Can Venkat Prabhu recreate the magic of Chennai 600028? subha j raotalks to the director as he gets ready for the release of Saroja

People refer to my film as a Venkat Prabhu work. They don’t name the stars!

He took a leaf out of his childhood diary and turned it into a film that everyone connected with instantly. And, two years after that ode to gully cricket, Chennai 600028, Venkat Prabhu is back with Saroja, a thriller whose numbers are already scorching the music charts.

The bilingual (Tamil and Telugu), which releases on August 29, is about how different worlds collide thanks to a girl called Saroja. The film stars some familiar faces — S.P.B. Charan, Premgi Amaren and Chennai 28 Shiva. Lending them company are Vaibhav from Andhra Pradesh (son of Telugu director A. Kodandarami Reddy), and veterans Jayaram, Prakash Raj and gagster Brahmanandam.

For Venkat, the film marks a shift at two levels — one, he makes a jump from the docu-feel Chennai… to high-gloss action with Saroja; and two, his very second film is a bi-lingual.“Saroja became a bilingual after a week of shooting. Changes were incorporated accordingly and the action was shifted to Chennai and Hyderabad. And, we roped in Sri Hari to essay Jayaram’s role in Telugu,” he recalls. Saroja happened when producer T. Siva signed on Venkat when he was working in Vaazhthukkal. The story was fleshed out in the sylvan silence of Auroville. “Of course, earlier, I did not have the money or the pull to be allowed to do this kind of thinking. I wrote from office,” he laughs.

Shooting the Telugu version simultaneously meant Venkat had to direct in a language he was not very familiar with. That is where Charan stepped in. “He almost worked like my assistant,” says a grateful Venkat. As for those who think casting Charan was Venkat’s way of showing gratitude for having bankrolled Chennai, all the young director has to say is: “They don’t know how far back our friendship goes. And, don’t forget that he is a good actor.”

The competition on the sets was fun to watch. “Sri Hari would be present when I was shooting Jayaram’s portion, and he would wonder how to do it differently. It was enthusiastic competition and it was a pleasure directing the seniors,” says Venkat.

Was it difficult making the transition to a proper commercial set-up? “No. I can’t repeat Chennai…. That was like candid camera. This is better technically; the tone is different. I have tried something new. However, the one common factor will be humour. That will be a constant presence in my films,” assures Venkat, whose funny bone is a gift from dad lyricist-composer-director Gangai Amaren.

Venkat has always said how nervous he was while making Chennai…, as he was afraid his friendship with Charan (the producer) would suffer. That way, Saroja was a breeze. And, Venkat was a film older. “I loved making the film. We shot for about 60 nights for a story that takes place between 6 a.m. and 6 a.m.,” he says. After Saroja, Venkat will start work on Goa, a light-hearted Hollywood-type comedy where he teams up with Sondarya Rajinikant’s Ocher Studios and Warner Brothers. And, there are talks of a movie with Ajit, but Venkat stops with saying: “Ajit is like a brother. He always encourages me. We will do a film some day.”

Has Venkat achieved what he wanted to? “Well, kind of. Today, people refer to my film as a ‘Venkat Prabhu movie’. They don’t name the stars. That makes me really happy.”