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Interview with Dil Raju
Date: October 22, 2008, Hyderabad
sweta basu prasad

Dil Raju is regarded as the man with Midas touch in Telugu film industry. He failed as a distributor twice before getting his act straight. All his production ventures are hits with Arya and Bommarillu being regarded as classics of modern times. Dil Raju shared about successes and failures and what went into making his films in an exclusive interview with Here are the excerpts -

Tell us about your background?
I am born in Narsingpalli in Nizamabad district. I completed my high school in Mudakpally (3 km from Nizamabad) and studied intermediate in Nizamabad. I have been attracted to films since my 9th class. Those days they used show films on 16mm screen using VHS tapes in our village.

I shifted to Hyderabad during inter time. I started working in the automobile business started by my brothers in RP Road, Hyderabad. We used to deal with Tractor spare parts. Incidentally RP Road is famous for film distribution offices. The drivers and staff of those distribution offices used to come to our shop to do telephone calls. I also used to watch lots of films. I booked my ticket a week in advance for Kaliyuga Pandavulu release. I worked in automobile business from 1985 to 1991.

Wanted to start an audio company
I was also very much interested in music. I used to participate in song competitions held by Abhinandana at Tyagaraya Gana Sabha. This made me think about starting an audio company. My brothers used to be close to distributor Mahender Reddy (Venkata Lakshmi films). He was a leading distributor at that time. I used to get inside information about unreleased films through them. Mahender Reddy’s brother is a partner in our business. When I asked Mahender Reddy about audio business, he advised that it was not the right time.

First distribution stint with Chiranjeevi films
Mahender Reddy started a new distribution office called Lakshmi Venkateswara Films in 1994 and offered my brothers a partnership in it. We became a share holder in that distribution firm. Mahender Reddy knows the producer K Devi Vara Prasad very well and he approached for Nizam rights of Alluda Mazaka film. Since Allu Arvind started distribution in Nizam, Devi Vara Prasad offered us the Vizag rights. We started an office in Vizag and release Alluda Mazaka. I could understand how distribution works with that film. It was a successful film and we made good profits. Puttinilla Mettinilla was our first film in Nizam area. We bought Chiranjeevi’s Big Boss for Vizag area. And it turned out to be a disaster. When we sum up our balance sheet, we had a deficit of 20 lakhs. My brothers decided to call it quits and came out of it.

Lost one crore in own distribution
But I was still persistent on continuing in distribution. We opened a new office with the name Sri Harshita Films in 1996. At that time a director called Sai Prakash gave three consecutive hits and he was directing Amma Nanna Kavali. But there was a heavy competition. My brother knows KVP Ramachandra Rao (YSR buddy) a lot. We made KVP recommend us to the producer. We bought it for 16 lakhs and it flopped miserably. Costumes Krishna was making film called Arundhati which was a remake of a Kannada blockbuster. There was a huge competition for that film. We got a recommendation from Anji Reddy (Dongalu producer) and bought it for 36 lakhs. I could pay only 34 lakhs and the movie was released. It was a disaster. After 3 days, I went to Costumes Krishna and paid the remaining 2 lakhs. Costumes Krishna said that nobody pays when a film flops and he said that he liked my commitment. I did not know that the same commitment would change the course of journey in film industry. Then we looked at our balance sheet and found that we lost around one crore in this venture. Our last film on that distribution office was Priyamaina Sreevaru. It also flopped miserably. We shut the shop and went back to automobile business in 1997. We also had finance and chit fund companies.

My commitment saved me – Pelli Pandiri happened
Suddenly I got a call from Costumes Krishna saying that he is producing Pelli Pandiri - a Kannada remake in Kodi Rama Krishna direction. He wanted me to come for pooja ceremony in Chennai. I went to Chennai and he gave me the VHS of Kannada film Anuraga Sangamam. I went to CV Reddy office and watched it. I loved that film. But I already decided not to do distribution anymore. I sat with Sireesh and Lakshman. Kodi Rama Krishna just gave a blockbuster in the form of Pelli. Sirish and Lakshman were convinced. My brothers did not want to go to film business again. I was looking at sharing 50% of cost with some other distributor. Producer MS Reddy called me and asked me if he could join me. I said yes. I saw the film during mixing stage. After I watched the final product, I felt that there was something missing in the film. My partner asked me for excess money and I did not have any. If I didn’t pay, they would not release the prints to us. I called my brother to have a look at the film in Annapurna studios preview theater. My brother said that film was going to be a super hit. When I said I needed 6 lacs, he gave the money immediately. My brother’s judgment on the film gave me confidence. But MS Reddy confused the producers by sending one print to RTC crossroads, though the film is not released. The producer lodged a police complaint on MS Reddy. We paid six more lacs at Prasad labs to release the film. And by that time, it got super hit talk from cross roads. The other distributors started offering double the price to Costumes Krishna, but he did not give to others because of my commitment of returning 2 lakhs when his earlier film flopped. Pelli Pandiri was released on 25 December 1997 and it collected a share of 1.8 crores.

