Q & A with Tharun Bhascker
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31 October 2019

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Jeevi: Pellichoopulu was a huge hit while Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi (ENE) was a sleeper hit. As in Pellichoopulu appealed to everybody, nobody said it’s not good. Whereas ENE was for a particular genre and wasn’t as appealing to other types of audiences. The filmmaking and direction in Telugu industry is such that you have to go up and up. There is no scaling down and then going up, but you have purposefully and knowing that it will not do as well as Pellichoopulu, did the film. Though it made profits if you compare the successes, it is lower. It is a brave and conscious decision. What prompted you to take it?
Tharun: Majorly the whole point was that I don’t want to confine myself. When we are doing a film there is a lot of pressure to confine ourselves because everyone is going in that path. Even directors don’t have the ability to go back and change their genres because we have an unsaid pressure of just scaling up. That was very real and I felt that pressure after Pellichoopulu; a lot of people were telling me to do the same genre, make the packaging with bigger stars and commercially. But it was very scary because I’ll kill the child inside me by doing that. The child inside me, like how you love travel, I love this, which if I kill that it’ll become like a 9 to 5 job which we hate. So to step out of that, I had to tell myself to taste something else. Because the giant that Pellichoopulu was, it was crushing me, so I had to escape from that, I had to do something else so I thought a buddy comedy which is straight from my heart, even if it doesn’t work, I knew that it would release me from that pressure. Rightly after that a lot of people said, “down aipoyindi, down aipoyindi.” But I realised all that banter was just talk but after 5 minutes into the film you don’t think about the director etc. That experience set me free and made me realise that we can do anything; that PR and the brand don’t matter.

Jeevi: Have you acted before coming into films?
Tharun: I did 1 short film sir.

Jeevi: But its not seen much?
Tharun: Hahaha. It’s not seen much also because I didn’t want to show it. I did very bad acting in it. It was on YouTube for a while but it’s not.

Jeevi: You’ve taken it down is it? Erasing all the..
Tharun: No no I haven’t taken it down. The maker took it down. Whatever was there is still there. Any stupid comments also are still there. A lot of people pay people to take out the troll comments etc but I don’t invest so much of energy. Whatever I’ve done I’m fine with it. I did very bad acting.

Jeevi: I’ve seen Falaknuma Das and your act in it. It was very natural.
Tharun: Thank you. It was very, a lot of hard work.

Jeevi: We met during Mirchi awards. That time you were telling me about the cop role.
Tharun: Yes sir.

Jeevi: Did you get this offer after that stint?
Tharun: Ledu. Vishwak Sen through ENE he asked me.

Jeevi: What I mean to say is did you get the offer of Meeku Matrame Chepta come after seeing Falaknuma Das?
Tharun: No. Before that in Mahanati I did a small role. I was going here and there. After that Shamir Sultan was pitching the script to Vijay. Vijay didn’t want the film to go out of Telugu industry and not out of our camp so he got him. He said look at these actors, me from Mahanati etc., to see if they suit the characters. Then Shamir said I will be apt. For that character they needed that tension. It was not because of Falaknuma Das. Something in Mahanati really appealed to them.

Jeevi: How different is acting?
Tharun: It is very different; very different path all together. It’s a different element in the same container. I always used to underestimate actors. They have the life, they have a caravan, stay in AC halls, it’s a glamorous life, they are taken care of like a baby. All the hot attention goes to them. I always used to think the director works so much but when it comes to fame and fortune goes to them. Even when I was acting I felt the same, there is not much work, what am I doing? But after I did the first schedule, I realised that mentally you have to be in the game. Even if you are in the caravan, even if someone talks its irritating. There’s so much chaos on the set. That mental focus is a whole new level. I appreciated all my actors. In fact I called and told them I have new found respect for you guys. Why the actors have attention and why they need to be taken care of like babies is because they need their space, that is when you get into the character. It is not easy. And now I feel in every department, with pros and cons, their effort will be there and their contribution will be there towards the success of the film. My ego as a director decreased a bit.

Jeevi: So someone from Tamil came.
Tharun: Yes, Shamir Sultan took this script to a lot of people in Tamil but he came to Vijay thinking that he would be apt in Tamil and Telugu. He is a cinema lover, not restricted to language. I really admire him because taking the first step in a language not known to him, he came and worked with unknown technicians. Before he came to Vijay he did a lot of critically acclaimed short films. He is in contact with many people like Vijay Sethupathi but he came to Vijay thinking he’s more apt. When Vijay said no, he was going to go back but my performance in Mahanati stopped him.

