The Telugu film, Mem Famous (we are famous), releasing in theatres on May 26, will introduce more than 40 actors and technicians. The comedy set in rural Telangana follows the journey of a bunch of characters who are considered good-for-nothing by the village and how they strive to make a name for themselves. Debut actor Sumanth Prabhas has also written and directed this film that is being positioned as a fun ride for summer. The men behind this film are the trio — Anurag Reddy and Sharath Chandra of Chai Bisket Films and Chandru Manoharan of Lahari Films — who produced the sleeper hit Writer Padmabhushan starring Suhas earlier this year.
Anurag, Sharath and Chandru are in between multiple creative and marketing tasks when they take time out for this interview at their office in Hyderabad. Anurag and Sharath also spearhead First Show, the advertising and marketing agency that designs promotional campaigns for Telugu films — Major and Dasara among the recent prominent examples, and oversee content and production at Chai Bisket Films. They also co-produced the Sandeep Unnikrishnan biopic Major in partnership with Mahesh Babu and Sony Pictures, with a different entity named A+S Films. “We want Chai Bisket Films to be a go-to place for debut actors, writers, directors and technicians while A+S will focus on bigger films,” says Sharath.
Springboard for new talent
Mem Famous is the second film, following Writer Padmabhushan, as part of a three-film deal between Chai Bisket Films and Lahiri Films. The third film is in the works. Sharath is confident that Mem Famous will be a roaring hit like Jathi Ratnalu or Pelli Choopulu.
It all began when Anurag’s wife stumbled upon a video clipping from the YouTube web series Pilla Pillagadu directed by Sumanth Prabhas, which had a dialogue about love and romance. When she shared it with Anurag, he was impressed. He reached out to Sumanth and was surprised when he learnt that he was a college student. “He was barely 18 or 19; his writing was sharp,” Anurag recalls.
Having launched several actors and directors (Suhas, Divya Sripada, Srividya Palaparthi, Sandeep Raj and Vidya Sivalenka are a few examples) through their short films on Chai Bisket channel on YouTube, Anurag and Sharath sensed potential. “He is a quick learner,” says Sharath. Sumanth spent a few months with the team of My Village Show in rural Telangana, observing the daily lives of people and Mem Famous took shape.
“I believe that people should have experienced a culture to be able to write with authenticity. For instance, if someone narrates a story set in the USA but has never been there, it never seems realistic to me,” reasons Sharath.
The next big leap
MBA graduates and friends since school days, Anurag and Sharath set up First Show in 2012 and forayed into digital marketing for movies and in 2015, they established Chai Bisket and presented Telugu and English content on their website while simultaneously creating short films for YouTube. Sharath says film production was a natural progression to give a bigger platform for the talent that they had been nurturing.
“We are happy that all of us are growing together. None of our actors or directors are bound by contracts. We believe in working together with goodwill and trust,” Sharath says. At the same time, they are aware that nurturing young talent involves time. “A script may not be okay in its first draft. It will require some guidance and a few rewrites. We are game for the process since there is always fresh energy that the young talent brings in.”
As their organisation grew, they continued to be on the lookout for new talent. “Our email inbox is filled with at least 1,200 to 1,400 story pitches at a given time,” says Anurag. Sharath adds that their work culture remains like that of a start-up. There are times when Anurag listens to two scripts a day, for two to three months at a stretch, and then shortlists the interesting ones. “I go by the emotional connect of a story,” he says.
Sharath, Anurag and Chandru are aware of the highs and lows of Writer Padmabhushan. “The last 20 minutes moved me to tears even during the narration and I was sure people would connect to it,” says Chandru. Private test screenings and later with family audiences in different cities prior to the film’s release reinforced their belief. “We learnt to hold test screenings, take feedback and keep finetuning the film from (Adivi) Sesh ,” says Sharath.
It was from Sesh that Anurag and Sharath also learnt the ropes of production. “He told us that he wanted to do a biopic of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and it might take another five to 10 years. We told him he should do it right away and he asked if we could help with the production,” says Sharath.
Against the norm
After Major, they knew they were swimming against the tide during Writer Padmabhushan. Post-pandemic, most distributors and exhibitors believed that only star-led, big-budget films can draw the audience to the theatres. “What everyone says is based on their experience. When something new happens, it breaks the norm. When we showed the film to all our families, there were tears and smiles. It was an indication that the audience will accept the film. Irrespective of the budget, I believe people will come to the theatres to watch a good film,” says Sharath.
Anurag seconds that and says the audience has been generous. “They graciously overlooked the small drawbacks and encouraged our film.”
The Telugu film circles recognise Anurag and Sharath for their knack for spotting bright talent and as sharp marketers. In an industry where one or two hits make people feel like kingmakers, Anurag and Sharath say they are over-critical about their work and hence, will never get carried away. Sharath sums up a recent experience when he attended Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, “The work that we are doing is so small compared to the technical and creative output I witnessed there. The day we are able to do something that the world notices, I will say Mem Famous (we are famous).”