Origin of the story idea:
I read a play written by Oscar Wilde called ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (this play was later remade in Hollywood with the same name in 2002). It was a satire on the British upper class in the era of late 1800’s. I read it when I was studying my BA Literature at Loyola College in Vijayawada. I read it out of interest though it was not there in our syllabus. It made a deep impact on me. It can’t be adapted to Telugu film because it is a satire on British upper class. It is about a village lad called Jack who has a clean and idealistic image in his small town. He is fed up of that image and wants to change his lifestyle by coming to London and enjoy the life to the fullest by changing his name to ‘Earnest’. And a girl called Gwendolyn is blindly in love with the name ‘Earnest’.
Why I chosen Mahesh for Earnest
I took that play as inspiration and tweaked it to the girl’s point of view. And I made it more contemporary by keeping it as ‘Mahesh’ since most of the girls are in love with hero Mahesh. Mahesh is one hero who goes beyond age, gender and religion. I remember an incident while I was traveling in a train. A four year girl was mouthing dialogues of Pokiri in her impeccable style. I realized that he is a born star when I saw him in Takkari Donga film.
Rambabu as Jack
Jack is the most common name in England. I used Rambabu as it is most common and domesticated name. And you can get a lot of comedy out of that name. For that matter the name of hero Nani’s father is Rambabu. And the name of hero Mahesh Babu’s manager is Rambabu.
Oscar Wilde is known showing women in a little derogatory way in his work. He is very sarcastic about society. ‘The importance of being Earnest’ is a pungent comedy. I tweaked it around and made it more acceptable to our society. I had tongue-in-cheek yet sweet comedy in Ashta Chemma. After watching the film my wife remarked that Ashta Chemma is a woman oriented film as all the women in this film are individualistic go-getters. Most of the Telugu films have a patriarchal character. But this film does not have any of such type.
Story credit dilemma
Initially I was in a dilemma whether to take the credit for the story or not. I took the central line and probably 5-6 lines (dialogues) from the original play. But I adapted it to our nativity and made it contemporary comedy. Ashta Chemma is the fondest tribute to my all time favorite author Oscar Wilde.
I got a call from a member of Oscar Wilde’s fans association saying that he wanted to adapt that play in Telugu language. He said that he dropped that idea after watching Ashta Chemma film.
245 pages of script
The original version consisted of 245 pages. We had a reading session before going to shoot. During that time I had to trim it by 60 pages to make 185 page script. Ram is less of a producer and more of a creative collaborator to me. He completely supported me during the process.
Bhumika and Deepak were the first choices
I had Bhumika Chawla and Deepak (Sampangi fame) as my initial choices for the role of Rambabu and Lavanya. A friend shown me the photo of Nani on cell and asked me if he can be screen tested for the role of Anand. After meeting him personally I took him for the role of Anand. Then I considered Colors Swati for the role of Vara Lakshmi.
The shooting of Bhumika’s Anasuya got delayed. And she expressed her unwillingness to join us in time. Hence Deepak also opted out. Due to my interaction with Nani and Swati, I realized that they are capable of doing the main leads of Rambabu and Lavanya.
Colors Swati made a sarcastic comment that we don’t pay Telugu girls much as we are used to importing girls from other languages. That remark made me think and made me realize that I have to make this film with all Telugu actors and technicians.
The biggest challenge was to find the multifaceted guy who could do the role of Anand. I ran a casting call on idlebrain.com. I have got 100’s of responses. Srinivas Avasarala sent me his resume along with his photographs. I was not impressed with his photos. But his grandfather and my grandfather were colleagues in Ramachandrapuram. He called me again and said that he is capable of making people laugh. I asked him to send me a show reel as the photos are not impressive at all. He sent me the demo CD and I was supremely impressed with it. Everybody in out team voted for him.
At that time I went for the screening of Grahanam film in NJ for a film festival. I met Srinivas Avasarala in person. I was surprised by his height (6’ 4”). He expressed his inability to do dances. I wanted to do the remix song of ‘Rekkalu Vippe’ (Chuttalostunnaru Jagratha) on his character. I had to alter my plan. He also said that he has to finish the shoot in a couple of months. I asked for his dates till Feb 2008. At one point of time, he wanted to opt out because he can’t afford so many days. We decided to go ahead with him at any cost and asked him to come to Hyderabad immediately. Incidentally, he had to stay till the mid of March 2008 for this film.
I asked Srinivas Avasarala to improvise the dubbing as and when it is necessary. He added his own dialogues and improvised it during dubbing stage. He was so proficient that he finished dubbing of his entire portion in just half a day.