Jeevi: I should watch Mahanati again then.
Tharun: Hahaha there was nothing much there. I don’t know what he saw there also but I guess he saw something right.

Jeevi: You’ve created a whole new genre based on a regional language. You cultivated it with Pellichoopulu. So how do you maintain that cultural flavour when the director is Tamil?
Tharun: Luckily my mother was born and brought up in Chennai so during summer holidays I used to go there. So there I fell in love with Maniratnam sir’s work.

Jeevi: Do you know Tamil?
Tharun: Yes, I know Tamil really well. I can speak, read, because of my love of Tamil films. Mani sir, with his films, he was very honest with the characters; he would use the accents like Madhurai. If you see Iruvar, there will be a Malayalam mixed Tamil in MGR because he was from there. Just like that Prakash Raj’s portrayal and his accent. They were deeply rooted in the literature and they were honest with their characters. We are playing it safe with neutral Telugu which has to be spoon fed to everyone and everyone has to understand but they are little more adventurous and risk-taking in their films. They are like this is how it is so watch if you like and don’t if you don’t. Lot of directors, Bala garu, like-minded people, recently director Ram and Paaranjith. They come from the community and represent the community properly so the accents are very different. Shamir Sultan, when he wrote it, we saw where the opinions and culture cross over, where the political ideologies and cultural references were similar, I knew aptly where it would match. Telangana Warangal accent is very relatable to the Madras accent. The references suit very well. If you take rural Telangana, it is close to Madhurai culture. I knew these things well. Accordingly we could do it. It was such a nice brainstorming session with Shamir, to sit down and discuss all the cultural differences and joking around about the references. It was a nice clash of culture. Just like that when you look at the movie, their technicalities and ours crossover and there is a great blend. That is something really fresh and gives a new feeling. There might be some hits and misses but I quite liked the amalgamation.

Jeevi: Trailer, teaser, after watching tham, it felt that with the cell-phone there’s some issues where 3 guys get screwed. What can you reveal?
Tharun: Basically if you look at Delhi Belly or American teen comedies, there’s a certain satirical take on the situation or people there. When I asked Shamir what this is, apparently it’s called tragic comedy.

Jeevi: Haha. Tragedy
Tharun: Ya tragedy and tragic comedy. This is when we look at other’s tragedy and laugh. In our culture we are very pro tragic comedy because the whole theatre laughs when Brahmanandam garu gets a slap. So we are very used to it. Like Charlie Chaplin or Kamal Hassan type comedy. We see that in this. It’s Panchatantra or Pellam Oorelte. It’s presenting a very relevant and youthful theme. Do we have the amount of privacy that we think we have? We had to read someone’s body language earlier but now if you look at the person’s Instagram feed that’s enough.

Jeevi: You can profile everybody
Tharun: Yes, you can profile everybody based on their social and because of that even the governments are taking over by taking sociological profiles on people.

Jeevi: Brexit UK etc.
Tharun: Yes, they are trying to profile everyone. The film is about how many problems you might face in 2 hours because of something like that. You will laugh definitely. It’s a light-hearted film. It’s in a very subtle undercurrent; the perils of privacy and our phones. I thought it was very relevant and I could just flow into that character. It was beautiful.

Jeevi: Ok so who are you paired with?
Tharun: I’m paired with a superstar of Tamil television. Vani Bhojan. She also did a lead Satya in Daivamagan serial. It was very successful and she’s a household name in Chennai. We have a stereotype of how serial actors do but there’s actually no difference. Once they have the range it depends on their sensibilities. She came and she did a fantastic job.

Jeevi: Who did the music for this?
Tharun: Shiva Kumar. In fact, Shamir Sultan usually does his own music in his films.

Jeevi: How many movies did he do in Tamil?
Tharun: I think he made 5-6 short films. This is his first feature film. Apart from that he published some books and wrote Tamil poetry. He has a good hold on literature and poetry. He had to unlearn everything and come to Telugu. It was very transformational journey. Shiva Kumar is a very good friend of Shamir. Both of them planned the music, Shamir’s involvement was less but Shiva did a crazy job. Lyrics are very simplistic. These people made it very colloquial. I didn’t understand how it could be I had an objection to it. Lyrics felt off a bit to me.

