Amar Akbar Anthony director Sreenu Vaitla on his upcoming film, working with Ravi Teja and Ileana
“I’m super confident about Amar Akbar Anthony. This is going to be one of the best films of my career,” Sreenu Vaitla says the moment he begins to delve into his recent career. The director, best known for films like Dookudu, Ready, Dhee, Venky and Sontham among many others, is candid enough to admit that his past few films have been disappointing and he can only blame himself for going astray. Post the box-office failures of Aagadu, Bruce Lee - The Fighter, and Mister, many people had written him off and said that he has lost his mojo; however, there’s an air of confidence when he talks about how much he enjoyed working on Amar Akbar Anthony, his latest action entertainer starring Ravi Teja and Ileana.
Excerpts from an interview:
Before we talk about Amar Akbar Anthony, I’ve to ask you what went wrong with your recent films - Aagadu, Bruce Lee, and Mister? It felt like you had almost lost your magic touch when it comes to making action entertainers.
I’ve to be honest and acknowledge that I’ve done quite a few mistakes. It started with Aagadu. Initially, I had narrated another story, which was set in the US, to Mahesh Babu and we were keen on working on that film. However, in the meantime, a lot of things had changed and I wanted to do my bit to help the producers. That’s how Aagadu happened. It was a simple story set in a rural backdrop and we could make it within a controlled budget. Once the film released, we were told that the second half wasn’t good and that it was too verbose among other things. It was a big misfire and I blame myself for it. Then I panicked a lot because it was my first flop in many many years, and that snowballed into me making more mistakes in my subsequent films. Prior to Aagadu, I was in control of what I was doing, but the failure of one film shook me a lot. It was at this juncture that I wanted to reboot myself and streamline my work and thoughts. I had to tell a new story and also make it as entertaining as possible because that’s what people expect from me. That’s how the journey of Amar Akbar Anthony started. I worked with a new team for this film and we worked on the script for almost a year.
What’s Amar Akbar Anthony about? Is there a backstory to how you conceived the idea behind this?
I don’t want to reveal anything about the film now. Let it be a suspense until the release (laughs). Initially, I had a different idea which I shared with my associate Vamsi, and in the course of the discussion, he told me one of the ideas that he had been thinking about for a long time. I found his idea more exciting and we decided to work on it because it had a lot of potential. The film just kept getting bigger and better as we wrote the script, and I can never forget how excited Ravi Teja got when he heard the full version. The story is set in the US and the events unfold in two seasons - winter and summer. There’s a big segment in the film which had to be shot in the midst of a snow storm, and I was so particular about what we were capturing that we would stop shooting if there was no snow. It was almost like an adventure. It’s not easy to shoot the whole crew and cast in the US twice. I’m really thankful to the producers for their belief in me. Cinematographer Venkat has done a terrific job and the quality of his visuals is top notch. I’m hoping that people will love the screenplay, story, and dialogues in this film. We have explored a new angle in the film and the conflict between the characters will be quite interesting. I’ll always cherish this journey.
Talking about Ravi Teja, what was going through your mind when you read rumours that several actors were shying away to work with you and you had to approach Ravi Teja, who has been your friend for a long time?
I respect cinema a lot. I wouldn’t know what else to do if I wasn’t making movies. Till date, I’ve never ever approached any actor or producer, except Ramoji Rao, to ask them to work with me. There were rumours that I was pitching stories to a lot of actors, but I know what the truth is. I didn’t think too much about it. I’ve been friends with Ravi Teja since 1989. Ravi Teja has always been a troubleshooter in my career. He was the lead actor in my debut film, Nee Kosam. Few years later, he became quite popular after the success of Idiot. Back then, when one of my films didn’t do well commercially, he called me up saying that we have to work soon, and that led to Venky. And few years later, when another film of mine was stalled, he called me again and gave me a month’s time to start making another film with him. I still don’t know how we managed to pull it off, but a month later, we began shooting Dubai Seenu. After all these years, when I thought about Amar Akbar Anthony, I felt it would be apt for him and that’s when I decided to pitch him the story.
You’ve known him for a long time. Has he changed a lot as an actor?
He has become a lot more mature as an actor, even when it comes to pulling off subtle emotions. But there is no change in his energy levels. He likes my comic timing and we complement each other. Our previous films — Venky and Dubai Seenu — were a laugh riot, but Amar Akbar Anthony is a serious film told in an entertaining manner.
Ileana is back in Telugu cinema after a long gap with your film and you even made her dub in Telugu for the first time. What was it like working with her?
I really admire her as an actress and was eager to work with her few years ago, but it didn’t materialise. She was my first choice for this role, but I was told that she hasn’t been accepting offers from Telugu cinema for a while now. One day, I called her out of the blue and she immediately accepted to do the role after she heard the story. I didn’t know that she was so dedicated to her craft. She made me narrate the story thrice and she would prepare for her scenes well in advance. She didn’t need retakes for many of her scenes. Since she’s playing the role of an NRI, who’s born and brought up in the US, I thought her voice would suit the character. Despite her initial reservations about dubbing, I encouraged her to do it and it’s come out really well.
Your name is almost always associated with comedy. There has been a lot of change in terms of how comedy is imbibed in films these days. No one’s making films like Venky or Dubai Seenu these days. Isn’t it?
More than slapstick comedy, I’ve always believed in the longevity of situation comedy, where the focus is on the mannerisms, behaviour of a character. I missed doing it for few films in between, but everyone wants me to get back to my roots and do stuff like I used to back in the day. I have done an off-beat film like Nee Kosam, and then followed it up with Anandam and Sontham. Then, with Venky, I treated a thriller like a comedy. Later, films like Dhee and Ready set off a new trend in Telugu cinema, and that format was adapted in so many films that I was criticised for starting it in first place (laughs). I do love narrating new stories, but the thing is, I also have an additional burden to narrate them in an entertaining manner. In a way, I consider Ready and Dookudu to be two of my best works so far because there are quite a few layers in both the films and at the same time, they are quite entertaining. After all these years, I can confidently say that I’ve achieved that with Amar Akbar Anthony. I’ve earned a lot of love and respect through cinema over the years, and people want to see me do my best. I’ve to work doubly hard now to uphold their love and faith in me.
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Updated Date: Nov 13, 2018 18:21:41 IST