Feel good, warm and fuzzy are the terms movie buffs have been using to describe the promos of director B V Nandini Reddy’s new Telugu film Anni Manchi Sakunamule (AMS), which releases in theatres on May 18. When we meet for this conversation at Vyjayanthi Movies office in Hyderabad, Nandini reflects, “Initially, when I thought about what I wanted AMS to feel like, I remembered the warmth of my grandmother’s palm on my cheek. I wanted the audience to feel a certain warmth while watching the film.” The relationship drama produced by Swapna and Priyanka Dutt has an ensemble cast led by Malvika Nair and Santosh Soban.
Relationship dramas have been Nandini’s forte. Think Oh! Baby, Kalyana Vaibhogame and Ala Modalaindi. During the making of Kalyana Vaibhogame (2016), Nandini had said she often finds herself being the bridge between the younger and the older generations. Seven years later, little has changed. “I am still the confidante for my nieces and nephews. One of them might come to me and say ‘please tell my mom; she just doesn’t get it’. The older generation also seeks my help. When they want to look for matches for someone, they would want me to subtly speak to that younger person and find out if he/she is seeing someone. I have a way of sliding into different age groups and getting information.”
These experiences come in handy when she writes scripts. The idea of AMS began from Santosh Soban’s character Rishi, whom she describes as a floaty, dreamy guy who carries no baggage. It then shaped up into a story of a conflict between two families in a fictional hill town named Victoria Puram (filmed in Coonoor and nearby areas). “The town is named thus since the coffee grown in these hills used to be shipped to queen Victoria,” says Nandini.
The Barjatya influence
The roster of actors in AMS includes Rajendra Prasad, Rao Ramesh, Gautami, V K Naresh, Sowcar Janaki, Ramya Subramanian, Vennela Kishore, Jhansi, Ashwin Kumar and others. None of the characters are bystanders. Each one has a definite arc, says Nandini: “I learnt to do this from Sooraj Barjatya films. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun has a number of supporting characters but each one has a story, which is why we remember them long after.”
Given the large cast, Nandini would have loved to have workshops. “Unfortunately all our character actors are so busy that it was impossible. So I had long conversations with them about the backstories of their characters. For example, I had written an entire story about Rajendra Prasad’s character’s childhood, marriage, etc which shapes his present-day actions. I follow this process for every character. All this detailing helps the actors.” Among the first sequences to be filmed was the Telangana Vs. Andhra Pradesh food fight and the song ‘Cheyyi cheyyi kalipeddam’ which acted as an ice breaker for the cast and crew. As the shooting progressed, there were moments of reckoning, she recalls: “I would step back from the monitor, see the actors in conversation and think they do look like family.”
AMS has Nandini collaborating with some of her trusted allies. Nandini and Swapna Dutt have known each other since her first film, Ala Modalaindi, though they first officially collaborated for the web series Gangstars (for which Nandini was the creative head). Nandini recalls how Swapna, eight months pregnant, came to watch the final edit of Oh! Baby to offer an outsider’s perspective and told her ‘you have made a good film. This will do well’. Nandini’s and the team’s doubts about the film were put to rest.
Composer Mickey J Meyer (music is the superstar of AMS, according to Nandini), cinematographer Richard Prasad — he worked with a muted colour palette to complement the hill station environs — dialogue writer Lakshmi Bhupala, actors Rajendra Prasad, Rao Ramesh and Malvika Nair are some of the others she has previously worked with. AMS also has on board cinematographer Sunny Kurapati.
Santosh Soban is an addition to this mix. Nandini recalls being impressed with his work in his first few films and chose him for AMS since she felt he looked the part and can portray the affable, free-spirited and vulnerable Rishi.
The reluctant actor
In AMS, Malvika goes from a bratty 17-year-old to a more mature 24-year-old. Nandini has known Malvika since the time she debuted with Yevade Subramanyam, also a Swapna and Priyanka Dutt production, as a reluctant teenager who did not choose to be an actor. “Malvika hated wearing makeup, posing for photographs and considered film shootings as tuitions that she did not like attending. Kalyana Vaibhogame was the first film Malvika chose on her own, without her dad’s guidance. I have seen her evolve as a person and as an actor. Recently, I was blown away by her work in Srinivas Avasarala’s Phalana Abbayi Phalana Ammayi and wondered if I had done justice to her talent in AMS. She is magical in front of the camera; she can emote with minimal dialogues and convey so much with her eyes.”
Both Santosh and Malvika also doubled up as sounding boards for Nandini’s script. “There are times they have told me that their characters would not react in a manner I think they would. I then restructured a few scenes. I listen to young people to understand them better and stay relevant. As an aside, I also love listening to the older generation because they tell you the craziest stories that can change your perspective.”
In her 12-year career, Nandini has directed five films, a web series and a short film for an anthology. The writing process takes time and she does not like to whip up stories in a rush just because a production house and an actor are willing to work with her. “I think of the actors once the story is ready. I love how director Sukumar nurtures new writers and directors, through collaborations. Beyond relationship dramas, I have an interest for other genres as well. I would love to do a sports drama, a war film, a fantasy or a biopic some day.”