‘Bhola Shankar will bring back 90s Chiranjeevi’

Meher Ramesh chats to Cinema Express about helming a remake in 2023, working with Chiranjeevi and more…
Telugu Megastar Chiranjeevi. (File Photo)
Telugu Megastar Chiranjeevi. (File Photo)

With back-to-back releases — Acharya, Godfather, Waltair Veerayya and Bhola Shankar  — over the past couple of years, it is clear that Chiranjeevi is on a prolific streak at the box office. While this is the actor reinventing himself post his sabbatical and the pandemic, the release of Bhola Shankar is also the comeback for Meher Ramesh, the director of films like Kantri, Shakti, Billa and Shadow. Bhola Shankar is a remake of the 2015 Tamil film Vedalam, and Meher has assured that their film will provide the exact kind of entertainment Telugu audiences expect and love. Meher Ramesh chats to Cinema Express about helming a remake in 2023, working with Chiranjeevi and more…

You are returning to the Director’s chair after more than a decade. How did you feel when you first held that mic on sets after so long?
We started shooting for Bhola Shankar on November 15, 2021. On day one, we set up a set worth three crores with more than 700 extras. It was an action sequence, the one you have seen in a ‘Chiru Leaks’ video, of Chiranjeevi charging ahead with black sunglasses. Directors usually shoot such scenes after 50-60 days of shoot, but this is how we began Bhola Shankar. In a style fitting to the actor we call the mega star, we started the interview in a mega style.  The whole shoot was so easy, it felt like a picnic.

You speak a lot about how making this film was like a dream come true…
I have rewatched Chiranjeevi’s films back in the day at least 40-50 times. I know that there is a lot of chatter about the necessity of directing a remake in this day and age, but it was not only my dream to direct Chiranjeevi but it was also my dream to direct, or rather, to depict Chiranjeevi in the massy avatar he was known for. Bhola Shankar will bring back the 90s Chiranjeevi —  the star you saw in Gharana Mogudu, Rowdy Alludu and Gang Leader. After working with Chiranjeevi, my dreams as a filmmaker have all been fulfilled now. Everything I shall receive from now on is just a bonus.

Speaking of remakes, what drew you to Vedalam? Why did your team wish to adapt this particular film with Chiranjeevi in the lead?
Everyone calls Chiranjeevi annayya fondly. He is everybody’s honorary big brother. Everyone says times have changed and things are so different now, but some sentiments — the mother sentiment, the brother sentiment, the sister sentiment — are pretty much constant. My idea was to present Chiranjeevi as an annayya in this film, and marry this sentiment against the pressing issue of human trafficking while packaging it with all the ingredients necessary for a masala entertainer. Despite Bhola Shankar being a remake, we have made 70% changes to the original. The changes are a reflection of what I love about Chiranjeevi alongside what Telugu audiences look for in a film.

In this day and age, where films across languages are available to audiences at the click of a button, remakes are not as bankable as they used to be. Did you feel any such apprehensions when you decided to direct a remake?
No. It is not a risk as much as it is a task. Adaptation is not a new concept. When I was younger, people read a lot. We read novels like Abhilasha and Aakhari Poratam and knew what happened on every single page. Yet, it did not fade our interest or deter us from going to the theatres when we watched these books get adapted into films. Today’s generation does not read many books, they watch films instead. So film adaptations have become the norm of the day. But there are always ways to retell a story, either in a new format or in a new style for a new culture. This is the optimistic attitude with which we made Bhola Shankar.

As much as Chiranjeevi is known for his mass entertainers, he was also the epitome of class and acting prowess in films like Aapadbandhavadu, Rudra Veena and Swayam Krushi. Why do you think directors are not able to bring that side of Chiranjeevi out on the big screen today?
Forget about us bringing Chiranjeevi in such films, people are barely watching the kind of films you have just mentioned in the theatres anymore. It has become more of an OTT domain right now.

Mani Sharma has worked in many Chiranjeevi films, their collaboration was a USP of sorts for fans and even general audiences. But you have decided to go ahead with Mahati Swara Sagar, Mani Sharma’s son, as Bhola Shankar’s music composer…
You are right on the money, about the kind of value Mani Sharma’s compositions gave to Chiranjeevi’s films. But people who have watched Chiranjeevi’s movies 25 years ago have kids today who are all grown up. As his fan base expands, it is important to update with the times. Even in the Tamil industry, filmmakers are flocking to someone like Anirudh because he understands and represents the youth market. We wanted a young vibe for our film as well and Mahati Swara Sagar fits the bill. All the songs that came out so far, came out so well. I have penned a rap number as well, fans will enjoy the film’s music a lot.

What message do you have for the audience catching Bhola Shankar in the theatres?
If you can’t watch the film on the 11th, then watch it on the 12th, if you cannot catch it on the 12th, catch the film in the theatres on Independence day. But watch Bhola Shankar before Chiranjeevi’s birthday at your nearest theatre. This film will present the Chiranjeevi of our youth to the youth of today.

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