The writer-director relives the experience of making Waltair Veerayya with his on-screen idol Chiranjeevi, handling the expectations surrounding it and the many nuances that shaped the world of the film
Director KS Ravindra a.k.a Bobby Kolli has had a formidable experience as a writer, associating with a veteran like Kona Venkat for many years before he decided to wield the megaphone himself. He gives more priority to the writer in him than the filmmaker. Only when he’s satisfied with his story, does he visualise or try to translate it onto the big screen. The filmmaker, who forayed into direction with Power, isn’t alien to pressure - he’s faced with it with the likes of Pawan Kalyan’s Sardaar Gabbar Singh, Jr NTR’s Lava Kusa and the Venkatesh-Naga Chaitanya starrer Venky Mama too.
In all cases, he’s handled the stress and the films’ results with a pinch of salt and didn’t lose self-belief. Unsurprisingly, you notice the same calmness even while he awaits the release of Chiranjeevi-Ravi Teja starrer Waltair Veerayya on January 13. In a chat with OTTplay.com, he discusses fanboy tributes, his love for Chiranjeevi and the little details that complete the world of Waltair Veerayya.
Handling the pre-release nervousness and a word about the box office clash with Veera Simha Reddy
There’s no pressure or pre-release nervousness; both are very good films handled by the same banner (Mythri Movie Makers) and I expect them to reach audiences well. Gopichand Malineni (director of Veera Simha Reddy) and I worked together for a long time and we call each other brothers. It’s a lovely coincidence (releasing at the same time) and we met on the flight while we went to Chennai for post production.
It was always my dream to work with Chiranjeevi. I first met him in 2003 and it took two decades to fulfil my dream. Just like both my stars in Waltair Veerayya, I entered the industry without any Godfather. I have made Waltair Veerayya keeping the tastes of the masses in mind.
The pressure about scoring a hit with Chiranjeevi after the star’s lull phase post-Khaidi No 150
For someone who has had a career of over four and half decades, Chiranjeevi has tolerated many phases like these, dealing with exponential highs and lows and I’ve never met someone who’s as balanced as him. He remains the same person regardless of a hit or a flop and I see the same spirit in Ravi Teja too. Even before Balupu, Ravi Teja was going through a lull but his energy levels didn’t drop. Both stars always give their best to the films and leave their fate to the audiences.
Dealing with two stars - Chiranjeevi and Ravi Teja in the same film
The beauty of having two heroes like Ravi Teja and Chiranjeevi in the same film is that both their fans don’t oppose each other; it’s as if they belong to the same family. Ravi Teja has often cited Chiranjeevi as an inspiration behind his growth. Even Chiranjeevi is proud of Ravi Teja’s popularity over the decades. Both fans appreciate the other star’s works and there’s a healthy friendship between the stars too.
In Waltair Veerayya, there will be full-on entertainment in every scene revolving around them and I promise that we’re coming up with something undoubtedly huge. I may not be in a position to talk about Ravi Teja’s screen time but I can tell you the film wouldn’t have happened without him. You’ll experience their aura on the big screen after the benefit shows.
The challenge of pleasing the common man beyond Chiranjeevi’s fans
I did narrate the story as a fan-boy to Chiranjeevi before the lockdown and he said yes immediately. During the lockdown, everyone from an auto-rickshaw driver to a software employee watched shows like Money Heist and their tastes changed drastically. Our top priority was to satisfy audiences beyond Chiranjeevi fans.
In fact, Ravi Teja’s character found its way into the story for the same reason. Beyond the fanboy moments, the story will keep the viewers invested. I put the fan-boy in me behind to tell a good story, designing the characters well and ensuring audiences will remember the story at the end of the day. The film will please multiplex audiences, B, C centre audiences equally.
Waltair Veerayya in a nutshell and the story behind the title
In a nutshell, Waltair Veerayya is a colourful, festive entertainer with beautiful emotions. When we were shooting the climax of Venky Mama at Yaganti, an NRI friend of Nasser gave me a book on a man named Veerayya based on his ancestor’s experiences in South Africa. The name Veerayya really stuck in my mind and I was casually telling my co-writer that we should make a film on this title someday.
When I was writing this story, I felt this would be a right fit for the title and Chiranjeevi had the same opinion despite me suggesting other options for the film. There’s another backstory where a constable named Veerayya forced Chiranjeevi to do a photo shoot in Bapatla and it paved the way for him to enter Madras. For all the nostalgia and optimism surrounding Veerayya, it had to be our title.
On the several references to Chiranjeevi’s 90s films in Waltair Veerayya
Chiranjeevi may have the mannerisms of Rowdy Alludu and the swag of a Mutha Mestri and the way he goes on a shooting spree may remind one of Gang Leader, but the character in the film gives us the liberty to try all of that. This wasn’t imposed on the character forcefully and won’t affect the story. Before I turned into a director, I spent a major part of my career writing stories. I get ready to direct a film only when the writer in me is satisfied.
Exploring the comedy angle in Chiranjeevi after a break
Beyond dances, he is excellent with his comedy timing. If we give him a good scene, he’ll enhance its impact by leaps and bounds. If a star has good timing, it always inspires a writer to try out a wide variety of scenes. I have grown up witnessing his magic on the big screen, be it the scenes where he’s fully drunk, warns the heroines or has a gala time with friends. You’ll witness all of that energy in Waltair Veerayya.
On recreating Jalaripeta, the boat backdrop in a set
AS Prakash is a senior art director and we didn’t have to explain much. He understands the world of the film right during the narration. Like what we saw in Boss Party, my idea was to create a street akin to Jalaripeta with a backdrop surrounding boats. I asked him to create something distinct from Chiranjeevi’s 153-odd films. I gave very few inputs but his execution was extraordinary. I was spellbound by the set as much as you did.
The changing nature of audience tastes and how no one understands the box office after COVID-19
Regarding audience tastes, irrespective of the story we tell, we need to entertain viewers. We can’t make them look at their phones or bore them, regardless of the genre. It has become a boon that a viewer dedicates his time to theatres. Audiences have reduced their visits to theatres and most of them want to watch films on OTT. There’s enough content available to watch that 24 hours a day don’t feel enough. Don’t make a viewer regret the fact that he’s come to a theatre and the job is done. We need to respect the viewer and once we neglect it, the film will go for a toss.
Hearing the final word about Waltair Veerayya from Chiranjeevi himself
I and my team were very anxious and had sleepless nights when someone with experience of over 150 films was watching the final output. While working for over 2 years with him, I realised he had a perfect understanding of how a film will pan out many months before its release. When he directly watched the final copy without ever coming to the editing room, I was naturally tensed. After watching the whole film, he hugged me and treated me with the affection of a brother. He called it a blockbuster.