The filmmaker holds forth on directing Venkatesh’s 75th film and the various influences that shaped the script
Having spent most of his formative years in Chennai, researcher-turned-filmmaker Sailesh Kolanu would arrogantly brag that he was a Kamal Haasan fan in the industry. The star was a definite inspiration behind his entry into films and continues to influence his work, but after directing Saindhav, Sailesh admits he’s starstruck by Venkatesh too, associating with him for nearly a year and a half.
After helming three films in the thriller genre as part of Hit franchise, Sailesh was keen on directing a romance musical and had the rough draft ready. However, he was surprised to receive a call from Venkat Boyanapalli (of Niharika Entertainments) that Venkatesh was interested to meet me. “I was pleasantly surprised and presumed it would be a casual discussion about Hit 2.”
“We did discuss Hit 2 at length, but our conversation extended much beyond films across multiple meetings. He asked why I left a career in science to enter films, spoke of his approach to life. Only when we felt that we were in sync with each other’s tastes, sensibilities, we thought of a collaboration. I gave him a brief idea, he loved it and asked me to develop it into a full-fledged script.”
The idea behind Saindhav struck him during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he came across a crowd-funding campaign for a patient suffering from spinal muscular atrophy and how it would take a Rs 17 crore-worth injection to save him. The trauma that the parents may have experienced in the incident inspired him to write a story, but he wanted to give it a cinematic flourish.
“I was particular that it wouldn’t be a message film. Even while discussing the condition, I didn’t want the story to be information-heavy. I have just given audiences enough details to drive the emotion forward and ensure that the ambience is authentic.” Denzel Washington’s The Equaliser series was another inspiration and he wanted to see a Telugu star as a middle-aged protagonist.
Many tried to scare Sailesh about the efforts it would take to convince Venkatesh and Suresh Babu with the script. “Yes, it was on my mind but everything fell in place for Saindhav. I liked the fact Suresh Babu was making notes during the narration. The suggestions did come from him - I agreed with most of them and when I didn’t, I explained my stance too. The process was transparent.”
Venkatesh’s inputs came in handy during the emotional sequences. “Having directed only thrillers, I haven’t dealt with such heavy emotional threads in the past and he made the sequences really special. I made sure I didn’t get carried away by his persona. We already had something solid on a script level and we only built on the emotion.”
As evident from the promos, Sailesh set Saindhav in a fictitious port city - Chandraprastha. Beyond the world building, he did it for authenticity. “The film revolved around drug cartels, mafia dons and gangsters and setting up the story in Vizag would’ve been an exaggeration. We didn’t shoot in Mumbai because I didn’t want the film to lose its nativity.”
The trailer hints that Saindhav follows the Baasha template - of a man with a violent past, leading a life in disguise with his loved ones. “Yet, you wouldn’t have a flashback that disrupts the core story - of a father trying to rescue his father. You’ll get to know his past, but it won’t come in the way of the narration.”
Roping in Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the baddie was his idea. “He was not keen on signing South films because they weren’t allowing him to dub for the role. However, Saindhav required an actor who spoke in Hindi and broken Telugu. I asked him to give me some time to prep up for the slang. Despite his many villain roles in the past, Saindhav will explore a newer dimension of his repertoire.”
The film is largely centred on characters played by Venkatesh, Baby Sara, Shraddha Srinath and Nawaz. “We brought stars like Arya, Ruhani Sharma, Andrea Jeremiah for extended cameos because of the weight they would add to a role. It helps the audience take the characters more seriously. Despite doing films that run on their shoulders, it was gracious of them to work for Saindhav.”
The filmmaker was aware that the span and the scale of the script was huge but didn’t get bogged down by the budgetary needs. “Venkat Boyanapalli wanted to make a special film for Venkatesh, he liked the script and the executive producer came up with a budget plan. I wasn’t aware of the market for a Venkatesh film, but our pre-release business deals ensured that the producer was safe.”
He has written a love story based on his relationship with his wife (when they met at 17) and also has a special script based on career conflicts. “I have a two-year-old son and I want that story to inspire him when he turns 18. It was written during a crucial phase in my 20s.” Sailesh has a film each with producers Dil Raju and S Naga Vamsi, but hasn’t finalised his plans after Saindhav.