As his new film opens today, Singeetam Srinivasa Rao opens up about his passion for cinema, why formulaic films don’t work for him and on plans to write a book on ‘Pushpak’ and much more

Age is just a number might be an over-used cliché but rings apt for filmmaker Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, who turns 82 on September 21. He peppers his conversations with humorous and informative anecdotes, is eager to put his pen to paper (books, new screenplays and films are in the offing) and his appetite for experiments is intact. The maverick who directed Aditya 369, Pushpak and Apoorva Sagodhararkal (Appu Raja) is now working on what he terms as a ‘pre-recorded film’ (a musical in which he wants to use pre-recorded sequences and dialogues while shooting. Intriguing it may be but he won’t elaborate on the concept; not yet). “I like my films to be like a puzzle, which I can solve while making. Films that have a set format with four songs and a few comedy lines don’t interest me,” he says, talking to us amidst promotions for his new film, Welcome Obama, releasing today.

Welcome Obama is a social drama starring Marathi actress Urmila Kanetkar, Rachel and child actors Esteban and Sanjeev. An adaptation of the award-winning Marathi film Mala Aai Vhhaychy, it deals with surrogacy and family ties. None of the core group of actors can speak Telugu and Rao says he enjoyed the challenge of making them understand Telugu lines. “This is not new to me. My earlier films America Ammayi and Little John had non-Indian central characters,” he says.

For the role played by Urmila, he considered other established actresses from the Telugu film industry. “In certain films, you need well-known stars to create curiosity. I could have asked a real life dwarf to do Appu’s character in Apoorva Sagodhararkal, but the curiosity increases manifold if people see Kamal Haasan doing the part. Likewise, I wanted Balakrishna for Aditya 369. But for an emotional drama like Welcome Obama, I needed an actress without a pre-set image,” he explains.

Welcome Obama has been shot in film format as opposed to digital. “We purchased raw stock and shot in Eastman colour which no one does these days. This is a film in which skin textures and colours needed to look real. None of the actors were allowed to wear makeup,” explains Rao.

Actress and director Rohini was roped in to write the dialogues. Rao wanted a writer who would think like the characters and not give an armchair perspective. “I wanted real conversations, not punch lines. Rohini obliged happily; she was also on the sets helping me during the filmmaking,” he says.

The film, suitably changed to Telugu settings from Marathi, touches upon the social and legal problems associated with surrogacy but is a human drama than a docu-feature, he says. The mention of Obama, in the title, for now, remains a mystery. “Let people watch the film,” he adds.

As the veteran talks, it’s easy to see what keeps him ticking. “When I am making a film, I feel I am on a holiday. I neither need weekends off nor do I stop working after a particular time in the day. My life is not drab. I’m lucky that my wife has been my support all these years,” he says.

As a parting shot, he says, “I inherited sense of humour from my father and sense of music from my mother. If someone quarrels with me, instead of getting angry, I observe their facial expressions and body language. I find this humorous.”

Ideas and projects

Singeetam Srinivasa Rao has a number of projects in the pipeline — a sequel to Aditya 369 (a new screenplay set in the current context), a pre-recorded experimental film, a documentary on the making of Apoorva Sagodhararkal that will materialise when both he and Kamal Haasan can find time, a book on Pushpak (“Penguin has approached me to write this book; instead of publishing a monotonous screenplay, I want to make this like an interesting story to read”) and his own autobiography (“This will be in the form of a screenplay”).