Sammohanam director Mohana Krishna Indraganti on being influenced by Notting Hill and working with Aditi Rao Hydari

Hemanth Kumar

June 19, 2018 08:33:44 IST

Mohana Krishna Indraganti is one of the finest writer-directors in contemporary Telugu cinema. The rave reviews that he has earned for his work in Sammohanam, starring Aditi Rao Hydari and Sudheer Babu, proves that his magic touch — when it comes to his writing — is stronger than ever before. His films are deeply rooted in Telugu culture and literature with characters from middle-class homes and engaging drama.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Sammohanam director Mohana Krishna Indraganti. Image via Twitter

Sammohanam director Mohana Krishna Indraganti. Image via Twitter

You have predominantly narrated character driven stories whereas the backdrop doesn’t really seem to change much. Did you have to change your approach for Sammohanam?

 I do give a lot of importance to the backdrop in which I’m setting the story because I don’t think you can create a character outside his or her own context. Character study is a crucial part of my writing process more than spectacle. As Aristotle rightly said, "Spectacle is the job of the art director, not the writer or the poet." So, I always follow the Greek tradition of conceiving the character or plot first, then comes the story, rhythm, language, and then, spectacle comes in the end. Honestly, spectacle bores me after a point. I have to also think about if the story needs a visual element. I write something inspired by an individual or an event, and then I try to find the backdrop. Since Sameera in Sammohanam is a movie star, we could play around the film visually too, but then hero’s background is a bit unusual for us. I don’t know if anyone has dealt with the life of a children’s book illustrator before. The house he lives in, the paintings on their walls, and even the props in the house have to be aesthetic which would reflect the lifestyle of the character. I try to create that world and their perspective of the world, and how it conflicts with the other person. 

Since most of my stories deal with middle-class and upper middle-class people, the basic social stratum is fixed. So, it might look similar, but there are a lot of subtle differences. There is no dialogue baazi in Sammohanam. It’s my favourite film in terms of how I’ve written the script. Even confession of love or rejection happens over a conversation-like banter. There’s no emotionally-laden dialogue, but the impact is still there. It’s like people talk to each other over tea and suddenly, they drop a bomb saying, “Hey, I don’t think I love you anymore.” 

Most of your films have either been adapted from literary works or inspired from incidents in your life. Is there a backstory to how you come across the idea of Sammohanam? 

Yes! I met someone, who is a huge movie buff, during the making of Golconda High School several years ago. The conversation with him triggered the idea of creating a story around that character. Incidentally, that character has been played by Naresh in the film. However, once I wrote the characters of Sameera and Vijay, they took over the whole story. Yet, Naresh’s character is the catalyst who brings together the two worlds in the story. And then, of course, there are wonderful romantic films that I’ve seen over the years that have had an influence on me like Notting Hill, My Week with Marilyn, The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard. Among Indian films there’s Guddi, Sivaranjani and Bangaru Babu. And I also acknowledge Roger Mitchell (Notting Hill’s director) and Simon Curtis-Adrian Hodges’ (My Week with Marilyn’s director and writer respectively) aesthetic influence. Some people asked me if Sammohanam is a rip off of these films, but I don’t think so. I might not necessarily agree with what they have done, but I was curious to see how they dealt with the subject. Even in K Vishwanath’s Sagara Sangamam, there’s a constant debate between what’s great art and cinematic art. It’s also made by a filmmaker. K Vishwanath garu was questioning the lack of art in the medium. So, I’m touched upon all these aspects in Sammohanam, but it’s a love story rather than an emotional drama.

Going by the role which Aditi Rao Hydari played in the film, it feels like you really wanted to humanise people working in film industry. Isn’t it? 

That’s true but at the same time, the film offers a critique as well. It tells people that even actors are real people. One of the major influences for me, while writing this story, was that line in Notting Hill where Julia Roberts says, “I might be a star, but I’m also a regular girl.’ I quote it in the film, without taking credit. Sammohanam does humanise actors, but also talks about flaws. If someone wants to be a doctor or an engineer, they don’t face any objection. But if they want to be in film industry, that too when the girl says so, the answer is an immediate no. Where did this image that film industry is an immoral place come from? Has the film field inadvertently created that image by creating, portraying women in a certain way, objectifying them and writing certain kind of dialogues about them in the name of commercialisation of the medium? It’s also interesting to note that as much as people detest film industry as a workplace, they are also obsessed about stars. They have a strong moral aversion towards the field, and pass judgements about how unethical, immoral, and exploitative people in the industry are. All this happens while they are constantly attracted towards the film field. So, this contradiction is what I tried to deal with in the film. 

As a filmmaker, what is your moral stand on this contradiction that you are talking about?

Aditi Rao Hydari and Sudheer Babu in a still from the film. Image via Facebook

Aditi Rao Hydari and Sudheer Babu in a still from the film. Image via Facebook

My stand is that — prejudice against film industry must go. But there are a lot of inherent issues. For instance, we fail to represent ourselves properly. We have to constructively address issues instead of giving emotional speeches about them. We should also understand issues of exploitation, oppression, power within the industry. We should get out of our feudal mindsets and talk about the democratic rights of the people involved. But, we should also objectively look at the emotional risks involved within the medium.

It’s interesting that you talk about ‘emotional risks’...could you elaborate further on that?

 Actors are, perhaps, more emotionally involved with their colleagues, than say if you are working in a bank as an accountant. There it’s a 9-5 job and then you come back home. Whereas in films, as an actor, I might have to kiss someone I don’t know; I might have to do intimate scenes. I’m investing not just my emotions, but also my body. So, just because, I am doing a nude scene or an intimate scene, it doesn’t mean that I’m like that in real life. Because we are depicting hidden desires, fantasies, physicality so closely and sometimes, realistically, that people end up thinking that’s how we are in real life too. Maybe it’s true - people do have affairs, get attracted to each other. In a regular job, that might happen behind closed doors, but here people can see it on screen too. And hence, moral judgement becomes so easy. In many cases, it’s just a job where people come to shoot, do their work and leave. Unless we distinguish between consensual relationships and power being used to exploit someone, we can’t have a constructive discussion about the morality of the subject. This is also something that I’ve tried to say in the film.

You’ve worked with Sudheer Babu and Aditi Rao Hydari for the first time. What was the experience like? 

There are lot of firsts for me in this film. Apart from the lead actors, I’ve never worked with Naresh, Pavitra Lokesh, Rahul Ramakrishna, and Abhay either. When it came to Sudheer, I knew that this film required a different approach for him. I wasn’t sure if he would understand it initially, but his preparation was amazing. Aditi comes with a sensibility which is closer to what I was looking for. But Sudheer was a under a lot of pressure to perform in a certain way, and he comes from a background of commercial cinema...but he broke all that in the film. He reinvented himself as an actor, and showed that given an opportunity, he can put forward a realistic, unmannered performances. People will see the difference. Aditi is so disciplined, passionate, willing to submit to the vision of the director. She never asked me who the hero is or what is his image. In fact, she’s very appreciative of Sudheer’s contribution. They enriched my writing. It was very collaborative. I am not a director who dictates my actors what to do. I create the space, nurture them, give them freedom to make mistakes, let them fumble and then see that they stand tall in the end. They did stand tall most of the times (laughs).

Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 08:33 AM