Watch | Directors’ Take | Venkatesh Maha: I began seeing the real world from the age of 16; it shaped my personality?

Watch | Director Venkatesh Maha: I began seeing the real world from the age of 16

Venkatesh Maha, director of ‘Care of Kancharapalem’ and ‘Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya’, recalls his formative years and why he stands firm to make the films he believes in

Updated - June 20, 2023 03:55 pm IST

Published - June 10, 2023 01:05 pm IST

Director Venkatesh Maha

Director Venkatesh Maha | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The 2018 Telugu indie film Care of Kancharapalem was a heartwarming and moving human relationships drama enveloped in humour. The unpretentious film is still remembered as a standout indie film to have come from the Telugu realm. With it, writer-director Venkatesh Maha was reckoned as a promising filmmaker with a unique voice. Maha then went on to direct Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya, an adaptation of the Malayalam film Maheshinte Prathikaram, and a short story for the Modern Love Hyderabad anthology. Maha’s is an underdog story; he left home at the age of 16, roughed it out and did odd jobs until he could make short films and eventually, feature films.

He is currently working on his next directorial venture and is producing two films. He also spearheads the Write Right Club, a forum to nurture writers, along with his associate Puja Kolluru.?

Directors’ Take
This series of interviews shines the spotlight on the newer crop of directors who made their mark in Telugu cinema in recent years. The series is an attempt to discuss how the larger-than-life Telugu films that capture nationwide attention co-exist with refreshing small and medium budget films.

Edited excerpts from an interview with the director:

Before we discuss your filmmaking journey, can you tell us about your early movie-watching memories?

I used to be mischievous as a child; so my mother used to buy a ticket, drop me off at a nearby theatre and return two hours later to pick me up. She would give me ?5 for a ticket and ?5 for a samosa. I remember watching Master, Ammoru, Hitler and Gang Leader. One of the earliest films I watched was Kshana Kshanam when I was three; years later when I watched the film with my mother I told her that I think I have watched it already. She then told me that I had first watched it with her when I was barely three.?

How did cinema become such an important aspect of your life that you decided to leave home at 16??

The bug of storytelling bit me young. I grew up in Gandhi Nagar in Vijayawada which was a hub for movie theatres. Cinema was a part of our daily lives. I would see huge cutouts of stars. There was an uncle in my neighbourhood who would watch movies and narrate stories to us quite badly. When I was in Class IV, my mother left me at Rama Talkies since she had some work and I watched the Telugu version of The Mummy. That evening instead of the uncle, I took over the narration. That was the first time I narrated and it made me happy. I think that was the first day of my journey as a storyteller. I used to share my movie madness with my mother since venturing into filmmaking was considered taboo. At 16, I moved out of home and took up odd jobs to show that I can survive on my own. At 20, I decided to move to Hyderabad.

‘Care of Kancharapalem’ starred nearly 80 non-actors from Kancharapalem

‘Care of Kancharapalem’ starred nearly 80 non-actors from Kancharapalem | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

You moved to Hyderabad and lived in Krishna Nagar, the hub for strugglers. You worked as a junior artiste and a spot boy just to observe moviemaking. Did you ever want to give up and return home?

Since childhood, my only aspiration was to become a filmmaker. My father used to make me do heavy stuff like carrying rice bags. He injected the spirit of survival into me. I did several odd jobs, from a screenprinting assistant to a BPO, in different environments. It was a tough journey and a few others I know returned home rather than struggle in Hyderabad. I don’t know what gave me the drive to stay on.

Did this exposure to different people help you write Care of Kancharapalem (CoK), which had characters in different age groups and addressed issues such as dignity of labour, caste and gender?

Venkatesh Maha

Venkatesh Maha | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

I began seeing the real world from the age of 15 or 16, which is much ahead of those who would finish their studies and then encounter the real world. Being on my own shaped my personality. I worked on short films before I wrote my first script for a feature film, which I narrated to Satyadev. He liked the story but I was unable to find a producer. Frustrated, I went to visit a friend who lived in Kancharapalem locality in Visakhapatnam. I observed the people around me and wanted to narrate a story. Within a month, the story of CoK took shape.

Prior to that, I worked on short films. My initial interest was to become an actor. But a story I had written caught the attention of Radhika Lavu, who was an executive producer for a short film project. She asked me to direct the short film and also act in it. I had no idea how to do it but she suggested that I give it a shot. She threw me into the centre of the filmmaking universe. The response to that short film titled Nanna changed my direction in cinema and I wanted to tell stories.

Satyadev in ‘Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya’

Satyadev in ‘Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In CoK as well as Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya (UMUR) you cast theatre actors as well as several non-actors who had to be trained. Tell us about that experience.

It is difficult to make non-actors act authentically without being conscious of the camera. As writers and filmmakers, our understanding of cinema can come from earlier Telugu cinema, international cinema and so on. For most people I had chosen from Kancharapalem and Araku Valley to act in the two films, their knowledge of cinema came from mainstream Telugu films. They would imitate what they had seen on screen. For example, the actor who portrayed the stammering character in CoK would imitate Brahmanandam from Aha Naa Pellanta. After filming for a few days, I paused shooting and conducted a second workshop for the cast. It took some time to make them act real and be unmindful of the camera. With theatre actors, there was another issue. Some of them tend to be loud to be heard by the audience sitting further away. They would perform similarly in front of the camera. I had to gradually get them to mellow down.

How did the Telugu film industry react to your films?

While there was appreciation, some producers also told me that had I approached them with the script of CoK, they would not have produced it. Many producers even today think my stories are too complex and that the audience will not understand them. CoK, for example, will appear complex on paper but in the manner in which it was narrated, people understood. I don’t believe in watering down a script or purportedly tailoring it around a character, which is usually the hero. It is okay to narrate complex stories also. I came here after a lot of struggle. I refuse to sell my soul for the sake of an opportunity to make some quick money.

What can you tell us about your future projects?

I have two screenplays ready and will be directing my next film soon. I can guarantee that it will give the audience a good cinematic experience. I am also producing two films, one of which is Ambajipeta Marriage Band starring Suhas and Sharanya, directed by Dushyanth Katikineni.?

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