Nearly nine years after the psychological thriller Maaya, director Neelakanta Reddy is awaiting the theatrical release of his new Telugu film Circle, which he terms an emotional thriller. “I like the stories in my films to have a focal point. In Circle, we deal with the play of fate,” Neelakanta says during this interview at his office in Hyderabad, days ahead of the film that’s scheduled to release on July 7.
“I never felt I was away from films since I was working. Writing has been a continuous process,” says Neelakanta when asked what kept him occupied in the last few years. Intermittently, a few projects did not crystallise and he used the lockdown period to reevaluate his work. In the pipeline are ideas and scripts for feature films and web series. He was also working on the Malayalam adaptation of director Vikash Bahl’s Queen starring Kangana Ranaut.
Circle stars Sai Ronak as a photographer and the story involves other characters played by Baba Bhaskar, Arshin Mehta, Richa Panna and Naina. The idea had emerged years ago and Neelakanta revisited it and fleshed it out, improvising with each draft. The trailer indicates a romantic drama with elements of a thriller. “Circle is about the central character’s (Sai Ronak) relationships, a few incidents and a lot of drama.”
Those who have followed Neelakanta’s journey will recall some of his appreciated films - Show, Missamma, Virodhi and Mr Medhavi. “Each of these films dealt with a specific idea or a concept. Show spoke about creative frustration, philanthropy was a point taken up in Missamma, Virodhi was about a character’s principles and Mr Medhavi was about how everything in life need not be a calculated move.”
A few other films did not leave a mark. Neelakanta acknowledges, “With Chammak Challo, I understood that people did not expect regular love stories from me.”
In the last two decades, he has directed 10 films and reckons he has always tried walking the middle path between mainstream commercial and arthouse cinema. Show fetched him the National Award for best screenplay and Telugu feature film. A self-taught filmmaker, he says he wanted to make meaningful films that are also entertaining, and looked up to Hrishikesh Mukherji, Balu Mahendra, Bharathiraja, and Mahendran and considers K. Balchander as his guru. “I learnt cinema in the theatres. In Balachander’s movies, the stories dealt with interpersonal relationships, reflected the social milieu of the times and there was an exploration of people’s psyche,” he says, adding that he has tried to have an element of realism in his stories.
Since his early days in cinema, Neelakanta says he has never gone to the sets without a detailed script, which was not a common practice in Telugu cinema earlier. “Even 20 years ago, I worked with a bound script. The producers were appreciative of my method because it avoided needless expenditure. Nearly 99% of my script is ready and only minor improvisations happen on the sets.”
With Circle, Neelakanta says he has tried to adapt his writing and filmmaking style to connect with the present generation. “There are characters with different mindsets and I think I have found suitable actors. Sai Ronak has the attitude that one would expect from a well-known photographer and he has performed well. Baba Bhaskar has shown that he is not only a good choreographer but also a good actor. There is a touch of dark humour to his character. I hope people find the story and the characters interesting.”