A story that explores the bond between a mother and son during childhood with a hint of regret as a grown up and an intent to go back in time and change something, with music serving as a foil. Director Shree Karthick says his debut feature film — Oke Oka Jeevitham in Telugu and Kanam in Tamil — is all this and more. “It is an emotional story at its core, but also racy and a fun sci-fi drama,” says the Chennai-based director, over phone. Starring Sharwanand and Ritu Varma in the lead, the film has Amala Akkineni portraying the mother and Nasser as a scientist who facilitates time travel.
The soul of the film
The ‘Amma’ song, written by the late Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry in Telugu and Uma Devi in Tamil, is the soul of the film. Karthick reminisces, “Sastry garu was moved by the story. He said he wanted to take time and write something special for the film. He wrote the lyrics over nine months.”
The songs composed by Jakes Bejoy have helped rustle up enthusiasm for the film and Karthick says they had a two-pronged strategy: “One was the music to suit the emotional layer of the story and the other was ‘synth’ music, as we termed it, for the sci-fi portions. We composed quite a bit using synthesisers.”
The concept of time travel has been explored in Telugu and Tamil cinema, with Aditya 369, Netru Indru Naalai and 24. For Karthick who lost his mother in 2014 and was struggling to cope with the loss, this story stemmed from the void — the protagonist going back in time to see his mother seemed like a natural progression. He wrote the story and screenplay channelling the loss and pain but was conscious that it has to be fun and engaging: “I consciously avoided the oft-repeated templates used in sci-fi films. This story will also explore the consequences when one tries to meddle with time.”
Karthick was born to a Telugu mother and a Tamil father. Having grown up in Chennai, he speaks Telugu laced with Tamil. He intended his debut feature film to be a Tamil project, but producers SR Prabhu and Prakashbabu of Dream Warrior Pictures sensed the scope for a bilingual and it grew bigger.
Sharwanand, a well-known name in Telugu cinema, has occasionally worked in Tamil films — Naalai Namadhe, Engeyum Eppodhum and JK Enum Nanbanin Vaazhkai. Karthick has known Sharwanand and had been pitching stories for a few years: “He liked this one and was also keen to do it in Tamil.” The project marks Amala’s return to Tamil cinema after the 1991-film Karpoora Mullai. In Telugu, she was last seen in Sekhar Kammula’s Life is Beautiful a decade ago and appeared in a fleeting cameo in Manam.
“Sharwa, Ritu Varma, Amala ma’am and Nasser sir feature in both the languages. We cast Priyadarshi and Vennela Kishore as friends in Telugu and Satish and Ramesh Thilak in the Tamil version,” says Karthick, adding that the friends are not sidekicks to the hero. “There is a definite arc to their characters; they add humour but there is also conflict and resolution in their lives.”
For the Telugu dialogues, Karthick took the help of writer-director Tharun Bhascker, whose work he immensely liked in Pelli Choopulu.
Karthick terms Kanam/Oke Oka Jeevitham as his “dream project” for which he worked with “a dream team” that includes his close friends cinematographer Sujith Sarang, editor Sreejith Sarang and music composer Jakes Bejoy: “We are like brothers. It has taken me years to make a feature film, but they are all established names. They knew my mother and the bond I shared with her, so this project is special for them as well.”
After completing his B.Tech from SRM Valliammai Engineering College in Chennai, Karthick pursued dancing and was keen to be a dancer. “I was told that I was good with expressions and should try acting,” Karthick recalls. He did a few roles but was not happy with the opportunities. “I began to write stories to create my own opportunities. I realised that writing came more naturally to me than acting. I wanted to be a storyteller.”
He founded the company Madboys Creatives and began making short and ad films. The process helped him hone his skills as a writer and director. Kanam/Oke Oka Jeevitham is a test for Karthick: “I have a few more stories, but I want to see how the audiences receive my first film.”