Director Manjula Naidu and her sister writer Bindu Naidu are the real stars of the small screen. Discover a fun side to the sister duo

An episode of Mogali Rekulu is on and the viewers are glued to their television sets. The episode promises the thrill of a roller-coaster ride. There is an attempt on R.K. Naidu's life and viewers expect the cop in the serial to die. And, then, there is a kahaani mein twist — R.K. Naidu doesn't die. The TRPs shoot up and the Naidu sisters have managed to do it again — keep the interest alive in the daily soap, season after season.

Director Manjula Naidu and her sister Bindu Naidu are the drama queens of the small screen. Meeting them on a sultry evening proved to be quite an eclectic ride. Unlike the complex image their serials have on the viewers, the sisters are seriously funny and when they chat non-stop in typical Hyderabadi — a mix of Telugu, Hindi and English, it can be entertaining.

The sisters have their say when the camera rolls on the sets. But when our photographer calls the shots, the duo do everything to stay away from the spotlight. “No close-ups, puhleeze!,” Bindu squeals as they plonk themselves on the sofa.

We try to distract their attention with a poser. “What's the age-gap between the two of you?” “Three years and 20 kgs!” Manjula states, poker-faced. A few snaps and wacky lines later, Manjula and Bindu exude cheerfulness and look amused with all that we are making them do for a photograph. “Do we have to sing a romantic duet,” Manjula raises a doubt as Bindu lets out her disappointment. “This is cheating. She's not taller than me!”

Delightful, uninhibited and chatty... the sisters enjoy life and their spirit is captured in their serials too. A decade ago Manjula was new to the profession when her serial Ruthuragalu was aired on Doordarshan. The title track soon boomed from every household in the neighbourhood and life came to a standstill. Any talk about Telugu television industry is incomplete without a mention of Ruthuragalu and its maker, even now! “I feel proud that I made a serial like Ruthuragalu,” smiles Manjula, who continued her winning streak with Kasturi.

Her serials were pretty formulaic. They had a good story, were sensitively made with a melodious title track and importantly embodied contemporary concerns. “I am a modern woman (“My mother is 73 and an editor of a magazine in Kerala”) so how can I make serials which are regressive and filled with superstitions?” she asks. With a sister so confident and passionate about the medium, Bindu, with a journalism and mass communication background found it easy to fulfil her dreams.

The sisters joined hands with Aagamanam. Bindu made a few tele-films on her own and again returned to her sister with Chakravakam. The serials with an element of surprise as USP were known for their viewership. “The roles are pretty defined and we respect each other's work,” they chime. If Manjula cannot stop raving about Bindu's dialogues and screenplay, the younger sister is in awe of Manjula's direction. If the characters are ideal and larger-than-life characters, the dialogues often come with a sugar-coated pill. “If we talk about values like a moral science class, the viewers will not be interested. The characters are seeped in morality and talk about principles. However, we twist and turn the plot to make the episodes thrilling,” justifies Bindu.

Manjula considers Telugu novelist Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani as her mentor. “I am basically a romantic at heart and Yaddanapudi is a very sensitive writer. In the initial days of my career, I had approached a few writers to give me a story. But it was only Yaddanapudi, who encouraged me and gave her three novels. The initial storyline is by Yaddanapudi but we have made changes accordingly. Unlike the novel, Mogali Rekalu has many characters,” says Manjula.

While the Telugu tearjerkers were no match to the gaudy grandeur of Ekta Kapoor's serials, in content some serials echoed the same line with the negative depiction of women. While the sisters do not comment on the other Telugu serials being aired on prime time, Manjula makes a point, though. “In one Hindi serial, I saw a mother telling her daughter to do anything so that a boy enters her bedroom. It was very nauseating and embarrassing as I am from the same industry. Sensitivity seems to be a rare word now-a-days. I hope the medium will see more women writers who will bring in sensitivity to their stories,” she says.

Every week a TRP check keeps the sisters on tenterhooks. “The pressure is unimaginable but we love the challenges. If we feel the story is stagnating, we bring in the changes to make the plot move at a faster pace,” says Bindu.

Manjula is a mother-in-law already (she was married at the age of 18), who doesn't enjoy cooking (“Making tea is not my cup of tea”) but loves to freak out with a gang of girlfriends and her daughter-in-law. While Manjula found a true friend in her husband Sudhakar (who takes care of the production), helped her realise her talent, Bindu's husband U. Balaji, (CEO of HMRI) is her intellectual and ideal partner. Exploring human relations has been their forte.

Now, Manjula wants to expand her horizon to the other regional languages like Tamil and Kannada. What about films? “Why is that films are considered the ultimate?” retorts Bindu. However, her elder sister has some big plans for small directors. “I want to encourage small filmmakers. Talks are on with a few young directors and I am hopeful that good films are on their way.”

Manjula says…

Ruthuragalu: Found a good friend in Roopa.

Kasturi: Made me realise that I can make murder mysteries.

Kalachakram: Realised what a good actress Shruti is and that she could portray any emotion.

Aatmayeelu: Learnt to be sensitive and respond to the needs of the society.l Chakravakam: Brought the sisters closer.

Mogali Rekulu: My ambitions have really sky-rocketed.