are in some other zone. That felt like a story. That was the main string that held the story for me. In fact, I was the climax was a risk too because I had a star with me and ending the film with action is a norm! But I believed it can work and went ahead with it,” he tells us, adding, “I am glad that many are appreciating the climax today, even though some people raised apprehensions about it in the beginning.”

Mahesh Mass!
Dookudu was probably the last film that unleashed Mahesh Babu in an avatar that was loved by the masses. His shades of comedy laced with action were a hit with the audiences. It’s a surprise then that he hasn’t explored that side of his more often since the film worked wonders at the box office. After almost eight years, Anil took the onus of pushing Mahesh to push boundaries again.

Modulation in dialogues and body language alongside some comedy was something we hadn’t seen Mahesh Babu do for a long time till Sarileru Neekevvaru happened. “I wanted to design every scene in an unpredictable way. Take for instance the Samantha episode. A minister is gathering a huge crowd to what could lead into a crazy buildup, and people expect an action sequence (especially with the Kondareddy Buruju making them nostalgic of Okkadu). But the scene explores this small weakness that’s often scene in people,” he analyses for us, elaborating that at any given point in the film when you think Mahesh will get angry you see him cool down and say something funny and sometimes the other way round!

The Alluri Seetharama Raju impact
In what can be looked at as a classic scene of mass appeal, the film has actor Ajay’s character see glimpses of rebellious freedom fighter Alluri Seetharama Raju in the lead character played by Mahesh. Anil uses clippings from Superstar Krishna’s portrayal of the iconic character, shown to us on screen as the characters see it on a phone. Whistles apart, this sure gave us a look into what the director likens Mahesh’s character to. It also forms for an interesting conversation graph between actor Ajay and the main antagonist Prakash Raj. “I thought it was a very unique way to use the clippings. The reason I came up with the idea was our stuntmen Ram-Laxman. We had planned something else earlier. They suggested that it would be nice if Ajay’s character progresses with heat before the interval, which should be a result of Prakash Raj insulting him. That will push him to be violent. So, then I began thinking and developed how it will pan out. And we carry it throughout,” he explains.

Family vibes
The character traits of Rashmika and her family, that had Rao Ramesh, Sangeetha and Hari Teja in key roles makes one nostalgic of the director’s previous film F2. Reflecting on the same, he says, “F2 reached the audience in a big way and I feel they expect a lot more fun in this film because of that reason, which is why I felt it wouldn’t work if I chose to do a settled sort of comedy. I felt it would be a risk to take. I feel that if I went for another pattern of comedy in place of the train episode, it would end up becoming dull. The huge fun that F2 gave the viewers is the same genre of comedy that I wanted to give them.”

The anti-template
It’s expected that a commercial film will explore certain tropes to tell a story. However, Anil does move away from the template and pushes the boundaries a little.

“Vijaya Shanti garu’s character is the main thread in this film and the story revolves around her son. We expect Mahesh to tell her the truth but the beauty is that she unfolds it herself. She consoles herself as a soldier’s mother and appreciates how the men at the border sacrifice their lives for people they don’t even know,” he says, adding, “The climax, the comedy and a lot of other elements felt much needed for me.”

In the film, Anil makes the hero talk about the accountability of politicians. While he doesn’t mention it on screen, he does reflect on the RTI which makes it possible for us to get answers to questions as citizens.

Anil agrees that Rashmika didn’t quite have much to offer with her character in the film and removing her episodes wouldn’t change track of the story because her episode is completely away from the main plot. “But she is the main source of entertainment and we don’t want a serious film. She adds the element of fun. Even in the second half, we don’t force her into the story and get her in through the investigation block. And it really worked! The climax scene where she cries was very cute, in my opinion. Rashmika’s track worked big time,” he opines.

Sarileru Neekevvaru saw Mahesh Babu dance like never before. Apparently, it was decided way ahead that the bar had to be pushed. “I told Sekhar master way in advance to leave aside Mahesh’s body language and all! We need to get him to freak out in this one. Everyone was prepared for it mentally and as we worked on the costumes, and eventually progressed towards the song, things fell into place. The Mind Block song has received as much appreciation as the movie itself,” he tells us, as he elaborates on the song. “While the song was a little awkward to listen to in the beginning, the song just worked perfectly towards the end. I think Devi has a strong hold of the mass pulse and I have learnt to trust him.”

Character punches
Anil likens his assignment of a personal touch to each character via a punch dialogue to an influence of veteran filmmaker Jandhyala. “Every film of his saw new mannerisms for the characters and the audience never got bored. I am influenced… inspired by it I think and that’s how I have worked on all my films.

One can notice how a hook line from each of his films goes viral!

Sarileru Neekevvaru is already become a matter of popular conversation with phrases like “take a bow”, “artham avuthuna”, “never before ever after”, “kuja chembu aitadi” and several others.

“I always store the best compliments that I received (on social media) after a film release because I feel it’s a good way to go back and see what people are liking about our films. And in comparison to my past films, I think the audience felt that I went a step ahead in exploring emotions in this particular film, especially the last 20 minutes. I’ve noticed that all the feedback I received was uniform. I look at that as an achievement because people connected to many of the major points that I was trying hard to work on,” Anil says on the feedback post release.

His film F2 worked wonders at the US box office, collecting over $2 million. Even Sarileru Neekevvaru has managed massive numbers, thereby marking a second time that he makes a mass film work with a class audience. “It’s unbelievable to me as well! It’s sensitive to shift between serious emotions and comedy in a single scene. I have believed that if you want to make your content work across A, B and C centres, you need to maintain a harmony between mass and class. The mix is when it will work with everyone,” he observes, saying he has followed a graph that has ensured all his films work in all three centres.

Ravipudi signature
As he finished five films, Anil has made a mark for himself with a brand of films. Looking at the film, people can recognize that it’s him on the helm. But the filmmaker says he wishes to break the mould. “Right now, I am happy with this. But if I keep doing this for a few more films, the audience will notice and reflect upon how I am doing the same thing, which is okay! But the challenge for me will be to recognize the slot when they are beginning to understand it and reinvent myself! I will make the switch at that point for sure. In fact, after F2 I had a female centric film on my mind. I wrote a script for Balayya Babu and that was out of the box as well. I thought of a line for Chiranjeevi garu. All of them are not in the same commercial meter,” Anil says.

What next?
Anil says he’s ready for everything now. “I have many ideas and stories but let’s see what transpires. I’ll announce soon.”

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