When Vakkantham Vamsi says he gets his kicks from films, you know he is speaking from the heart. Script writing wasn’t his natural inclination, though it easily could have been. After all his father Vakkantham Suryanarayana Rao had penned several short stories and serialised novels for magazines and translated spiritual texts for the TTD and had friends among literary circles. Plus his father had several film and literary writers for friends. Also Vamsi’s paternal uncle too was a Harikatha artist. “My family nurtured culture My father encouraged me to read good fiction, and when I said I wanted to act, I was never discouraged; in fact my father used to discuss how I could take steps to realise my goals. His childhood dream of acting saw him act at school plays, but he didn’t face a camera till much later with P. N. Ramachandra Rao’s Chitram Bhalare Vichitram . “I didn’t really act there, I just faced the camera for the first time in it,” he smiles. In 1990 he actually made his acting debut in a role of a beggar in front of a temple for Rangavalli , a film by writer and lyricist J.K. Bharavi. “I had a line to speak there,” he grins. Bit roles in Manavari Pelli and a dubbing job in Leader left him hungry for more.
His passion for acting saw him apply to ETV for a job that he somehow imagined would lead to acting. “When I was finally appointed as news reader after auditions, I was disappointed. I joined in 1995 quite reluctantly; because people told me I have a good voice, and have a good diction. Soon I became the most popular TV news reader and I got the recognition I craved for.” Around that time he got selected to play the lead role for veteran director Dasari Narayana Rao’s Kalyanapraptirastu with Suma and Kavya as co stars. “I thought I had it made; and since shooting schedules required more time, I quit my TV job. But the film bombed, I was left with nothing. I had no job, no acting offers, no doors were opening, and I was simply shattered. Between 95-96, I had seen it all- fame across the state, a lead role with a veteran, and then complete anonymity. But my passion for the entertainment industry didn’t wane. I took up acting in TV serials... in Bapu’s Bhagavatam (as Suka Mahamuni ) , in Vamsy’s telefilm Swayamvaram and a few TV serials with Manjula Naidu and others. I had enough of acting by then, at least on TV.”
The direction bug had caught him by then, but Vamsi was wise enough to understand that he needed to hone his skills further before he took it up in earnest.
He decided to take up writing dialogues and scripts for that. His rapport with director Surender Reddy helped, since it gradually led him to write Ashok for Jr NTR. He was also associated with Athithi but it was Kick that gave him the biggest hit to date. I had worked with Surender Reddy twice earlier, but when I spoke of wanting to do something different with him, he asked me to go ahead. Kick was different for him too... he moved from action to character-driven entertainment.” Kick not only opened doors for him, but upped his market value. Nothing succeeds like success in this industry. Your product or your personality don’t mean anything, all they are bothered about is hits. There are big stakes here, so one can’t expect anything else,” he says.
His Oosaravelli or Kalyanram Kathi may not have worked at the box office, but Vamsi is certainly going places with big banners. At present he has Vamsi Paidipally’s Yevadu (starring Ram Charan and Allu Arjun) , Race Gurram (again with Allu Arjun and director Surender Reddy), and a Ravi Teja starrer with director Meher Ramesh in his kitty.
“One never knows what will click with a star or director, it could be an idea, a character, a plot point, it all depends on what excited that individual,” he says philosophically.
Given the political, regional and caste controversies that films have evoked in the recent past, does he feel writers are constrained? He is quick to respond: “See, nobody in the film industry wants to offend another. But these days freedom of expression is severely limited. You can’t write a line without thinking of whether someone will get offended or read some (unintended) meaning in it. There was a time when NTR was the Chief Minister and actor Krishna made the movie Mandaladeesudu that was a spoof of NTR, it was very critical. But the film got released without any problem. One can’t imagine that kind of situation now.”
As a film writer he is prepared to take some blame though; “Our concept of entertainment has changed, it is more sadistic now. Every film has the comedian getting slapped or kicked, or somebody is laughed at,” says the write who is big fan of Jandhyala and Rajkumar Hirani. As a writer he is resigned: “Every writer wants history to be told the way he first wrote or conceived it. But they have to work with the hero’s image and the film’s potential for success. Big money is involved, so failure isn’t an option here.”
Direction holds out more promise for him for that very reason. That will allow him to narrate a story as he wishes to. “It’s something I always wanted to do,” he reminds you. That’s why Vamsi hasn’t let go his dream to direct; he is all set to make his directorial debut in 2013, a project he is not prepared to talk about as yet. But he is also acutely aware that there are few writer directors in the Telugu industry.
Until then, his journey continues with various actors and directors. Will he stop there? Or will he shift his goalposts still further ahead…only time can’t tell.
These days freedom of expression is severely limited. You can’t write a line without thinking of whether someone will get offended or read some (unintended) meaning in it.