Baby is the most emotional film Anand Deverakonda has acted in so far. “I think it will remain so for a while,” says the actor, about his Telugu film written and directed by Sai Rajesh, which will release in theatres on July 14. The musical romance drama traces the journey of characters played by him, Vaishnavi Chaitanya and Viraj Ashwin. The contemporary romance triangle gets an old-world charm thanks to Vijai Bulganin’s music, and Anand calls Vijai “the first hero of the film.” The songs of Baby, steeped in Ilaiyaraaja-esque music, have helped create much of the buzz for the film.
Anand says while the story is set in the present times, “its relatability factor will be multi-generational. I am confident that the 80s and 90s kids will also relate to the romance. There is a progression in terms of the characters played by me and Vaishnavi; we are shown as Class X students and then move to the later years. The story is about how people change with time and circumstances.”
He says the trailer, which has stirred a debate on social media, does not reveal much about the crux of the film. “Surprises and shocks are in store. We were careful that the trailer reveals only a broad outline of the three characters and some of the situations they find themselves in.”
In an earlier chat with The Hindu, Sai Rajesh had revealed that a news report of an incident in Salem inspired him to write Baby. Anand elaborates that the story took shape thanks to a combination of factors. “Sai Rajesh had observed friends who had moved from Nellore to Hyderabad about eight to 10 years ago, their relationships, and also thought of the Salem incident and wondered what the girl would have gone through. He began to write a story from a female perspective,” and adds that Vaishnavi’s character is the soul of Baby.
Not equating fairness with beauty
The trailer shows Vaishnavi’s character going through a transformation, from a dusky schoolgirl to getting a makeover to a fairer complexion in her college days. It sparked comments on social media with a few wondering if the film was equating fair skin to notions of aspirational beauty standards. Anand was quick to react, urging that the film be judged after it’s watched.
Explaining his stance, Anand says, “The female lead’s character has been written carefully and at no point says fair skin is more beautiful. The girl grows up in a basti. When she goes to college and sees girls around her dress and behave a certain way, she tries to transform herself in an attempt to fit in. This is something I’ve seen in men and women around me, trying to change themselves to fit into a new environment. As an actor, I have also tried to look or act a certain way.” He adds that the script was vetted by a few female friends of the writer-director to ensure that gender sensitivity was not skewed. “I can confidently say that I haven’t come across such an interesting and solid female character in Telugu cinema in years.”
One of the dialogues also has a passing reference to Arjun Reddy, with Vaishnavi asking Anand if he fancies himself to be Arjun Reddy, when he reacts to a situation aggressively. Anand’s unkempt look in the scene and his resemblance to his brother Vijay Deverakonda only make that scene an instant attention grabber.
Anand reckons that some of this writing happened spontaneously and he, with the director and the team, had discussions on the portrayal of gender in the story. “The scene is five to six minutes long and my character says things in frustration. He reacts with momentary anger and sobers down the next moment with the realisation that he cannot speak thus to the girl he loves the most. We are aware of the several discussions on Arjun Reddy and misogyny. The dialogue in Baby works like a pop culture reference and is our way of stating that we are not mimicking that film.” Anand describes Baby as a kind of romance one would see in a director Selva Raghavan film rather than Pa. Ranjith or Maari Selvaraj films.
In the pipeline for Anand are an action entertainer titled Gam Gam Ganesha, and an untitled crime comedy. So far, he has taken it slow and steady. Middle Class Melodies has been his most appreciated work thus far. Does he feel the pressure to shine at the box office? “There is a sense of nervousness but I am lucky that Baby has sparked a lot of interest, thanks to the music and the producers ensuring good distribution. I grew up in a boarding school and watched films mostly on television; so I am still not that objective in predicting how the audience will react to a scene. My director has watched hundreds of movies in theatres and knows the pulse of the audience. I like to work with strong directors who can guide me on where to amp up or tone things down. We have a good film on our hands.”