Q & A with VI Anand
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21 January 2019

Director Vi Anand is awaiting the release of his upcoming film Disco Raja starring Mass Maharaja Ravi Teja in the lead. While his 2016 film Ekkadiki Pothavu Chinnavada hit the bullseye at the box office, his last release Okka Kshanam didn’t quite work. And now, he’s back after long with a film that is new in the sense that it takes a mass actor and places him in a science fiction film. He opens up about the film, the thought behind it and a lot more in this conversation…

A past failure
Anand starts the chat talking about his last film Okka Kshanam that didn’t work at the box office. However, he seems to think otherwise. “In my opinion, it was loved by the people who wanted to experience a different film. It was critically appreciated too. However, I wish it made more money for the distributors and producers. A few factors didn’t work for it, one of them being the release date. I feel December 28 didn’t work for us being the end of the year. Probably it wasn’t a time when people are in the mood to watch a film. With New Year’s around the corner, they’d rather spend time partying than watching a movie. But I got same appreciation as Ekkadiki Pothavu Chinnavada. In fact, more.

Moving on
The filmmaker moved on quick and has Disco Raja ready for release now. But the idea wasn’t something that struck him around this time. It was apparently a long journey with the film. “The initial idea came to me over ten years ago. I had a very futuristic science fiction drama in mind and the idea was very exciting to me. Over these years, a channel in my mind was open and constantly thinking about how I can work on the story. I stumbled upon some research works by some bio laboratories in the interim and that’s how I turned it into an exciting and entertaining concept. When I think of a story, I always think of its scope to entertain. In the end of the day the audience needs to enjoy a story. The story should be for them and not for my satisfaction! This concept had the scope for various emotions – fun, adventure, humour and thrill,” shares the director.

Ravi Teja as Disco Raja
Apparently Ravi Teja was the first name in Anand’s mind when he had the story outline ready. “When I started writing the script, I conceptualized a music-loving gangster – a musical gangster – from the 1980s. I know that youngsters of today will not connect to the 1980s era but I wanted this character to have some connection to that period. Only those who were in their teens in the 1980s would connect to this. The character will have a certain swag and style! Ravi Teja came to my mind soon after the first draft was done,” Anand tells us.

But thinking of a mass hero in a concept film may not have felt like a reality that will happen. He explains, “So far, he has done commercial mass entertainers. That’s when it struck me how it would be if we bring in the element of science fiction into mass. I wanted to try that unique blend of genres with a retro twist to it. The thought of all this itself was very exciting at that point! I wasn’t sure he’d say yes, but I was convinced I should do a science fiction mass entertainer, a contrasting cocktail of elements. He loved it when I narrated it to him and immediately said yes! Luckily, he was looking for something different, something catchy and off beat. He was excited about the film.”

It was apparently an amazing experience to see the actor take on the role. “I loved how Ravi Teja transformed himself to become Disco Raja. It is surely one of his special performances till date and the character brought out the best performer in him.”

For a director who has worked with younger stars so far, one wonders if it was daunting to take on a star like Ravi Teja. Anand shares otherwise. Sharing his view about the actor, he says, “Ravi Teja sir is very good with communication. He is honest, clear and straightforward. That helped a great deal in the relationship between him and I. He says what he feels and doesn’t hold back. He asks with clarity if he doesn’t understand why we are doing something. If I am able to convince him with an explanation, he won’t ask anything else! We took around six months for pre-production, during which time got an opportunity to understand each other.”

“I learnt a lot from him and just love how he is a positive person full of energy. He is extremely punctual and always arrives five minutes early. He really enjoyed the character and was fully into it. He is very spontaneous and did several improvisations on the spot. They worked so well for the film! It was a very fun collaboration,” he says.

First things first
For Anand, this film marked a lot of firsts. The prime one being working with a star. “After working with actors like Nikhil, Sundeep Kishan and Allu Sirish, handling such a big project in a big span and achieving what we wanted in the budget was new. Even though I didn’t take the pressure of his star image and the need to satisfy his fans, it was always at the back of my head. We didn’t add anything just for his fans. We didn’t plan an interval bang or a song. The story naturally had all the element in it,” he explains, adding that the film saw his first collaboration with his technicians, including cinematographer Karthik Ghattamaneni.
The director is known for trying out new concepts in his films. Ensuring that it’s the same in this one, he mentions that he did try out something new. “I love playing with concepts. Till the end, I stuck to my script. There were improvisations but not for the hero or for a commercial purpose. After Okka Kshanam, I read a review which said that I am getting into the pattern of taking a while to start the story and take my time to setup and that I hold the key in the second half. I tried to break that. That review was helpful for me. I tried not to fall into pattern,” Anand shares.

Music as a character
With Ravi Teja playing a music-loving gangster in the film, tunes by Thaman were of prime importance. So far the team has released three songs which have managed to draw attention. Turns out, there’s nothing more to look forward to. “We didn’t want to force songs that weren’t needed! However, the second half will pan out in the 1980s and you’ll see lot of songs from the time being played,” he reveals.

But there’s more. The songs have an interesting character as well. Like the first song Nuvvu Natho Emannavo seems inspired by an Illaiyaraaja composition. The song Dilliwala has a modern melody twist to it. The third song Rum Pum Bum has a retro twist with the ‘Disco King’ Bappi Lahari himself singing the song! Anand explains how the songs were planned.

“A beautiful love song from that period would automatically make anyone think of an Ilaiyaraaja song. The Dilliwaala song was planned and programmed around the character. We never planned the Raja theme song would be sung by Bappi Lahari sir and it was a last minute decision. But I worked so well!”

The cast
Popular Tamil actor Bobby Simhaa apparently plays an intense character in the film. Apparently, he was very involved from the beginning. “I feel the intensity of his performance elevated the character,” says Anand adding that all the three female leads “have sensible characterizations”. “They are not meaningless or careless characters. Tanya is a matured neurologist and scientist. Nabha is in love with the hero and she is bubbly but yet, sensible. Payal has performed very well in a character that is very different.”

What’s next?
Anand has clarity on his way forward irrespective of the result of the film. He signs off, “I will stick to what I am good. I need content to hold and an interesting point without which I cannot start and write a script. I am blessed with an audience that appreciates and trusts me enough to expect that I will do something different. All this despite a short career span! I don’t want to do something routine, and will stick to something that will excite both me and the audience. There’s this misconception that big heroes cannot do concept-oriented films but I want to break that. I feel big heroes can take a concept film and make it bigger. An example to that is surely Disco Raja.”

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