Jeevi: What about your directorial venture?
Tharun: That I’m very happy about sir. Next, Lust stories I’m doing.

Jeevi: Season 2?
Tharun: Season 1 Telugu. It’s not a remake, it’s a completely new thing.

Jeevi: That is alright but is it done by the same makers?
Tharun: No. Lust stories will be done by me, Sandeep Reddy Vanga, he’s backed out right now.

Jeevi: All friends and good names huh?
Tharun: Haha ya. Sakalp Reddy and Nandini Reddy garu. 3 Reddys and me one guy. I’m hoping for the best.

Jeevi: Is it like Kamma Rajyam lo Kadapa Reddylu
Tharun: Hahaha, all 3 are very close associates and I love them very dearly. Nandini Reddy garu I respect her work. Sankalp and Sandeep are very close friends. Actually I have to call Sankalp, he called me recently.

Jeevi: That’s a great combination. It works!
Tharun: Ya it’s nice, it works. Sandeep may be out of it but they are roping in someone else. This will be purely Telugu lust stories about how lust can transform lives. Very interesting subject.

Jeevi: Have you read that some girl killed her mother because she objected. That’s 1 lust story.
Tharun: Ya, there’s so many things. My story is very similar. Based on a true story that I’ve heard. Venu Udugula told me about a story that happened in a Warrangal panchayat. That, I’ve modified and written a screenplay. So I set it and I need to go shoot next week. That’s my vacation. And Netflix doesn’t judge you and doesn’t restrict you.

Jeevi: It’s a new format and people look at it from a different perspective.
Tharun: And personal viewing is such a different ballgame. In personal viewing there’s structural and character changes, there’s so many things.

Jeevi: They don’t expect a format.
Tharun: Nothing. So there, I love those challenges. That’s something I’m planning to do.

Jeevi: What about feature film?
Tharun: Feature film also something very interesting is coming up. With Venkatesh garu I’ve pitched an idea to him, set in the Malakpet racecourse, a very interesting story. I’m waiting to write it by December and do pre-production by Jan-Feb.

Jeevi: Are you a lazy writer?
Tharun: I think so. For me ideas come really quickly but fleshing out characters and details. What makes me lazy is the fear of failure. Behind the laziness or procrastination is a huge fear of failure and that drives me to perfect every little notch. It’s a madness I guess.

Jeevi: I really liked the way you introduce the characters in ENE. It doesn’t matter what happens next because you know exactly how each character is going to behave. And it’s more like natural viewing. The first half is very nice.
Tharun: Now the question is, these characters are all my generation.

Jeevi: This is something different.
Tharun: Netflix lust stories is very different. I’m studying those characters, speaking to them. Their accents are very different in rural Telangana. So I’m writing it down and understanding their mentality. It’s very interesting how they’ve adapted to social media; how their culture is. So I’m trying to get into that sensibility.

Jeevi: Because of Jio
Tharun: Because of Jio, TikTok has become a revolution. I didn’t know there’s something beyond Instagram.

Jeevi: It’s a great stress buster.
Tharun: Ya TikTok has become a platform to voice themselves and they want their own 15 minutes of fame. They show their creativity. It’s astounding. Thing are changing rapidly. Observing how their dynamics are changing, how a senior person like Venkatesh garu – what mid-life crises would he be going through, what are the questions that would be in his mind, to step out of my shoes and get into that character. These are my tests. Will I stand strong, will I bring the same honesty of characters as ENE or Pellichoopulu with characters like Venkatesh sir which I’m not aware of? Have to wait and watch. I’m not aware of it yet.

Jeevi: So from the time you came into industry, things have changed. It has become more easy to come in but becoming difficult to succeed. Because movie making is not just about making but also placing it right and promoting it. So that’s a different ball game. What is your suggestion?
Tharun: Initially when I came I didn’t know about numbers. I told myself I will not discuss numbers but right now I have to say honestly it is so gelled together. Story decisions, character casting, everything is gelled together. It has become an intrinsic part of making.

