Familiar to the Telugu audiences as the director of “Grahanam” and “Mayabazar”, Mohana Krishna Indraganti is extremely excited as he finalizes his forthcoming film “Ashta- Chamma”.
“Ashta-Chamma is my first film as a story writer. The earlier two films were not my stories although I wrote the screenplay and the dialogue for them. I am very excited to make my debut as a story writer, and I hope the director in me has done justice to the writer!” says Mohan.
Coming from a family with a strong literary background, Mohan grew up and studied in Vijayawada before he shifted to Hyderabad to do his Masters at the University of Hyderabad. After finishing his MA and M.Phil in English, he left for Toronto, Canada, to do his MFA in Film and Video at York University.
“Ashta-Chamma” is a romantic comedy which is one of Mohan’s favourite genres. “Comedy is tough,” says Mohan. Quoting screenwriting guru, Robert McKee, Mohan says, “In comedy laughter settles the matter. Audiences either laugh or just don’t laugh! There is no way you can cheat them!” In a lighter vein, Mohan adds that he is going to get completely “exposed” with this movie as a lover of mischief! Apparently, he has drawn many dialogues and linguistic expressions from his own experiences, borrowing some of the lines used by his friends in his native place Vijayawada.
The story is inspired by an Oscar Wilde play, admits Mohan, who believes in revealing ‘inspiration’!! Known for his biting wit, Oscar Wilde wrote his plays in the 19th century, setting them up in the aristocracy and the rural landscapes of England. Mohan set up the story of “Ashta-Chamma” in Hyderabad and Lakkavaram. Mohan insists that Wilde’s influence is only at the level of inspiration, and he had to slog for months to write this story and structure it as per his own plan. His other major influences are the American comic genius, Woody Allen, and the masterful Telugu comedy writer, Jandhyala.
Here are the excerpts from his interview:
1. How does it feel to make your debut as a storywriter?
Let me admit that the story of “Ashta-Chamma” is rather loosely inspired by an Oscar Wilde play which I read ages ago. That was the seed from which the entire story grew. It feels great to do a full story myself- bringing characters to life, losing some characters in the process and feeling miserable about it for days together! It feels great to make my debut as a writer. Of course, I am nervous. Especially when I know I will now be benchmarked with other senior writers.
2. How different is it when you direct your own story versus someone else’s story?
Well, directing one’s own story is like giving birth, metaphorically speaking that is, since that is an experience we men can never go through! It’s about conceiving the idea, and then nurturing it with story, plot, structure, characters, denouement, climax and resolution, until it becomes an independent creature which can speak on its own!
When you are dealing with some one else’s story, differences may crop up between how a writer sees the character and how a director wants to portray it. In this clash of “perception”, many of the nuances might get lost. It is tough, really. Although a film like “Maya Bazaar” was good fun to work on, I realized that I was constantly worried about doing justice to the writer’s idea. Opinions may differ on the end result, but after that film I decided to work only on my stories or literary adaptations of my choice for a while. You feel so much more in control of your destiny when it is your own story or your own adaptation.
3. Your Producer Ram Mohan talks highly of your writing skills. Will there be films that will be written by you, but directed by someone else? Or will you be like other writer-directors?
I hope Ram talks of my directorial skills also!! Ha Ha! Basically, my writing style is very Telugu, if you know what I mean. I love the Jandhyala and Pingali Nagendra Rao kind of humour. To give you an instant example, let me quote a line from the Chiranjeevi blockbuster “Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari” penned by Jandhyala. Sridevi asks Chiranjeevi, watching a kissing scene on TV, “Manava, Variddaru endulaku atlu adharamulu korukukonuchunnaru?” Chiranjeevi replies with a deadpan expression, “Tinnadi Arakka!” That is true Telugu humour for me! I love writing such lines, if I could! I am very lucky in this film to have got actors like Nani, Swathi, Srinivas and Bhargavi besides the seasoned artists Bharani and Jhansi, who could play with Telugu words effortlessly!
And yes, I would love to just write, and if someone is willing to direct, I would be most happy. But I would rather collaborate with directors with similar aesthetic concerns as mine. In Hollywood or in the rest of the world for that matter, there are a very few writer-directors. Even Mumbai is adopting the same format where there are specialist writers and specialist directors. It’s not that that will create better cinema! It’s just that it may create focused creative collaboration.
4. Can you share some of the challenges you faced as a writer in “Ashta Chamma”?
We recently screened the rough cut of the film, with no sound effects and no background score, to a select audience to gauge the response. My Executive Producer Prasad sat with them and counted the number of “laughs”. (He is from the Suresh Productions school!!) He came up with a count of 128 laughs in a 120 minute film! Not bad, eh! Now that is a huge challenge for a writer. To be able to raise laughs consistently and keep the audience entertained with sensible humour.
While structuring the story for a popular Telugu movie, you have to place the entire film in two acts- Pre Interval and Post Interval. The plot point has to come in the middle of the first half. For someone who learned screen writing in a foreign school, where there are no “interval bangs” per se, it has been a challenge to adapt myself to the Telugu format. In this regard, I think I am quite successful in “Ashta-Chamma”.
The biggest challenge, of course, was trying to balance the three key elements in movie writing— the audience, one’s own vision and the ‘business’ side of movie making. My favourite writer/director Woody Allen once said, “Show-Business is indeed business, otherwise they would have called it Show-Show.” Thankfully, I had a producer who loved stories. All Ram said was “Mohan, let the pen flow. Leave the business to me!” When my mind relaxed, I guess I could write more freely and with lesser agitation in mind. There was no pressure to include comedy tracks, supporting cast, etc. I could write a story peopled with fascinating and quirky characters along with a novel narrative structure.
5. What is next in the pipeline for Mohana Krishna, the writer?
I guess I will go back to adapting another literary piece like I did for “Grahanam”. This time, it will be more accessible to a larger audience. I am also working on a super hero project, which is another favourite genre of mine! As a writer, I might be offered more comedies post “Ashta-Chamma” but I want to deal with other genres as well. In fact my first film, a 45-minute short film called Chali (Cold), was a ghost story! There you go! That’s my formula! Tickles, thrills and chills!
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