Director Sukumar, in conversation with Padma Iyer, about his latest bumper success story Rangasthalam, box office numbers and his passion for writing
How did the concept of Rangasthalam come about?
I have spent nearly 30 years of my life living a village life and I always wanted to bring that on screen. If you look at the heroes in Telugu cinema, most of them are posh and urban but I wanted to bring a slice of reality to my storytelling. We always remember our past, and mine was in the village. I wanted to bring that on screen.
How did you decide to cast Ram Charan as a villager given that he has an image quite opposite of that? Also, how did you work out the disability aspect of the character?
Ram Charan and I wanted to work together, so there was already a plan to make a movie. I told him that I wanted to make a village subject and I came back to him with a story. I narrated the premise, about his character and evrything. At first, he was not sure if he would be able to carry off such a different role. But, I had faith in him and once he committed to it, he started working towards making the character of Chitti Babu come alive on screen.
The whole process from there on was a collaborative one and we developed the character together. With regard to the disability, he laughed it off at first. And I was prepared with an alternative characterisation in case he did not want to play Chitti Babu like that. But, he agreed and everything else fell in place.
The heroine Samantha looks very plain and simple. Were you not worried that a non-glamourous look might not be appreciated by the audience?
Actually, I thought about it the opposite way. I thought it made good commercial sense. The audience had never seen Samantha play an out-and-out village girl and I was sure that would draw their attention. It would be a good surprise for the audience, a punch they would like. And Samantha too had not done something like this before.
The music and camera work in the film have also been appreciated.
Devi Sri Prasad has composed the music of the film. He and I share a very strong working relationship. He has been a part of all my films and we are therefore aware of each other’s styles. When I approached him, the discussion was straightforward. I narrated the story and instinctively he knew what I wanted. He had never done authentic village music and he had always wanted to try this genre. I have worked with Rathnavelu too in all my films. So, we shared a comfort level, which is what resulted in such a good output.
The climax of Rangasthalam has shock value. Was that always the thought?
When I narrated the ending to my assistant directors, they were shocked. But then I wanted to shock the audience. I like to do that in my stories. I don’t want them to be able to predict what happens as the scenes unfold. I want them to be surprised. I think that is my weakness and my strength.
Do you think there is more pressure on you now that Rangasthalam has succeeded?
I am not new to pressure. As a writer, I am always under pressure. The pressure due to this success does not affect me much. It is more important for me to get a good idea for my film and that is no easy task. And executing that idea is a lot more stressful. I don’t know why I continue to work despite so much stress (Laughs).
Success and failure are part of the movie business. How do you deal with them?
Well, success is nice. It is a good memory to have, a flashback that makes you happy. Failure haunts us more. Ever since I was a child, I have treated failure as strength. It makes me want to do better and makes me stronger.
You are a director and a producer too. How important are box office numbers to you?
I value box office figures. At the end of the day, making films is a business. There is money being invested. I am asking people to invest money in my creativity and it is my job to see that they make money. I am using my creativity to do business, so how the film fares at the box office is important.
When you decide to make a film, do you decide on the story first or the actor?
The idea or concept of the story is most important. It is the idea that drives the narrative. Sometimes, it is the climax or sometimes it is the interval point. When I wrote Arya, I had not decided who the hero would be. I saw Bunny (Allu Arjun) at a movie function and thought he was good for the film. It was Dil Rajugaru who approached him and Arya happened.
Similarly, Naga Chaitanya came on board for 100% Love after the movie was written. But, Mahesh Babu for 1: Nenokkadine and Ram Charan for Rangasthalam were already on board before the story was developed.
What do you prefer – writing or directing?
Writing… I want to only write and produce films. I don’t know how well anyone else would be able to direct my stories, I will be there to guide them through the process. Producing a film is not easy financially and I am getting so much money for directing (Laughs)! So, right now, I have no plans to stop directing.
You are working with Mahesh Babu again. What can you tell us about the film?
There are a lot of ideas in my mind right now. I am thinking about the concept and something will be finalised soon. Till then, it is a lot of pressure.