I joined hands with Sudhakar Reddy and Karunakar Reddy and traveled with them for two years (1998 and 1999). During that time Giri joined me. I liked him because of his knowledge and judgment on films. But my partners Sirish and Lakshman were against Giri joining us.

90% success rate in distribution
I started Sree Venkateswara Film distributors in NIzam in 1999. RB Chowdary, AM Ratnam and Devi Vara Prasad opened our distribution office in RP Road. Our first three films were Oke Okkadu, Nuvvu Vastavani and Sakhi. In six months we had three blockbusters in our hand. We also distributed several blockbusters like Kushi, Murari and Nuvvu Naaku Nachav. We had 90% success rate after opening the new distribution firm.

One mistake of my life
GVG Raju who produced the blockbuster Toliprema started a film called ‘Chiru Jallu’ with Tarun. I did not like the story but did it for maintaining the relationship. I got bad feedback about the film prior to the release. I paid amount 20 lacs less than what I agreed upon. That is one instance where I went back on my commitment. I still repent about not honoring my commitment. I rate it as the biggest mistake of my life. That film released and became a super flop. I lost 70 lacs on it.

Amruta – a disaster
At that time Maniratnam was producing Amruta film in combination of Madhavan and Simran. We were contemplating on entering film production. We gave advance to Mani Ratnam for the Telugu version rights. We also gave advances to many people like Vijaya Bhaskar, Trivikram, Seenu Vytla, Tarun, Uday Kiran etc. Giri fixed the distributors for the film without finalizing the rates. We still needed 1.5 crore to break even on Mani Ratnam’s Amruta project. We went to Chennai to see a preview of the film. I did not like the first half, but liked the second half. But I was little doubtful about the commercial aspect. Sravanthi Ravi Kishore has bought the rights for Krishna and Guntur area. We arranged a preview for him. He saw the film, smiled at us and went off. I called Ravi Kishore after 2 hours and asked about his feedback. He met us and told us that Amruta is going to be a disaster. I smiled at him and said OK. He has committed 36 lacs for those areas earlier, but he agreed to pay only 18 lacs as an advance. Before leaving he said, “Raju, you will become a big producer one day. You have the temperament to accept the criticism with smile. We producers generally have a bad temperament when somebody speaks badly about our film.” All the distributors escaped for Amruta. Only Vizag’s Babji paid us by reducing some amount. Amruta was released and became a disaster.

Vinayak narrated a story
I bought Aadi film for Nizam without even listening to the story. Vinayak narrated me a story during the production of Aadi and I forgot. Vinayak felt that I am a proud fellow. He realized that I am a normal guy when we met for the second time. He showed me a couple of scenes from Aadi film and I gave him advance to direct our film. We fixed on a story, but the second half was not working out. We selected Nitin as hero even before the release of Jayam. Vinayak wanted to change the story. I booked them (Vasu Varma, Sukumar, Vema Reddy & VV Vinayak) tickets for story sittings in Vizag. Vinayak asked me to accompany them. I went along with them for a 7-day story sittings. That is where I got educated about story, narration and screenplay.

The making of Arya
During the shoot of Dil, Sukumar asked me to introduce Nitin to him so that he could narrate a story. Nitin liked the first half, but did not like the second half. I asked Sukumar to narrate a shot to me. He narrated a poetic scene and I got interested in Sukumar’s film. I asked him to narrate the story. There is negative approach to hero’s character in both first half and the second half. I signed him and gave him an advance. He prepared Arya script. We were looking for the right hero. Prabhas listened to it and said that it is not his type of film. Ravi Teja listened to the script and opined that a youth hero should do that film. When we arranged a preview show of Dil to Prabhas, I saw Allu Arjun walking at Prasad labs for the first time. I liked his body language and felt that Arya will suit him. We narrated the story to Allu Arjun. He liked the first half a lot, but found second half to be having some loopholes. We narrated the story to Allu Arvind and he also felt the same. We lost connection with Allu Arjun after that. We were working over the script and two months passed by. That is when Mallidi Satyanarayana Reddy came to our office and said that Allu Arvind was discussing about Arya script. We again went back to Allu Arvind and narrated the modified version. We narrated the script to Allu Arjun for six hours. Allu Arjun liked it a lot. Allu Arvind never came to the shoot of Arya. We screened the double positive to him and he said Arya is going to be a super hit.

Allu Arjun introduced Boyapati Seenu as a potential prospective mass director. I liked the content in his story, but felt that it’s too massy. We added family orientation and entertainment. Ravi Teja liked the script. With Badra, we had a hattrick.

