Ritesh Rana promises a wacky, fun ride with ‘Happy Birthday’

Director Ritesh Rana discusses the surreal world he has created for his new Telugu comedy ‘Happy Birthday’ and its link to his debut project, ‘Mathu Vadalara’

July 05, 2022 03:41 pm | Updated 03:41 pm IST

Lavanya Tripathi as Happy in the Telugu crime thriller comedy ‘Happy Birthday’

Lavanya Tripathi as Happy in the Telugu crime thriller comedy ‘Happy Birthday’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Writer and director Ritesh Rana considers his maiden Telugu film, the 2019 crime comedy Mathu Vadalara, his calling card. He hopes that his second film Happy Birthday, which he describes as a surreal crime comedy thriller, will help cement his position in Telugu cinema: “I want to narrate different kinds of stories and build an audience that would look forward to my films.” Happy BIrthday stars Lavanya Tripathi as Happy and she is accompanied by Naresh Agastya, Satya and Vennela Kishore. 

Ritesh grew up in Hyderabad watching Chiranjeevi films, since his family members have been huge fans of the star. Mathu Vadalara had a handful of references to Chiranjeevi hits. Later, he was fascinated by director Chandrashekhar Yeleti’s crime drama Aithe: “I watched the film in my Class X holidays and was awestruck. Yeleti was an inspiration for me to enter the cinema. Incidentally, Cherry, who produced Yeleti’s Okkadunnadu, is one of the producers (as part of Mythri Movie Makers) for my films.”

An ardent movie buff, Ritesh used to share his thoughts on cinema on IMDB discussion boards. After graduating with B.Com (Hons), he took up an animation course and a distance education programme in MA Mass Communication from Sikkim Manipal University: “The animation course also introduced me to editing; I made a short film as part of project work. All this helped me learn the basics of filmmaking.” 

Ritesh Cinematic Universe?

Director Ritesh Rana

Director Ritesh Rana | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Both Mathu Vadalara and Happy Birthday are unconventional crime capers and Ritesh reveals that there is a link between the two films. Those who have watched Mathu… would remember the running joke in the form of an eccentric television serial in the film, called Ore naa kodaka, in which the husband is shot on his forehead in an initial scene but undertakes a long, harrowing and hilarious journey, without succumbing: “Happy Birthday’s story discusses the use of guns and in this surreal world we created, the couple from that television serial are real characters.”

Director Lokesh Kanagaraj recently linked his earlier Tamil film Kaithi with the story he wrote for Kamal Haasan-starrer Vikram and in turn connected it to the 1986 Kamal film of the same name, thereby creating what his fans term as an LKU (Lokesh Kanagaraj Universe). Ritesh downplays any such grandiose comparisons and maintains that this is a small film. Both films use a variety of guns, albeit in different contexts. 

For a hypothetical gun bazaar in Happy Birthday, the production team sourced several guns: “We needed 300 to 400 guns and kilos of bullets. We sourced guns with permission from those who rent weapons for film shootings. Just like there are several brands and variants of mobile phones, there is no dearth of guns. We got specialised guns in shades of gold, silver and diamond-studded ones,” says Ritesh. The trailer also shows glimpses of a candy pink gun.

Dignified comedy

Vennela Kishore as minister Rithwik Sodhi in ‘Happy Birthday’

Vennela Kishore as minister Rithwik Sodhi in ‘Happy Birthday’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Many of Ritesh’s collaborators from Mathu Vadalara are also a part of Happy Birthday - such as music composer Kaala Bhairava, co-writer Teja, actors Satya, Vennela Kishore and Naresh Agastya. For the part of a politician who talks about legalising gun culture, Ritesh felt Vennela Kishore could pull off “the dignified comedy” and says he is a fan of Satya’s comic timing as well. Lavanya Tripathi was cast after he spotted her in a television interview, letting her humorous side shine: “Most films she has acted in have not explored her fun side,” says Ritesh.

To complement the wacky story, the production team designed 13 quirky and colour-coded sets. Ritesh is a fan of production design in Wes Anderson films and says the team went all out to try something new: “A part of the story happens in a hotel and some portions on the streets. The story is non-linear, narrated as chapters and different segments required different colour schemes.”

Asked if the story explores the aftermath of legalising gun culture in the surreal world, Ritesh clams up: “Anything I say will give away too much about the story. I can just say that the humorous content will have the audience laughing for the most part of the film.”

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