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Interview with Neelakanta by Jeevi
Date: 23 May 2006

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Neelankanta created ripples by winning National award in screenplay category a couple of years back for his 26-lakhs budget film ‘Show’. His next film Missamma not only won critical acclaim, but also did well at box office. Missamma also won Nandi awards as the first best film and for the best screenplay. Neelakanta is coming up with an emotional thriller tiled ‘Nandanavanam 120kms’. caught up with Neelakanta for an exclusive and exhaustive interview. Here are the excerpts -

Can you tell us your background and your journey till Show?
I am a native of Kadapa and my full name is G Neelakanta Reddy. My screen name is Neelakanta. I studied in Loyola Public School and Loyola College in Vijayawada. That way I am a proper Loyolaite.

I wanted to be part of cinema since my childhood and only in Intermediate I realized that I wanted to be in the field of direction. I was so much fascinated by films that I completely lost interest in my studies by the time I complete my B. Com. I felt that my studies were useless for the career I preferred.

My brother Vijya Bhaskara Reddy who is an artist is a mad fan of Bapu. He injected that fascination for Bapu films during my childhood. I loved Bapu’s Andala Ramudu and Muthyamantha Muggu. K Viswanath’s O Seeta Katha and Saptapadi were also liked by me. All these films are away from regular commercial pattern and at the same time they performed well at box office.

The main reason why I entered into direction was K Bala Chandar. I was really excited by internal psychological patterns and interpersonal relations development in his films. I wanted to make films like K Bala Chandar. If you observe my films, I take K Bala Chandar’s psychological patterns as base. I belong to the lineage of K Bala Chandar.

I also watch lots of Hollywood flicks. I used to live on watching Hollywood films. At that time Rishikesh Mukherjee, Baju Chatarjee, Ramesh Sippy, Shyam Benegal, Bimal Sen and Satyajit Ray used make great films. All these films gave me good perception about filmmaking.

At that time I used to wonder why people classify films as commercial and art films. I find that all the films of Bapu, Bala Chandar and K Viswanath are good commercial films with great artistic value. I always wanted to make films like them by striking a balance between Art and Commerce. It materialized with Show followed by Missamma. If you look at Hollywood, an Oscar winning film is also a commercial blockbuster.

After completing graduation, I went straight to Chennai to join direction. I joined as an assistant director under Vallabhaneni Janardhan. I worked as an assistant for a couple of films. I decided to produce film and started my own production house. I roped in hero Krishna and director Bharati Raja to make Jamadagni film. The combination of Krishna and Bharati Raja created craze in the industry. Unfortunately that film did not work and it was a setback as a producer. But Jamadagni also gave me a chance to witness the art of filmmaking from close quarters. I was fascinated by Bharati Raja’s Pathinaru Vayathinile (Padaharella Vayasu) and Sigappu Rojakkal when I was a kid. That same fascination led me to make a film with Bharati Raja. Jamadagni proved to be a great boon to me as I learnt a lot about practicality in filmmaking.

I had a gap after Jamadagni. Then I directed a Tamil film called Priyanka with Revathi as heroine. That film was a remake of Hindi blockbuster Damini. I liked Damini. Priyanka fared reasonably well in Tamil and Revathi won Filmfare award for her work. I pass all the credit given to me through that to Raj Kumar Santoshi as it was his creation. I was flooded with remake offers after Priyanka. I said No to them.

I waited for seven long years after Priyanka. I was known to the family of Krishna as I made Jamadagni film. I wanted to direct a film and Manjula wanted to act in a film. Manjula was producing TV serials at that time. She got impressed with the story of Show. That film was made with 26 lakhs in 22 days. It proved to be a turning point to me. We sent the film for national awards. When I was writing screenplay for Show, I had a gut feeling that Show would be screened to the final five of National award choices under screenplay section. Show was also considered for the best film and best regional film category in National Awards. My Missamma won best screenplay and best first film in Nandi awards category.

How do you conceive story and write screenplay?
The typical way of doing it is to have a story point first and then develop it. Then they create screenplay order.

My style of conceiving story is completely different from the regular style. For me story, screenplay, direction and dialogues are conceived simultaneously. I can’t really differentiate these four jobs separately as these are closely interdependent. Whenever I get a story idea, I give the whole story narration to my chief assistant. Then I go into detailed narration. When I narrate the story for the first time, story is interspersed with the screenplay. When I go into details, the dialogue comes. When I give narration I had it in mind about how to direct that scene.

You got recognition as a class and sensible director. But there is more money in it if you turn more commercial without losing your sensibilities?
That is what I am doing with Nandanavanam 120 kms. Nandanavanam will penetrate B center market as well.

I love money. That is another matter. But money is never the first criteria to me. I want to do films which I love. I am inducing my kind of films slowly to the masses. I am ready to wait for the long run. I don’t want instant money.

