‘Johaar’ to explore the politics of a statue

Ankith and Esther Anil

Ankith and Esther Anil   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

One of the characters, a politician, in the teaser of the new Telugu film Johaar declares that he will build a statue of his father, even if it has to happen at the cost of the State. Through Johaar, which will begin streaming on digital platform Aha from August 14, debut writer-director Teja Marni wants to show how the fight for freedom continues through four interconnected stories.

The idea for this film was triggered by the Statue of Unity. “Spending ₹3000 crore on a statue didn’t seem right to me when our country can do with strengthening of roadways, health care and education infrastructure. It’s not like someone will not plan a larger statue tomorrow. I wanted to use the medium of cinema to discuss this issue through stories inspired by real life,” says Teja.

Srikakulam to Hyderabad

Teja Marni

Teja Marni   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

He grew up in Rajahmundry and pursued B.Tech in Srikakulam. While commuting to college using public transport, he observed a few people and got to know their life stories, which inspired some of the film’s characters. A few other incidents and stories were shared by his friends. He fictionalised and dramatised the events for Johaar.

Teja began making short films while in college: “I knew I wasn’t cut out for engineering in the first year of B.Tech. I began assisting a senior in college for short films, after which I began making short films,” he says. He later moved to Hyderabad, looking for a window of opportunity in cinema.

He remembers spotting director Srikanth Addala in a car in Srinagar Colony and trailing the car through the many bylanes, in vain. “I found a similar car in one lane and learnt that there’s a film production and marketing office in the building. There, I happened to meet writer Lakhsmi Bhupal who encouraged me to make another short film.” One thing led to another and Teja got to assist Ram Gopal Varma for the film Vangaveeti.

The ensemble

Easwari Rao with a child actor in the film

Easwari Rao with a child actor in the film   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Setting out to make his own film, Teja began looking for an ensemble cast. He roped in Ankith Koyaa whom he knew from his short film days, and then zeroed in on Esther Anil, Naina Ganguly, Easwari Rao, Sudhakar , Rohini and Chaitanya Krishna for the other key roles.

“A tea seller who wants to be an entrepreneur, a mother struggling to save her ailing daughter, a street circus performer who wants to be an athlete, and a mother who pushes her daughter to prostitution are some of the characters. The political scenario affects all of them in different ways,” Teja elaborates, and adds, “I’ve seen Esther’s work in the three versions of Drishyam (Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil) and knew she would fit the bill. I wrote one character with Easwari Rao in mind and was happy when she agreed. Sudhakar plays a man in his 70s; as a 10-year-old he was a messenger to those in the Subash Chandra Bose regiment and holds on to those principles; his character runs a home for street children that’s in a dilapidated state.”

Teja concedes that, as a first timer, weaving in four stories wasn’t a cakewalk, but he was determined to give it his best shot. His brother Sandeep Marni came on board to produce the film, with funds pooled in from the immediate family.

Made with the spirit of an independent film, Teja hopes that Johaar will help him kickstart his journey in Telugu cinema.

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 8:05:29 AM |

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