Interview with Puri Jagan about ISM by Maya Nelluri
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17 October 2016

An avid follower of Osho, Chalam, Viswanatha Sastry and Ranganayakamma among others, Puri Jagannadh was born a rebel. He is unconventional, unique and unafraid to speak his mind. In this unbridled interview, he opens up about everything from his struggling days, his dislike for human beings, and the real reason he visits Bangkok so much!

Early Influences
With a farmer for a father, Puri Jagannadh was born into a family that was aeons away from the film industry. Still, it seems that he was destined for cinema. Remembering his childhood he says, “I read a lot. My father had a lot of books and novels so I used to read them since my childhood. Those books are the reason I’m here. I started writing short stories from when I was in 6th standard. I would usually write and leave the papers in my father’s bookshelf for him to read before leaving to school. At that time I wouldn’t share it with any of my classmates. I felt like they were far too immature to understand the depth of what I wrote. For example, one of my early stories was about a 70 year old wealthy man with a beautiful young wife. While commissioning a painting of this man, the wife meets and falls in love with the artist. All the while the artist is under the impression that the young woman is the wealthy man’s daughter. These kinds of story lines would have made no sense to people my age at that time. A few years afterwards I wrote and directed a play. When my family watched it they gave me Rs.20,000 and told me that I should go into the film industry. They were very supportive. I don’t think anyone encourages their children so much.” A feeling of gratefulness comes over the man who rarely displays any strong emotions. Many of his colleagues say that even as he works under strenuous circumstances he never looks like he is working. “He is super cool,” you will hear them say.

The Cool Guy
So how did he become this uber cool individual? “I don’t care,” he says, “I’m not politically correct. Regardless of what you do you will be criticised so there is no point listening to others. There have been many occasions where people told me that I should leave the film industry; people have even told my parents this.” That is one mindboggling revelation coming from a director who is hailed as the hit-maker! Were there any particular instances that made him so mentally tough? “That’s always been my personality,” he says and goes on to speak about the writers who’ve influenced him so much, “they are not writers, they are rebels. We only think when we are disturbed and they disturb us. In saying that, we like things or people that are like us so it is no surprise that I like them. I believe that anything the ‘society’ believes is wrong. Usually it’s the 90% of the population that makes up this society; I only listen to the other 10%. This small percentage consists of the geniuses. By genius I don’t mean that they have to invent or discover anything. Genius to me is having common sense, which most people these days don’t.” He goes one step further and adds, “I don’t like humans!” Wow! Where did that come from? “I believe that our world is a jungle and humans are part of the animal kingdom. Life is a war and no matter the type of animal, we all have to fight. I actually like animals more because they are always happy; I don’t like humans!” With such a keen love for animals, how many species has he adopted? “I have 15 dogs, 10 birds, 3 turtles, and lots of fish in two ponds. I like hanging out with them – especially when I’m irritated.”

Thai Massage Anyone?
This superstar director really has no qualms saying it like it is so we asked him about the Bangkok issue. Be it in film functions or news channels, there has been much emphasis on Puri Jagannadh’s frequent visits to Thailand. The official version has always been to ‘write scripts’, so what is all the hullaballoo about? “People generally tend to decipher based on their experiences and assumptions. Many people think that I go there to get massages from the girls. But for the record – I’ve never had sex with a Thai girl! I go to Thailand for the amazing positive vibe. I love Thai people because they are always smiling and not greedy like Indians (including me). To me they all seem like Buddhists, they live in their means and are content. I go to the beach in Thailand, sit there writing the whole day until all the lights are turned off and the street lights start to flicker. I sit there and write for 14 to 15 hours a day. I go back to the hotel and repeat the process for however long I’m there. You might say that there are beaches even in India but once you visit Thailand you will clearly see the difference in the people. They are so positive, they give off certain radiance and even the environment absorbs and emits that.”

But of course there are plenty of distractions. “There are the pool parties, the girls, the shopping – all of which make it impossible for most people to focus or get any work done there. I challenge anyone else to go to Thailand and actually come back with a finished product! I endure a heavy workload; there are so many aspects to script and dialogue writing. I complete work which usually takes others six months in two weeks when I go there. And for all the gossip out there, in the past 15 years I’ve only been on a handful of holidays where I made a conscious decision not to work. I can count them right now. In 2006 I was in Europe for 15 days, after that was when I lost all my money. Then I went to Thailand and slept for three days straight. And when I say three days straight I mean I did not even leave the room to go into the hotel lobby. I was under so much pressure that I had the worst headaches and mental strain. After that I recently went to Rome for three days and then to Bangkok for five. This is my entire list of ‘holidays’ for the past 15 years!” So is it actually true that he doesn’t get any massages in Thailand? “There is only one lady that I get foot massages from and she is a very nice 55 year old woman named Ponsy. So it is nothing like what people think.”