I selected Bhargavi as one of my cousins recommended her after watching in Amrutam TV serial.
The servant character played by Vasu was received very well. The characterization of that character is inspired by Jeeves character in PG Wodehouse.
Kalyani Malik suggested Ashta Chemma title
The working title for the film was ‘Hello Hello O Abbai’. I was looking for unique, trendy yet a traditional title. The caption for it was ‘oka peru – rendu jantalu – nalugu premalu – dozen godavalu’. When I was discussing with Kalyani Malik, he suggested Ashta Chemma name. And we could not have asked for a better title.
Ashta Chemma comes to the closest
Among the films I directed I could able to do 80% and 55% of what I expected for Grahanam and Maya Bazaar respectively. For Ashta Chemma, I could able to do 95% of what I had written.
1st half and 2nd half variation
The first half of the film is chic with stylized content as it is shot in Hyderabad. The second half is mellowed down as it is shot in rural area. I wanted to show that I could do both the variations equally well. I know that there had been different opinions about the climax as it is the most discussed, most trimmed and most worried about portion of the film. But I had to resolve and put a logical end to all the characters.
Srini and Nani – both are good
Srini got more points from the public compared to Nani. But Nani’s character has many variations and it is very difficult to do that character. Nani came up with fabulous performance. At the same time, it is not easy to do Srini’s role though the texture of that role is same for the entire film.
Srini is a very good writer
Srini is a very good writer. I hope that he takes his writing job seriously. He is a great actor too. In Ashta Chemma, Srini tried to follow the character and acted instead of assuming that he is playing the role of a comedian.
1. Rambabu’s flashback episode
2. Lavanya telling why she does not like the name Rambabu
3. Jhansi’s interview
4. Bus conversation between Ammaji – Rambabu (daggara – dooram stuff)
5. The pre-climax
I should have done the following scenes better
1. The only genuine emotional scene in the film is the one where Rambabu’s real mother is revealed. I would have cut that scene better in order to register that genuine emotion.
2. I used trolley shot at the end where each character mouths a dialogue. I should have used ‘cut shots’ instead of a trolley shot.
3. The dialogues in the scene where Anand speaks to his parents over the phone would have been more whacky.
Why I didn't use Pedarayudu spoof in second half?
I have established Pedarayudu kind of spoof for Rambabu in the flashback format for eight minutes. The second half had bigger problems to resolve. Hence I decided not to continue that Pedarayudu aspect in the second half.
English is not good for B and C centers
After visiting theaters in Amalapuram and Khammam, I realized that some of the English dialogues in the first half are bouncing over the heads of audiences. In my future films, I take care not to write complete English sentences.
Ashta Chemma success will not affect my future films
Ram Gopal Varma once said that there are no good directors. There are only good movies. Coppola who made the legendry film Godfather also made many bad films. When I embark on my next project, I will put the success of Ashta Chemma behind and start the new project from the scratch.
My next film is for Ram
Ram is the producer who offered me Ashta Chemma project a month after the release of my flop film Maya Bazaar. He trusted in my writing and directing abilities. He came to shoot only for 3 days and left the rest of it to us. I get suffocated and my creativity will take a beating when my producer is breathing down my neck. I give my best when I am trusted. After watching village episodes of the film, Ram said that he would work with me again irrespective of the commercial result of the film. Now I am getting lots of offers after the success of Ashta Chemma. But my first priority will always be there for Ram.
I wanted to do all kinds of genres. I have scripts for political thriller and an action mystery. But I am open for any kind of a film.
I am hugely inspired by Jandhyala and Woody Allen. I remember a quotation by Jandhyala – A good humor is one which will be remembered after 10 years and people would smile in themselves by remembering those scenes in a film.
Appreciation from other directors
I got a lot of credit for my writing in Ashta Chemma film. Directors like K Raghavendra Rao, SS Rajamouli, Neelakanta and Krish called me appreciated for my efforts.
Ashta Chemma is doing extremely well in A centers (Hyderabad, Vizag, Vijayawada, Guntur, Rajahmundry etc) and USA. It is slowly catching up in B centers. I am not expecting Ashta Chemma to do well in C centers. Surprising Ashta Chemma is doing well in Ceded area.
Gamyam by Krishh
Happy Days by Sekhar Kammula
Godavari by Sekhar Kammula
Bommarillu by Bhaskar
Chatrapati by SS Rajamouli
Anukokunda Oka Roju by Chandra
Manmadhuru by Vijaya Bhaskar
Santosham by Dasarath
Jayam by Teja.