With directors turning producers and nurturing new talent, the Telugu film industry can hope for more unconventional films in the times to come

The last film Madhura Sreedhar Reddy has to his credit as a director is Backbench Student. He co-produced Prema Ishq Kadal in 2013, is now co-producing Maya directed by Neelakanta and Ladies and Gentlemen directed by P.B. Manjunath. Sreedhar, meanwhile, is writing a script for his next directorial I am not Sachin, loosely based on the life of cricketer Sreesanth. But that will take a while.

His decision to turn producer happened after Backbench Student. “I was in a state of shock and took a break,” he says, referring to the period when he was coming to terms with unflattering reviews to the film. At that time, he observed how directors like Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar were supporting small films with good content. “The Lunchbox is a great film, but I doubt how far it would have gone if not for Karan Johar. I felt the Telugu industry also needed directors willing to back new talent,” he says.

Dual responsibility

The Telugu industry has had directors also producing films, for instance Teja and Krishnavamsi who’ve primarily produced their own projects. Sekhar Kammula produced and directed his films when he hit a wall trying to raise funds for his initial ventures. He then produced Avakai Biryani directed by Anish Kuruvilla. S.S. Rajamouli backed Sai Korrapati’s production Andala Rakshasi after the film was completed. Gunnam Gangaraju, apart from producing his own directorial ventures, also produced films like Aithe, Anukokunda Oka Roju and Katha. Late 2013, director Trivikram Srinivas and Pawan Kalyan announced their plan to start a production house to encourage new talent. The latest director to join this bandwagon is Sukumar. His maiden production, he reveals, will be directed by Pratap and star newcomers.

Assured returns

On his decision to produce small budget films, he reasons, “It makes monetary sense; there are chances of getting good satellite rights and one is assured of better returns.” Sukumar is known for big budget directorial ventures, from Arya to 1-Nenokkadine but as a producer he wants to support small films. “Production is a good way to use my creative time in between the films I am directing. I intend to encourage my assistant directors who have the potential to become directors,” he says.

In the Tamil industry, directors S. Shankar and A.R. Murugadoss are among the recognised names that have helped new directors find a foothold in the industry. S. Shankar’s productions Kaadhal (Premisthe in Telugu), Eeram (Vaishali in Telugu) earned critical and commercial success in both languages. From A.R. Murugadoss’ production stable came the endearing Engaeyum Eppothum (Journey in Telugu), directed by M. Saravanan, and the recent Arya-Nayantara starrer Raja Rani directed by Atlee, among other films.

The Telugu industry is now warming up to this trend. Does a big name associated with a small film help? The success of Uyyala Jampala, backed by Annapurna Studios, is a case in point. Large production houses have occasionally produced unconventional films.

“We’ve had directors like K. Vishwanath, Bapu and Vamsi making commercially viable parallel films. In between that category of films went missing, while the Tamil industry continued to make both mainstream commercial and unconventional cinema,” says Sukumar, hoping that Telugu cinema will bridge that gap soon.

Praveen Sattaru, who directed and produced all his films including Chandamama Kathalu says handling both creative and logistics aspects of filmmaking gives him the chance to be in control. “I don’t need to convince a producer on how I want my film to be. There’s no fear of things being lost in translation while communicating through middlemen. There’s creative freedom and I can control my budget,” he says. But Praveen is not averse to directing for other producers and also wants to nurture new talent through his production house.

Director Neelakanta, who has also produced three films, feels it’s an advantage working with a director-turned-producer like Madhura Sreedhar. “There’s a better perception when the two people understand both aspects. It benefits the project. Since I’ve also been a producer, I understand how things work. Maya deals with clairvoyance and extra sensory perception and it was easy for me to narrate the story to Sreedhar,” says Neelakanta.

“Around 120 small-budget films are produced in Telugu each year, of which only about five are backed by experienced producers. When someone who understands the industry dynamics is on board there is chance of picking up a good story,” says Madhura Sreedhar. Neelakanta’s Maya is an emotional thriller and Ladies and Gentlemen talks about cyber crime. “I am taking calculated risks. I am confident people will accept well made small films,” he sums up.