Debut writer-director Hasith Goli is winning appreciation for the Telugu crime comedy-drama Raja Raja Chora , which released on August 19. The film starring Sree Vishnu, Sunaina and Megha Akash narrates the story of a small-time thief whose life takes an unexpected turn when he tries to pull off a theft while wearing a crown that supposedly changes fortunes. The story follows the protagonist, his family and others who cross his path, exploring aspects of survival in the city, crime, punishment and redemption.
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“We were confident that people would like our film, but the response has turned out to be overwhelming,” says Hasith. For the 29-year-old, this warm reception is an affirmation of his decision to shift from a corporate career to filmmaking four years ago.
A graduate in pharmaceutical engineering from BITS Pilani, Hasith worked with three organisations handling diverse portfolios before his childhood friend Vivek Athreya asked if he wanted to join him to make short and feature films: “I gave it a thought. In the years to come, my career would give me financial stability but it wouldn’t satisfy my creative urge. I was 25 and it seemed like the right time to take the plunge,” he reminisces.
Working with Vivek Athreya for the feature films Mental Madhilo (2017) and Brochevarevarura (2019) helped Hasith learn storytelling and filmmaking. When Brochevarevarura was in its post-production stage, Hasith decided it was time to make his own film.
Comedy with shades of grey
He had befriended actor Sree Vishnu during these two films and liked his comic timing. He was keen to tap this side of Vishnu through a light-hearted story: “I also like characters with shades of grey, because there is so much more pulp to beat out of it. I thought a story of a thief would fit the bill. I began writing the story of a thief, his lifestyle, his intentions and it all fell into place.”
In about three months, the script was ready. Hasith narrated it to Vivek Athreya and his team and the feedback boosted his confidence. “Vivek’s feedback and suggestions were like ani muthyalu (pearls of wisdom), and helped in fine tuning the script.”
Hasith knew he had an interesting story to narrate with peculiar characters that cross paths and result in mayhem. The pre-production work involved extensive discussions with cinematographer Vedaraman Shankar and music composer Vivek Sagar, along with others in the direction and production team.
The crucial pre-intermission portion leading up to Sree Vishnu attempting to make away with a big loot dressed as a king, was the result of several discussions and “polishing the script” as Hasith terms it.
Visual and musical narrations
Vedaraman and Hasith chose warm colour tones for the rustic middle class setting of the story, while Vivek Sagar took it as a challenge to bring in elements of Indian classical, contemporary western beats and street music: “Vivek’s compositions for [the independent film] Sheesh Mahal is among my favourites and the song ‘ Babarag’ stands out as a quirky bhajan. I wanted a song on similar lines to run parallel to the happenings in the pre-interval segment. Vivek composed a fun thillana kind of a song. We opted for contemporary beats for the romance between Vishnu and Megha and folksy street music, which Vivek is so good at, for the portions involving Gangavva and Sunaina.”
Let there be drama
The characters in the story seem to brim with close-to-reality traits. Hasith says it could have been a reflection of his subconscious observations. The adultery aspect involving William Reddy (Ravi Babu) was woven in from memories of hearing similar incidents in known circles: “Such situations guarantee a lot of drama and I love that genre,” says Hasith.
When we talk about the ‘ pravachana’ (discourse) portions featuring Tanikella Bharani that help bind the story with mythological references, Hasith discloses that initially, he wanted to use it as a tool for the pre-interval segment, but it also came in handy for the climactic portions: “People listen when a ‘pravachana kartha’ (the one who delivers the discourse) interprets a story. We wanted this holistic approach to the story.”
As for the crown that plays a crucial part in the film, Hasith says the crown can be a mark of power, greed and subsequent downfall: “That [trajectory] happens with two characters that wear the crown in this story.”
Hasith has written a couple of scripts and is eager to begin his next film. Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, K Vishwanath, Bapu, Guru Dutt and Mani Ratnam are some of his favourite filmmakers.
He is glad that he has been able to make his family proud through his first film. His interest in literature and writing, he says, stems from his father Hanumanta Sastry Goli: “My father is an avid writer (golisastry.blogspot.com) and I am happy that he liked the film, especially the emotional segments.”