Bommarillu happened
During the shoot of Arya film, Bhaskar did shot division. He penned 46 shots. I liked his detailing in the script and asked him to narrate me a story. We also contemplated him directing the Tamil version of Arya. He came up with the script of Parugu film. I found it to be too massy and asked him to narrate a class subject. When he narrated the Bommarillu script. I told him that it would be a silver jubilee film. Bommarillu film enhanced our banner value. It was a tough job for Bhaskar to direct such a sensible and great film.

I am not satisfied with Munna as a maker
We wanted to come out of love and family stories and do a proper commercial film. Sirish and Lakshman (my executive producers) did not like the story. But the success of Bhadra film gave me confidence to go ahead. We worked out the negatives of Bhadra while shooting and came up with a decent film. Likewise I though that I could workout during the shooting stage of Munna. The film started with a negative talk and it got decent money because of summer release. I am not satisfied with Munna as a maker.

Parugu generated a negative talk due to the premiere
I asked Bhaskar to rework on the orientation of Parugu to make it a class film. Allu Arjun okayed the script during the Bangkok shoot of Munna film. I was over confident about the success of the film right from the beginning. Parugu was premiered a day before the release to the press and the film industry. It generated a negative talk. Nobody dared to call us and give their feedback on that night. I was tensed on the next day. It took around one week to get positive feedback about the film and it went on to become a super hit.

Srikanth came up with a story happening in 2050
Srikanth Addala was the assistant director for Arya film in 2004. He narrated a few love scenes during that time and I gave him an advance of Rs. 9000/-. He narrated me a story in 2005. I liked it, but there is a tremendous risk element in it. The movie starts and ends in 2050. Nobody knew how 2050 is going to be. I asked him to work for Bommarillu. He took a three month gap after Bommarillu and came up with the line of Kotha Bangaru Lokam. We worked on the script for six more months.

Varun Sandesh was the 4th choice for KBL
We wanted Naga Chaitanya to act in KBL and approached Nagarjuna. He liked the story but opined that KBL is a too soft film to launch Naga Chaitanya as hero. Then we narrated the story to Ram and Sravanthi Ravi Kishore. They are not satisfied with it. Then we wanted to launch the son of MS Raju as hero. But MS Raju said that he was introducing his son in Teja’s direction. That is when Sekhar Kammula wanted me to see Happy Days for Nizam area rights. I liked Happy Days so much that I ended up buying it for entire Andhra Pradesh. I felt that Varun Sandesh could be an ideal choice for KBL. I asked Srikanth to watch Happy Days. He too liked it. We cast Shweta Basu Prasad who acted in a nice role in Iqbal as KBL heroine. We started the film in January 2008 with a compact budget. We gave full freedom to Srikanth and Chota K Naidu. Micky J Meyer took 40 days to do the rerecording of KBL. KBL ushered our banner into the new world.

Launching Naga Chaitanya
Vasu Varma has been a core member in our team since Dil film. He got 100% involved in the script work of Arya and Bommarillu. We worked on this story after Bommarillu film and finished the story by 2007. We initially though about Ram Charan Teja or Allu Arjun for this project. Chiranjeevi liked the story a lot. But Ram Charan Teja did an action film Chirutha and is doing another action film with Rajamouli. He wanted Charan to do an entertainer as his third film. Chiranjeevi personally called me and commended me for the fantastic script, but explained the constraints regarding Charan.

That is when we came to know about Nagarjuna’s plan to introduce Naga Chaitanya. We sent Vasu Varma to narrate the story for three hours. Nagarjuna felt that the second half is superb, but expressed his doubts about first half. When asked about the director, I told him that the narrator is the director. Nagarjuna expressed concerns about launching Naga Chaitanya with a new director. But I explained him that most of my films were done by first timers and I could extract nice work from them. He got convinced and said that I am making your banner as the launching pad for my son though we have two of the biggest banners (Annapurna studios & Suresh productions). He made us narrate the story to Naga Chaitanya. He got very much excited.

All of our last four films (Bommarllu, Munna, Parugu and KBL) concentrated on the father-son/daughter relationship?
I have not realized it till you mentioned it to me. We always target youth and family crowds. So father-son relationship would become an engrossing point. Except for Arya, all my films have family emotions.

What went wrong with Giri. Why did he quit after Dil?
The wavelengths did not match after the starting of Dil project. We obtained the dates of NTR and he wanted to go solo with Andhrawala. I let him go solo on a condition that I should get a share in the profits. He did not give any share though.

What do you think is the secret of your success?
Story sense and hard work. I always think about cinema. Even during the double positive time, I don’t mind re-shooting if any modification is needed.

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