“I was nervous until last night, finalising the post-production and thinking of how I can deliver a better film. Today I am excited and looking forward to the release of Kushi,” says director Shiva Nirvana, talking to The Hindu about his new Telugu romance drama starring Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha Ruth Prabhu. Kushi will also be released in Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam and Kannada on September 1.
Shiva Nirvana smiles when asked about social media posts comparing Kushi to Mani Ratnam’s Alaipayuthey (Sakhi in Telugu). “Any film that explores the story of a couple marrying against their parents’ advice is bound to have a few common elements — a registrar’s office, the girl and the boy wanting to prove to their parents that their marriage, etc. Sakhi is a classic and I cannot match it even if I try.” Shiva adds that Kushi explores something more than romance after marriage. “We have not revealed this aspect in the trailer. I have dealt with a sensitive issue.”
Mani Ratnam, RGV influence
Nevertheless, he acknowledges that Mani Ratnam’s films have greatly influenced him. Shiva remembers watching Bombay as a Class X student in Visakhapatnam and being blown away. An ardent admirer of Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Varma (he watched Satya as an intermediate student and was determined to become a filmmaker some day; later, he assisted RGV in Rakta Charitra), Shiva says, “In Kushi, Vijay’s character Viplav is a Mani Ratnam fan. Hence the song ‘na roja nuvve…’ works like a tribute to Mani Ratnam.”
He reckons that his approach to writing and executing a romance might be subconsciously influenced by Mani Ratnam films. “Similarly, if I make a dark thriller, the way I explain to my cinematographer how I want to film a scene might unknowingly have RGV’s influence.”
Shiva recalls packing his bags to Chennai years ago, wanting to assist Mani Ratnam. “I stayed in bus shelters, dumped my bags somewhere in Spencer Plaza and parked myself outside Mani Ratnam’s house, waiting to catch a glimpse of him and ask for an opportunity. Soon, I ran out of money and returned home. As advised by my father, I completed M.Sc, B.Ed, taught biological sciences for two years and then decided to try my luck in movies. I did not want to regret not having tried at all.”
Shiva worked as a prompter and a clap assistant for television productions and later assisted multiple filmmakers before directing Ninnu Kori with Nani, Aadi Pinnisetty and Nivetha Thomas. “Though I was obsessed with cinema, I was not sure if I would make it. I did not get married until I directed Ninnu Kori.” His forearm now has a tattoo of his wife’s name — Bhagi.
Shiva has become synonymous with romance dramas — Ninnu Kori, Majili and Kushi. Tuck Jagadish was the only deviation. But romance was not his favourite genre as an aspiring filmmaker. “I used to narrate action dramas, edge-of-the-seat thrillers and mass masala movies to producers. Ninnu Kori emerged from an observation among my friends. The boys used to be heartbroken that they took a few years to earn well, before which the girl would marry someone in the USA. I explored this issue through an entertainer. Then Naga Chaitanya asked if I could direct a romance drama for him and Majili happened.”
As an idea, Kushi emerged three years ago and he first pitched it to Vijay. Samantha was roped in later. The two shared the screen earlier in the Savitri biopic Mahanati, but this is their first full-fledged romance drama. “Since both of them are known nationally, the producers (Mythri Movie Makers) felt this film would be viable in different languages. I’ve taken care to see that the story has its rootedness, and at the same time, will have a wider appeal. We engaged a team of writers and dubbing artistes to ensure good Hindi output. Chinmayi has dubbed for Samantha in both Telugu and Tamil.”
In sync with actors
On the sets, Shiva says he had to shake off the Arjun Reddy and Geetha Govindam images of Vijay Deverakonda. “When I work with an actor for the first time, the first two or three days, I just observe them. I talk a lot to my actors, explaining how I envision a scene. A few shots later, we begin to work in sync and the magic happens. Sam, for example, knows just how much drama I expect from a scene and where I draw the line for melodrama.” He adds that Kushi will see Samantha in a complete romance, reminding the audience of her earliest films such as Ye Maya Chesave. “They will be reminded of vintage Sam.”
Kushi, he says, has tapped into Vijay’s comic timing. “He can make the simplest of everyday conversations seem fun. If he walks into this room, the way he picks up a water bottle and asks me if I finished it all will make others laugh. He is effortless in registering his presence in a room.”
Shiva does not reveal what he will be working on post Kushi, but says he is keen to explore genres other than romance.