Uppena: Vaishnav Tej, Kriti Shetty on acting alongside Vijay Sethupathi, making a love story that revolves around caste
The film delves into casteism and the lives of fishermen in coastal Andhra Pradesh. In an interview to Firstpost, the lead pair and the director Buchibabu Sana reveal what makes their film so unique.
Uppena, which translates to ‘swell of the sea’, has an overbearing presence in the lives of fishermen living in coastal areas. The rhythmic whooshing of the waves and the gentle sea breeze might be soothing in normal times, but its fury destroys everything in its wake. This singular word and the fear associated with it is at the centre of filmmaker Buchibabu Sana’s debut film, also titled Uppena, which has Panja Vaishnav Tej, Kriti Shetty, and Vijay Sethupathi in lead roles.
“The film is about what happens when a daughter, who has uppenantha prema (love as strong as the swell of the sea), and her father, who has uppenantha kopam (anger as strong as the swell of the sea) collide with each other. In that sense, Uppena is a sea of emotions,” director Buchibabu puts it in perspective.
Having worked as filmmaker Sukumar’s associate for more than 12 years, the debutante director confesses that he owes Sukumar a lot. “He was my maths lecturer when I was in junior college and I was among the select few students who knew that he wanted to be a director. I’m glad I got a chance to work with him as an associate since the days of Aarya 2, and even though I’m making my directorial debut, I take more pride in being called Sukumar’s associate than director Buchibabu. I had pitched the story of Uppena while we were making Rangasthalam, and he loved it instantly. He’s been my main pillar of strength and support throughout the making of this film,” Buchibabu adds.
Uppena stars Panja Vaishnav Tej, younger brother of actor Sai Dharam Tej, in a lead role, and he confesses, rather bluntly, that he had no plans of acting in movies. “A lot of my cousins and uncles are actors, but I never dreamt of seeing myself on the big screen.
As a child artiste, I did a select few films which had my uncles Chiranjeevi garu and Pawan Kalyan garu in lead roles, but they just put me in front of the camera for fun. After I grew up, for the longest time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. At one point of time, I was training hard to join the army. Some of my photographs on Instagram caught the attention of some filmmakers, but Buchibabu was the first one to pitch a full-fledged script to me. It was my brother Sai Dharam Tej, and uncle Chiranjeevi garu who gave me the courage to take a leap of faith and become an actor. They wanted me to give it a shot and if I can’t prove myself, then they advised me to move on to something else. I won’t say I’m passionate about cinema, but I believe in putting my 100 percent effort no matter what I do,” Vaishnav Tej reveals.
The actor underwent rigorous training and acting workshops before the film’s shooting began, although he says that he learnt a lot more during the shoot. “We had a couple of people in the team who taught me how to speak the fishermen’s slang and once we began filming, that’s when I understood many more intricacies in acting,” he says. “Vijay Sethupathi is a huge inspiration and he’s someone who will never look at the monitor after his shot. He trusts the director so much and he was friendly with everyone on the set. It’s an unforgettable experience. We have done our best and now it’s up to the people to decide the fate of our film. Thankfully, everyone who has seen the film, so far, including Chiranjeevi garu have had good things to say about Uppena.”
His co-star, Krithi Shetty too is making her acting debut with Uppena, and she says that she’s grateful to the whole team for their support. “Funny thing is, when I came to Hyderabad to meet the team, my mother didn’t tell me that it was for a movie because she thought I would get disappointed if I didn’t get the role (laughs). The first time I met Buchibabu and Sukumar, they were confident that I was the right fit for the character and I was signed immediately. Once we began working on the project, I didn’t want to let them down and that made me work doubly hard to learn my lines properly. What really attracted me to the role was how bubbly and expressive Sangeetha is. I am just like her in my real life,” Krithi says. It’s been a long journey for her, from the time when her parents encouraged her to act to overcome her shyness to acting alongside Vijay Sethupathi, who played her father.
“One day I had to shoot an intense scene with Vijay Sethupathi and I was a nervous wreck the previous night. But he’s so sweet that he makes you feel at ease, even if you are a newcomer. He gave me a lot of advice in terms of how to use my eyes to express myself because that’s what people connect to the most. It’s been a long wait to see myself on screen, and now that the film is releasing, I don’t know what to feel anymore. I’m both super excited and nervous,” she says.
Set in Uppada, a coastal town in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, the story follows the journey of Aasi (Vaishanv Tej), a fisherman, who falls in love with Sangeetha (Kriti Shetty), a girl from an upper caste, much to the dismay of her father Rayanam (Vijay Sethupathi). It’s the same area where Buchibabu grew up and spent several years of his life, and the sights and sounds of the sea and fishermen are quite familiar to him. It’s little wonder that he chose the sea and the events on the shore as the backdrop of this love story.
“I have a lot of school friends who are from the fishermen community. They are extremely down to earth, and whenever you meet them in their homes, they feed you so much and treat you like their own family members, irrespective of your caste or background. Their lives are truly bound with the sea. There’s even a dialogue in the film where a character says that as a fisherman, he can’t live without soaking in the salty sea breeze,” the director confesses.
Soon after the film’s trailer was unveiled, a lot of people were surprised to see an actor like Vijay Sethupathi playing a typical villain’s role in a Telugu film, but Buchibabu assures that there’s nothing cliched about the actor’s characterisation.
“The role of Rayanam requires someone of Vijay Sethupathi’s stature to channelize his intense emotions and deliver a strong performance. Right from the beginning, I only had Vijay Sethupathi in my mind to play that role. The story begins and ends with Vijay Sethupathi’s character. Once you see the film’s climax, you’ll realise why he is so crucial to the film.”
Mainstream Telugu cinema has mostly shied away from talking about casteism, even though it’s the basis of conflict in several stories. However, in Uppena, Buchibabu assures that it won’t go unnoticed. “We might not talk about it or put it across in as many words, but casteism is an intrinsic part of our lives. You can see it in the way people interact with others who are from a different caste. The whole idea of Uppena is to drive home the point that love is beyond all these boundaries of casteism and class. The format of the story might feel old, but the characterisations and the way people deliver their dialogues, that’ll be fresh,” Buchibabu adds.
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