Director Sujana Rao’s penchant to portray complex emotions and interconnected stories about life in a city was noticed by cinematographer Gnana Shekhar VS, who agreed to produce her debut film, Gamanam, in collaboration with Venki Pushadapu and Ramesh Karutoori. The newcomer shares her journey as a director, reflecting on her ideas and the sense of accomplishment she felt after working with Ilaiyaraaja.
How did Gamanam come about?
The story of Gamanam didn’t occur to me in a day. When I was studying in my college, my friends and I used to hang out at a lake. After a few years, when I went to the place, I noticed that it was encroached and turned into a construction site. In 2016, I was surprised to see the areas of Kukatpally and Miyapur inundated with many feet of water following repeated heavy rains. I understood that as the lakes encroached and the sites were turned into apartments, we are facing the brunt. I want to showcase how such events affect people from all age groups. This experience made me write Gamanam.
But there are few takers for such concepts in Telugu.
My producers’ – cinematographer Gnana Shekhar VS, Venki Pushadapu and Ramesh Karutoori – liked the script and believed in my ability. When you want to tell a story, you should never think if it is commercially viable or not. The story of Gamanam is close to my heart.
Initially, the idea was to make it on a shoe-string budget. Eventually, the scale became big after a few prominent actors agreed to do the film. The film looks like an anthology of three stories.
The film is inspired by true events. I grew up in a joint family and each member of our family has a story of their own. Likewise, Gamanam is an anthology of interconnected stories based on real-life incidents. All the characters and stories are relatable. The idea is to explore the circle of life with this anthology.
How was it working with the likes of Shriya Saran, Charuhasan, Nithya Menen, and other actors?
Being a newcomer, I had no prior experience of meeting to actors or technicians. I neither planned the cast nor approached them in my individual capacity. One of the producers of my film, Gnana Shekhar, has arranged a meeting with Shriya. I never thought she will agree to be a part of my film, but halfway through the narration, I was convinced that she is my Kamala. After the narration got over, Shriya fell in love with the character and hugged me with tears of joy.
I must admit that I got intimidated by the image of senior actors like Shriya, Charuhasan sir and others. Especially, Charuhasan sir – at 97 – shot a few scenes in heavy rain. I was hesitant to ask him for a second take. But he understood my difficulty and insisted on the second take. Nithya Menen plays a cameo and it was also facilitated by Gnana Shekhar. Also, Shiva Kandukuri plays Charuhasan garu’s grandson, Ali, who aspires to become a crickter. Priyanka Jawalkar plays his love interest, Zara. The film delves into the strong bond between the grandfather and the grandson. The director may conceive the story or visualize how a film has to be made, but it was these actors who live the characters and get things done. Working with these actors was a great learning experience.
How did Ilaiyaraaja come on board as the music composer?
I think Gamanam was destined to happen this way. My lifetime dream was to meet Ilaiyaraaja sir. But, one day, when my producers fixed an appointment with him, I went and met him. His first question was, “Why do you want me as the music composer?” I told him I cannot imagine anyone else, but you as the composer of my film. He said he will not give his nod if he does not like the story. I said ok and started narration. Before I could complete the narration, he stood up and said, “Aapu...le (Stop and stand up).” I was shocked. Then he stood beside me and asked one of his team members to click a picture of both of us. He said, “Memu iddaram cinema chesthunnam (Both of us are collaborating for this film).”
That was a great feeling and I couldn’t have asked for more.
I have completed scripting my next film. I will announce the rest of the details soon.