Praveen Sattaru feels an anthology film with multiple stories is a better way to grab audience attention than making a romantic comedy without big stars

At a time when many filmmakers struggle to narrate one or two stories well enough, Praveen Sattaru is trying to engage viewers with eight stories in his forthcoming anthology film Chandamama Kathalu. “After my second film Routine Love Story, I realised that for a film with no big stars to get noticed, there has to be a ‘kick factor’. I need to do something out of the box to grab attention. That’s when the idea of an anthology film stuck me,” he explains. Praveen wrote 12 short stories and picked eight of them that had the potential to be woven together. The writing process, from penning the short stories to locking the screenplay, took him around two months. “Some people ask me why not seven or nine stories; these eight stories lent themselves to a good drama. Nothing less or more, in my opinion, would have worked for this film. The film is only of two hours and ten minutes duration. Introducing all the characters takes about 40 minutes and there are three climaxes in the film, spanning 40 minutes,” he says.

The film has an ensemble cast that includes Lakshmi Manchu (as an ex-supermodel coming to terms with the spotlight not being on her anymore), Krishnudu (as a 29-year-old trying to get hitched before reaching the scary 30 mark), Aamani and Naresh (as a middle-aged couple finding love), Chaitanya Krishna and Shamili (as teenaged students) and Kishore (as a writer penning all these characters), among others.

Working with actors in different age groups with varied perspectives was a challenge for Praveen. “I was working with a cast of 50 to 60. The toughest part was convincing some of these actors to come on board. Each of them has a screen time of about 15 – 20 minutes and was required to shoot for a day or two. So it’s easy for them to dismiss it as a one-day shoot. But unlike other filmmakers who shoot many scenes and remove some of them on the edit table, I worked with a bound script and decided how many scenes were required. So once the actors were convinced about the script, their part in this anthology film, my job became easier,” he says.

A few of these stories were inspired by people Praveen had observed. A character of a beggar (played by Krishneswar Rao), he says, was based on a beggar he observed at Khairatabad junction. “This elderly man, because of health issues, only begs late at night when there is no heat and less pollution. I learnt that he owns a building that he has rented out. Begging is the only thing he has done all his life and he continues to do so.” Krishnudu’s character, meanwhile, is reminiscent of youngsters in the 27-29 age group, anxious to get married before they hit the 30 mark and get rejected by young women. “Lakshmi, on the other hand, is a flamboyant former supermodel who smokes, drinks, curses and pretty much does all the ‘bad’ things. I am glad Lakshmi and Krishnudu agreed to do their parts; it’s tough for me to imagine other actors in these roles,” says Praveen.

The director had a tough time finding an actor to play the writer’s role: “I approached many actors who either didn’t want to be part of such a genre or felt the remuneration wasn’t good enough. It took us a while to find Kishore.”

Anthology films have been far and few in between in Telugu, but the audience has watched a handful of Hindi and English films in the format. Praveen declares he wasn’t inspired by any of these films. “When I became a director, I was determined never to be inspired or, in other words, copy from other films,” he says.

Praveen is an engineer who worked in the US for a decade and returned to become a director. The reason why a growing number of engineers turn to other creative pursuits, he feels, is because many join engineering out of pressure. “When I was growing up, medicine and engineering were the two prominent options. Once you are in medicine, it’s tough to get out of it. But it’s easier to find your way out of engineering. I remember my dad telling me not to take up architecture because very few jobs were available back then. He asked me to take up EEE and said he would help me get a government job in the power sector. I got scared and went away to the US. I liked the world exposure I got while working there. But finally, cinema is where I saw myself.”

Chandamama Kathalu is expected to release mid-April.