All your films (Show, Missamma and Sada Mee Sevalo) have middle class protagonist and a rich heroine. Is it just a coincidence?
All these three films have middle class protagonist and those films are about protagonist’s aspirations. May be I identify myself with a middle class man. But the set up for Nandanavanam is completely upperclass. If you look at my films, I never missed the realism. Realism is the essence of my filmmaking.

Define screenplay?
Screenplay is something which is going to communicate story to the screen. If you take a story and if you are unable to translate story on to the screen, it will fall flat. Screenplay is the adaptation of the story onto the screen without losing the basic soul. If you want to make films based on literary works, you need to grasp the essence of it and try to get that essence represented in the film. You should be able to incorporate the gist of 100 pages of a novel in just one scene of the film. Screenplay need to catch the vibrancy and the soul of the story.

You give lot of importance to humor?
If you see my films like Show or Missamma, I bank more on humor that is generated out of natural situations. K Bala Chandar and Bapu are experts at taking humor out of realism. All the Hollywood films have humor laced into the narration of the film irrespective of its genre. I want to do that kind of humor. I don’t like putting forced comedy scenes.

How do you extract performance from the actors?
When I conceive characterizations and dialogues, I act out all the scenes. When I narrate a scene to my direction team, I act out and narrate it. When I am on sets, I ask the actors to perform as per their own conception. If I am satisfied I retain it, otherwise I act it out and ask them to follow it.

Tell us about Nandanavanam?
Nandanavanam 120 kms belongs to the thriller genre. I coin the word ‘emotional thriller’ for this film. I am going to play with the emotions of the audiences. I intend to put audience into emotional turmoil with twists and turns in the narration. I made a different type of screenplay. Nandanavanam is also a mindscape game like Missamma and Show. There is also a strong physical presence which is going to enhance the mindscape. Audiences are going to get excited with the film.

Where did you find new couple for Nandanavanam?
Manasa came to film industry with an intention of becoming editor. Ajay Varma wanted to become an actor and met me 6 years back. Then he went off and produced a TV serial called Seetamalakshmi. Then he directed a short film and asked me to watch it once. By then he had given up the idea of acting. He wanted to take the film to NY and show it in film festivals circuit. Then I gave him an offer to play hero character in Nandanavanam. Basically Ajay Varma and Manasa have more technical orientation. Hence they understand the director very well. It was easy for me to explain them. They gave a very natural performance. Both of them are going to have a great future.

What is the duration of the film and how much negative did you expose?
Duration is 2 hour and 9 minutes. There are no songs in this film. I exposed around 60,000 ft worth negative, which is quite economical.

What is the reason behind you sharing the burden of production along with direction?
I was a producer once. Nandanavanam 120 kms film does not have songs and it is made with new faces. The other producers start developing cold feet if I narrate this kind of subject. I thought that I should put my own money in it. If I achieve success with Nandanavanam, the producers would be more confident in investing in different genre films. My banner will also be a platform for experiments. I want to make many different genre films.

How many days did it take from conceptualization to getting the final product out?
I got this story idea on 26th of August 2005. By 26th May 2006, my product will be ready. It took exactly 9 months. I am planning to release Nandanavanam in the second week of June 2006.

You want to continue making limited-budget different films or your want to work with stars?
I don’t mind working with stars as long as my story idea and concept does not get disturbed. I require my freedom of expression. Most of the heroes consider that killing tiger is heroism. But I feel that taming (machika chesukovadam) tiger is heroism. Things are changing in Telugu film industry. Let us hope that I come across some interesting subjects with big heroes and things materialize.

What is your next project?
I am going to direct the Tamil remake of Missamma. This film will have Cheran and Asin playing main leads. I am also looking forward to start a Telugu production in parallel.

Which film did you like the most in recently watched films?
I liked Black, Rang De Basanti, Anukokunda Oka Roju, A film by Arvind and Grahanam. It is amazing the way Rang De Basanti balances the artistic and commercial values. A new kind of film is emerging in India. The fusion of art and commerce is taking place.

Who are the filmmakers that inspire you the most in Hollywood?
What I like in Hollywood directors is that they make beautiful films irrespective of the genre they are attempting. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola are few of the wonderful directors I admire.

Do you have any suggestions for the director wannabes?
Keep on dreaming. Make your dreams stronger. Nobody is going to stop you. The power of dream is amazing. If a man like me can become director, anybody can become a director with the power of dream. Just concentrate and focus on your dream.

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Lawrence (Director)
Siva Kumar (Director)
Venkat Kuchipudi (Director)
Rasool Ellore (Cinematographer & Director)
Raju Sundaram (Choreographer)
SS Rajamouli (Director)
Sameer Reddy (Cinematographer)
Marthand K Venkatesh (Editor)
Sayaji Shinde (Villain)
Shashank (Hero)
Gangaraju Gunnam (Producer)
Meghana Naidu (Heroine)
Venkatesh (Hero)


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