Jeevi: If your backdrop changes, it will add few numbers, if your cast changes, you might get new numbers.
Tharun: So it’s a number game. Me personally, I don’t know about overall view, I have blinders on, I have changed and evolved a lot. Also I understood how distribution affects cinema, how weather conditions affect. All these things I was very arrogant about earlier. I used to think it’s about the good script but it has to be the right time, right place. Pellichoopulu also if it didn’t come then, it wouldn’t have been the same. I can’t just say it’s my content and characters, it’s not that, it was placed at the right time unknowingly. Now I’ve realised, I’ve set a team and I’m trying to study the current scenario. I’m being up-to-date with everybody in the economy. How is the political scenario? What is relevant, what is not. If you go to OTTs, they know about their general user perspective, analytics, average viewers age, what is their demographic, what work, income, political ideology, based on how they watching, when they are tuning in, when they are leaving, what are they scrolling towards, are they leaning towards sexuality.

Jeevi: What type of films are being watched for how long.
Tharun: Everything; so they have so much data that they control. We count on Sureshbabu garu’s rich experience of 25 years so the data he’s processing is very subconscious. What OTTs are doing is redefining that experience. They have amazing amounts of data so they are telling me how to structure my film, relevant themes. When I went to pitch they said it’s falling in right track because right now the viewers respect their family but they want to rebel. Their ideology, when they are telling me, it’s like fortune-telling. So when there is so much data, this is the information era sir. So as a filmmaker my advice is that this should be processed and it keeps changing so we have to keep evolving. People are only watching if it’s relevant. It’s not an art business. Of course we should do what we like but we should also do what is relevant. We are using someone else’s money, we have a social responsibility, see our personal ethics and the data we get, we have to update ourselves, keep abreast and write. That is very complex but we are in that business.

Jeevi: That is the formula right now.
Tharun: So I’m very shocked and pleasantly surprised by the data there’s these days. How to process it is another art altogether.

Jeevi: So I’ve observed that you take care of your looks even before you were an actor. You were always well-dressed.
Tharun: I’ll tell you.

Jeevi: So probably subconsciously you wanted to be an actor.
Tharun: I take care of how I look because I was insulted a lot when I was young. Brand value is focused on a lot. Some people act different depending on if you got out of a Merc or a Nano.

Jeevi: It’s about the brand.
Tharun: Here it’s very relevant. When I had nothing, I know how my dad and mom were treated. My mother sometime wore guilt jewellery to an event. My relatives teased her about it and I noticed. Just like that, my dad was Osmania University student leader; he was a rebel in his time. He had very communist beliefs, leaning towards that side. He used to think we should be as we are, we should live for others. He would go in the auto and talk to him and share their problems. Even if someone got off a Merc he would behave the same way but because of that he got insulted a lot of times and I saw it. So I knew that I had to appear a certain way, I had to wear certain things; it was imprinted that I can’t climb up the social ladder unless I do. Just like that even my wife thought so. She said present yourself well, if you respect yourself, you’ll get respect she used to say. So to the best of my abilities I was conscious but internally my father is still there; I still believe that all of us are equal but I know that when you go to a meeting..

Jeevi: Ya it’s good to look good.
Tharun: Look good and present yourself well. But at the same time I don’t see the difference that others see. I don’t care which car you are getting out of. If you are a wonderful person that’s all that matters. That’s my thing but when I go to a meeting or go and appear, I make sure to respect myself.

Jeevi: Your mother has become very popular. It’s now a house of actors.
Tharun: She hates he film making process; she thinks it’s the most boring process. So like that she took up acting. Also she can’t process the attention. In Ratnadeep if someone recognises her she teases them saying they know her because they are a relative. She loves the attention that way. She’ll tell me, ‘hey look that guy recognised me’. I’m like don’t be like that amma. Haha. Just like that. More than acting, she loves her school children, she loves teaching. If she gets acting, she does it. It’s not like she has to do it. She’s living a retired life, being adventurous. She recently went to Bali with her school kids. Apparently she did water rafting. She sent me pictures I was terrified. When I was on a web-series set, she got everyone to play cricket. She did rope climbing with some colleagues. Till now she was in a box, when my dad was there also, my relatives would say this and that. Now that she knows her son can stand on his 2 feet, she’s just enjoying. Hahaha.

Jeevi: All the best with your new film!
Tharun: Only 1 checklist I have sir, that’s travel, after seeing you I want to learn from you. Even recently I was telling Latha I have an interview with Jeevi sir, so I should ask where all you’ve been. So I’m going to make a lot more time after Venkatesh sir’s movie to travel. So then you shouldn’t interview me and ask why are you taking so long? You are the reason. Hahaha.

Jeevi: Thank you.
Tharun: Thank you sir.

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