Vijay Devarakonda on Meeku Maathrame Cheptha and collaborating with director-actor Tharun Bhascker for the third time
Meeku Maathrame Cheptha is Vijay Deverakonda's first production venture.
Vijay Deverakonda and Tharun Bhascker’s careers in Telugu cinema are intertwined in more ways than one can imagine. After playing a key role in Nani-Nag Ashwin’s Yevade Subramanyam, Deverakonda made his solo debut with Bhascker’s critical and commercial feautre, Pellichoopulu. The film opened many doors for both the director and actor.
While Deverakonda went on to attain stardom with the success of Arjun Reddy and Geetha Govindam, Bhascker helmed another film Ee Nagariniki Emaindhi featuring the actor in a cameo appearance. Interestingly, when Deverakonda turned producer for Meeku Maathrame Cheptha, his first choice for a lead actor was Bhascker.
Ask them about the role reversal and the duo confess that it is their mutual trust in each other that resulted in this third collaboration. Meeku Maathrame Cheptha is written and directed by Shammeer Sultan. Bhascket also co-wrote the dialogues for the film.
Incidentally, the film was originally pitched to Deverakonda, who, for a long time, was keen to play the lead role. “Long before Arjun Reddy released, I had met Shammeer and co-director Arjun, who had made quite a few interesting short films. When we decided to work together, Shammeer pitched me the story of Meeku Maatrame Cheptha; however, post Arjun Reddy’s release, I wasn’t sure if I should be doing the film. I thoroughly enjoyed the narration of this script and decided to produce it. During the making of Pellichoopulu, Tharun and I struggled a lot to find producers, so when I got a chance to produce the film, I decided to back Shameer’s script,” Deverakonda said, adding, “Tharun is a really good actor and while we were shooting for Pellichoopulu, he used to enact the scenes better than me. Both Shammeer and I felt that Tharun would be the best fit for Meeku Maatrame Cheptha.”
“I was never averse to acting. I don’t believe in compartmentalising myself that a director is only meant to do one job. In fact, I used to help some of my friends with editing and poster designs too. The first time I faced the camera was in Nag Ashwin’s Mahanati because it was such a big set up and I wanted to see what Nag Ashwin was upto. After that, Falaknuma Das happened because of Vishwak Sen’s persistence, and I’m glad that I did that film. I discovered that I had a flair for acting and my wife (Latha) likes that performance a lot too. I enjoy everything to do with filmmaking. For me, writing takes a lot of time and I can’t just package films. One day Vijay told me that he was going to produce this film and sent me the script to seek my opinion. When I told him that I loved it, he finally dropped the bomb that he wanted me to play the lead role (laughs). I told him that I’ve already lost half my hair and have a potbelly to even think of playing a lead role, but both Vijay and Shammeer persisted that I’ve the right look to play the role, and that they’ll do whatever is required to make me feel at ease. Of course, things took a drastic turn when the pre-production began,” Bhascker laughs hinting about his weight loss.
“They told me their film depends on how much weight I’m going to lose. I relented and consulted a trainer to work on my fitness, apart from focusing on my diet. It’s only then that I understood what an unhealthy lifestyle I was leading until then.”
Deverakonda has gone on record to say that he invested most of his savings, so far, into Meeku Maathrame Cheptha. “I truly believed in the story and I was confident that the humour will work with the audience as well. Having said that, my family went through some tense moments that I was getting into production too early in my career; however, when my dad and mother saw what a passionate young team I was working with, they became quite supportive too. We were also cautious about how much we were spending and I didn’t want to end up spending too much just for the sake of it,” Deverakonda says.
His involvement with the film was only till the script was locked and after that Sultan and Bhascker took charge to develop the film. “I got a first hand experience of how well Vijay does PR for his films and markets them. He didn’t really come to the set, but he knew what was happening. I must give a lot of credit to Shammeer for being so open to suggestions considering that he didn’t know Telugu and he trusted me to co-write the dialogues with him,” Bhascker adds.
Meeku Maathrame Cheptha shows how a young man’s life turns upside down just before his wedding, when a private video goes viral on the internet. It is both a buddy-comedy and a satire on how technology can have a drastic effect on our lives. “There’s a lot of debate on how private our lives truly are. You can get to know a lot about anyone just by seeing their Instagram page. On the first day of the shoot, I didn’t really know what we were doing, and I felt that both Abhinav (co-actor) and I were part of a film like Dhamaal or Golmaal (laughs). It wasn’t until I saw the footage that I understood what Shammeer’s vision truly was and I thoroughly enjoyed being part of this film,” Bhascker confesses.
Ask him what his biggest learning experience from the entire process was, he says, “It was a great exercise to let go of my ego and be on the set just as an actor. It was like climbing a mountain. Now, I think I can be part of any film and look at it from a distance.”
For Deverakonda, Meeku Maatrame Cheptha marks the beginning of a long-term plan to back interesting films. “Now that I’ve started producing films, I am definitely keen to produce films that I believe in. I’m eager to see what sort of scripts are pitched to me for production. When it comes to acting in films, I already have three films lined up for release, and we are going to announce details about our next production soon,” he reveals.
Interestingly, Bhascker has been asked if he was taking a big risk to act in films while he is directing at the same time. He laughs it off saying that it is quite unfair to have a myopic view on what directors are expected to do. “I’m extremely confident about my direction and it’s something that I can do it even at the age of 60. There are a lot of stereotypes in the industry because everything is seen as a metric system, and we just crash and burn in this industry after tasting success initially. I don’t want to get into this. Both the films which I had directed, Pellichoopulu and Ee Nagariniki Emaindhi, were profitable. I know that I can’t expect anything from a film, except that I want to tell a good story. I can only urge people to not put pressure on those who are creative. We are supposed to be free, so boxing us in terms of numbers doesn’t help us at all."
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