Chakri Toleti, who last directed the Ajith starrer Billa-2, resurfaces after his yearly hiatus with a silent short film in black-and-white called Unread

The short and sweet film, Unread is very Chaplin-esque. A young orphan living the hard life on the streets, the struggle for food, the strict cop round the corner, the sudden entry of a beautiful girl, a love-struck boy who’ll do anything for her, street gangs, fights…there are even dialogue cards — the works. All packed into a quick 12 minutes.

Can’t imagine it’s the same director who made gangster films like Billa-2 and the Kamal Haasan-starrer Unnaipol Oruvan . “Me neither!” laughs filmmaker Chakri Toleti, on phone from America, where he divides his time, apart from Vizag and Bangalore, where his film and tech enterprises are based.

Toleti started off as a child artist in the iconic Telugu film Sagara Sangamam , when director K. Viswanath cast him as a photographer. Toleti’s father, Dr. Thambu, was a physician with a passion for writing for films in the 1970s; he also worked with greats like K. Balachander, K. Bhagyaraj, and P. Bharathiraja. Toleti’s introduction to the insides of the film world came from there.

“Acting was a hobby. It was fun. I was never keen on it. But the process of filmmaking and what happened on set excited me,” says Toleti. After finishing his bachelor’s degree in computer science in India, he went to the U.S.A. and studied filmmaking and VFX in Florida, before joining Disney, working on the ideas team and learning more about traditional cartoons, timing, and visual effects. He then went on to set up and sell five technology companies, and even now runs one in the healthcare sector, with offices in Bangalore and Vizag.

He does a film every two years and after Billa-2 in 2012, he decided to make this short film, with Royal Stag Large Short Films. “Short films give you the creative freedom you are looking for. It’s just about an idea and telling a story.

That’s how a feature film should also ideally be…” he trails off, pointing towards more commercial constraints. The idea of doing the short films was to experiment, he reiterates. “I’ve never done a silent film before, and that too with kids. And the story I picked had a nostalgic element to it, so I decided to make it in black-and-white.” He also decided to make it a silent film because it’s about a boy who can neither read nor write. “And I thought it would be an interesting dimension — how does he express himself then, when he can’t even speak? There’s no language for love. The film is about how love can change the destiny of a person.” Since silence is the language of the film, music becomes an important factor. Budding American music composer Shankar Tucker came on board to give a different tone to each of the characters through his music. The screenplay is by Hollywood writers Robbie Fox and Mario Garcia. Unread stars Sree Ram in the lead, along with Bollywood actor Tinnu Anand.

The film was shot over a five-day schedule in Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad. Toleti also decided to use old-school camera techniques in Unread — “The camera is on sticks. It never moves — and that was the biggest challenge of the film. There is no axis shift. There’s a wide medium in every frame; characters walk in and out of the frame. So it’s all the more difficult to stage action.” And that’s where perhaps the resemblance to the films of Charles Chaplin comes in, he insists. “Also, nobody can beat the messages his social films had. The message of my film is simple — show some love to anybody and it will inspire them to do something.”

The film is on YouTube and on http://largeshortfilms.com

Short films give you the creative freedom you are looking for. It’s just about an idea and telling a story

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