Mohanakrishna Indraganti turns the spotlight on the film industry once again

Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti holds forth on ‘Aa Ammayi Gurinchi Meeku Cheppali’, the second project in his trilogy on the film industry

September 12, 2022 04:34 pm | Updated September 13, 2022 10:08 am IST

Krithi Shetty and Sudheer Babu in ‘Aa Ammayi Gurinchi Meeku Cheppali’

Krithi Shetty and Sudheer Babu in ‘Aa Ammayi Gurinchi Meeku Cheppali’

For several Telugu film buffs, the trailer of writer-director Mohanakrishna Indraganti’s new film Aa Ammayi Gurinchi Meeku Cheppali ( I have to tell you about that girl), starring Sudheer Babu and Krithi Shetty, may have brought back memories of his 2018 film Sammohanam. Both stories are set within the film industry. This is the second in his trilogy on the film industry. “One can make a career out of narrating stories inspired by the film industry. I have met vibrant people working in the industry, hailing from different socio-economic backgrounds. From actors to lightmen and junior artistes, everyone has an interesting story,” the director says during this conversation in Hyderabad, minutes after carrying out the final post-production checks for the film that is scheduled to release in theatres on September 16.

The idea for Sammohanam had emerged in 2011 and in due course, Indraganti was enthused by the thought of a trilogy on cinema. Sammohanam was a romance drama between Sudheer Babu as a non-film person and Aditi Rao Hydari as an actor. It was also a commentary on the ways of the film industry, in the portions that involved the hero’s father who had nurtured a wish to act in films. Indraganti says that in Aa Ammayi Gurinchi Meeku Cheppali (AAGMC), Sudheer plays a director who is known for his mainstream commercial movies: “Krithi is an ophthalmologist who becomes his muse. He wants to cast her in his film but she and her parents despise the film world and have their reasons.” 

Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti

Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Tribute to women in cinema

In a way, this story is Indraganti’s tribute to young women who fight with their families to pursue a career in cinema: “There is a lot of opposition in middle-class families when a girl says she wants to be an actress. In this story, the girl’s parents (Srikanth Iyengar and Kalyani Natarajan) think the film world is morally depraved; the reasons that make them have such notions are revealed in the story. At one point Krithi’s character asserts that she wants to act and it leads to conflict.”

The story touches upon the issue of the casting couch, says the director: “You cannot make a film on the industry and not refer to the issue. We address it in passing, in a constructive manner without passing moral judgments on the choices made by women who are put in a tight spot.” 

Indraganti says the film industry is a microcosm of the world at large but exploitation is more in focus since cinema is a public art form. “The #MeToo movement exposed the exploitation in several other professions, including university professors. Since cinema shows the intimacy between characters on screen, people assume that actors have no inhibitions in real life as well.”

The #MeToo movement may not have solved all the problems faced by women in the film industry, but things are looking up, reckons Indraganti: “Predators are aware that they cannot get away easily. We are also seeing more women in different departments, including direction and production. When women have decision-making powers, they understand the plight of other women and the overall work atmosphere gets better. The assumption that women are available merely because they are working in the film industry is changing.”

Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti with Krithi Shetty and Sudheer Babu

Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti with Krithi Shetty and Sudheer Babu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Film within a film

The process of showing a film within a film fascinates Indraganti: “It is a ‘meta’ idea. I have cast real lightmen as lightmen for the film that is shown in the story. Actors are also acting in a film within a film.”

During Sammohanam, he had shared the basic premise of AAGMC with Sudheer Babu, who expressed a keen interest to be a part of this project. “He plays a polar opposite character of that film; when he told me how he intended to do it, I was convinced he could pull it off.” 

Krithi was a newcomer when she had signed AAGMC, recalls Indraganti: “I wanted a heroine who does carry the burden of an image. In this film she is not a glam doll; the story explores the artistic side of her.” AAGMC faced hurdles during the pandemic in the meantime, Krithi’s other films including Uppena had been released.

Digital plans: Mohanakrishna Indraganti was approached by a few digital platforms for either directing or being a showrunner for web series projects. He is open to the digital medium but understands that it involves more time: “I cannot treat it like a side business. Digital medium involves a bigger risk. People who come to the theatre might sit through a film even if they don’t like it much, but it is easy to turn off the channel at home.”
Reminiscing on V: Indraganti’s previous film V, the action entertainer starring Sudheer Babu and Nani, did not evoke the warm response the team had expected. Indraganti reflects, “Since Nani has a huge fan base, a lot of people looked at the story from his character’s point of view and thought it is another revenge drama. In fact, Nani himself had told me during the making of the film that his character is like an extended cameo in Sudheer’s film. At the same time, I received appreciation for the story and characterisations from IPS officers and many women. The audience and critics are my biggest strengths and I am open to constructive criticism. I would rather take risks exploring different genres than be stuck in one zone.”

As always, Indraganti conducted workshops and script reading sessions with his actors to make them strike a rapport with each other as well as understand their parts better. He calls Sudheer, Krithi Shetty, Srikanth Iyengar and Kalyani Natarajan as four pillars of the story. The in-depth discussions with the female actors, he says, also help him get ample feedback: “Kalyani is from Mumbai, a mother of two and her husband is also an actor. We spoke at length about her views on the film industry and how she manages work and home. I also got feedback from Bindu Chandramouli who appears in a significant cameo and Krithi.”

Vennela Kishore plays a somewhat cynical co-director and Rahul Ramakrishna is a scriptwriter. “Kishore has interacted with several co-directors and brought his understanding to the table. He plays a co-director who has preconceived notions about women in cinema. Rahul is a writer who doesn’t think highly of the films Sudheer’s character makes. He represents the real and idealistic world that Sudheer is far removed from. I named Rahul’s character Ramana, as a tribute to my favourite writer Mullapudi Venkata Ramana garu.”

Theme score

For this film, Indraganti again collaborated with cinematographer P G Vinda and music composer Vivek Sagar. He explains that the visual tones are different for the segments that showcase Krithi’s middle class household as opposed to Sudheer’s luxurious lifestyle. He is confident that the music will be a highlight: “This is a more emotional and intense film and Vivek Sagar’s orchestral score is grander than in Sammohanam, which had a more indie vibe to it. He has composed a fantastic theme score which will be talked about.”

Indraganti states that he had not intended to make the second film of the trilogy barely within two years of Sammohanam. “I found the right story and the actors and we began work. But I do not plan to make the third film of the trilogy anytime soon.”

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