Chowdhary Mess
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, we prodded a bit about his other interests. Did he ever want to work in any other industry? “I’ve always wanted to be a waiter or a bartender. I like serving people so I’m definitely going to get back to it in the future. If someone doesn’t give me a job in a hotel, I’ll just open my own,” he laughs. Is there something we missed? What does he mean by ‘I’m going to get back to it’? “In my struggling days I used to live with an old couple that ran the Chowdhary Mess. I wanted to help them and this was the work I loved doing so I worked there every day for five years straight without pay. Many from the film crowd frequented that mess. I’ve learnt a lot from that experience about people. I used to be able to tell from the moment someone walked in if they were going to complain about the food or create a scene. There would be some who would hit the tables and shout. When I realised that someone like that walked into the mess, I would go to the guy and say, ‘I think the curry didn’t turn out too good today!’ He would then taste it and say ‘yes, it is not as good as normal’ but he would continue eating it without any hesitations,” he laughs. “Indians have the biggest ego and they are always worried about things that don’t concern them. I include myself in this list of Indians. But there is one thing I’ve never complained about and that is food. Regardless of whether I am at home or outside, whether I’ve paid for it or not, I don’t complain about food because sometimes it turns out good, sometimes it doesn’t – it’s just the way it is.”

About RGV
Puri Jagannadh then drifted into talking about the infamous RGV. “RGV is exactly the same when it comes to food. He never complains. There have been times when he’s said to me that he is hungry in the middle of the night and I gave him plain rice. No curry, no daal, no nothing. And he would eat it without saying a word. To him that rice was enough to satisfy his hunger. He is an amazing individual and is number one in my life. For 20 years I’ve had the same impression about RGV; it is his greatness that made it so. His ideology, his frankness, his mentality and attitude, they make him who he is!”

Colourful Characters
Moving to past films, we wondered if Puri Jagannadh identifies with any of the characters he wrote? “The characters in Neninthe and Businessman reflect my ideology and characteristics. I like to do what I want to and I like to live the way I want to,” says the rebellious and successful director. Will he continue to do the same work in the future? “I have many scripts; in fact I have enough scripts for the next five years. At the moment I’m doing work that comes to me but I want to do work that I like. I want to work on a script entirely of my liking, pick the people I think are perfect from the film, without any politics. I also want to work with new actors; I get a bigger kick working with newer people.” Does liking new people mean that he might also be moving into languages? He has after all worked with the greatest actor of Bollywood! “There is a huge difference in cultures between Bombay and Hyderabad. One thing I learnt from Amitabh Bhachchan is his discipline. Everyone can learn how to respect others from him. Respecting others has a direct connection to how much we respect ourselves and the same applies to time, be it your own or others. Even at this age he does not sleep for more than two to three hours a night. He has a zeal for work and does so continuously without a thought about taking a break. I feel like here once someone scores a hit, they want to take a break. But what did we really achieve to validate taking breaks?”

And just like that, without taking any breaks, we got on to the topic at hand – the movie releasing this weekend – ISM. How did the idea for ISM come about? “I got the idea for this script about 10 years ago when Touch pub was the in thing. After that, as time went on, the story evolved. Learning about Wiki Leaks and other such events developed the script into its current state.” Was there any reason for waiting a decade before putting this script on to the set? “I have many scripts in my kitty. Sometimes a hero doesn’t like it but it doesn’t mean that the script is bad. It is just not the right script for that person. Even with super hit films like Pokiri and Idiot, they were offered to other heroes who turned them down before Mahesh and Ravi Teja took them on. This particular script interested Kalyam Ram and it worked well for the current time – it relates to current social issues and I think the audience will connect well to it.”

How was the experience of working with Kalyam Ram and NTR Arts? “Kalyan Ram is an amazing person. He is very good at heart and he doesn’t know anything except cinema and family. That’s all he ever talks about. In this film he was even more dedicated and worked a lot for it. People always say that I change my heroes but how come I don’t change? I don’t have a six-pack like my heroes!” he laughs. “Their transformations are due to their dedication. Kalyan Ram for example lost 13 kg in three months – it is no ordinary feat. He did a fantastic job.”

This film has a couple of firsts for Puri Jagannadh. He not only sang the title track but also wrote the lyrics for it. How did that come about? “Anoop Rubens asked me to sing and write so I did. I always wanted to write lyrics for a song but now I know how difficult it is. I am never going to write lyrics again!” There is one thing though that everyone can expect to repeat after ISM – the association between Puri Jagannadh and NTR Arts. “We have planned two more films together and I will announce the details soon!” So there you have it folks, you’ve heard it first on straight from the horse’s mouth. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for further details about this combo.

- Maya Nelluri

vijay jeedigunta

About Maya Nelluri: Writer, Artist, and Make-up & Hair Professional; but first and foremost - Telugu Cinema Addict! Previous work experience includes Styling for films and photo shoots featuring Shriya Saran, Rana, Saina Nehwal, Nani and many more. Also worked as Associate Editor for SouthScope and Copy Editor for Channel 6 among others.
Twitter: @mayanelluri


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