The Login, ABCD filmmaker spills the beans about his OTT directorial debut for ZEE5, Aha Na Pellanta
Last Updated: 11.22 AM, Nov 20, 2022
Mahboobnagar-born Sanjeev Reddy, who was working for an infrastructure company, decided to further his filmmaking ambitions and teamed up with a childhood friend to make Login, a cyber-crime thriller almost a decade ago. While he was involved in the scripting of Login’s Telugu version titled Ladies and Gentlemen, he forayed into Telugu cinema as a director with Allu Sirish’s ABCD.
Between Login and ABCD, there were a lot of uncertain phases that the director went through and you trust him when he says ‘timing is everything in this industry.’ And his destiny has now got him to make his first OTT show for ZEE5, Aha Na Pellanta, starring Raj Tarun and Shivani Rajashekar. The filmmaker, in a chat with OTTplay.com, takes us through his tryst with cinema and his experiences directing his first web show.
From Mahboobnagar to Film Nagar
I used to work as a chief manager for Hyderabad in an infrastructure company that financed construction equipment. Being a film buff and wanting to try my luck in the industry, I worked as an associate for Mahatma under Krishna Vamsi. Just when social media was evolving and cyber crimes were on the rise, I thought of making a film based on many such incidents and Login happened. Using up my savings and with help from my childhood friend Rajkumar, we made the film and it received critical acclaim. Producer Madhura Sridhar happened to watch the film, expressed his interest in bagging the Telugu rights and asked if I was interested to direct it.
I was in talks for another Hindi film then and couldn’t make time for it. Ultimately, Ladies and Gentlemen was helmed by P Manjunath and I was an integral part of the writing process. We were to take up the remake of Ek Chalis Ki Last Local next but the project couldn’t take off. I and Madhura Sridhar put together another script, Santana Praptirastu, and pitched it to Allu Sirish. He liked the script but didn’t see himself starring in it. A few days later, he asked if I could direct the Telugu remake of ABCD and the film kickstarted.
The experiences of working on two remakes - Ladies and Gentlemen, ABCD
While cybercrime is a subject that continues to be relevant, adapting Login for Telugu audiences (as Ladies and Gentlemen) wasn’t a huge challenge. The most important part of writing remakes is to make the dialogues feel relevant for the times. Our habits, the words we use in our daily life and minute trends change from time to time and it’s important to capture that transformation through cinema.
With ABCD, we were dealing with a story of parents wanting their son to take charge of his life and be responsible - this isn’t something that’s going to change over time either and that’s why retained the core plot of the Malayalam film as it is. Owing to a few cultural differences between our States, we made a few changes to the female characterisation to make her more likeable and improvised on the humour quotient. Some felt the climax didn’t work here but I had done it to highlight the transformation of Allu Sirish’s character. That’s the thing with remakes - it’s not easy to please everyone.
Bringing someone else’s script to life, owning it up and making a web show
Sheik Dawood was a lecturer from LV Prasad’s institute in Chennai, who had associated with Merlapaka Gandhi for films like Venkatadri Express and Express Raja. I’d been in touch with him after ABCD and we’ve readied a series of scripts through the lockdown. As we speak, we have a drama waiting to be made after Aha Na Pellanta. When I heard the story of Aha Na Pellanta, it piqued my curiosity and I could see myself directing it.
All of this happened through Tamada Media and owing to the association I shared with them for a few projects in the past, they felt I could do justice to it. I’ve known the dialogue writer Kalyan Raghav for a long time too. The association with these writers didn’t happen overnight and it took a few months for us to understand each other’s tastes well. The journey with them is as significant as making a show out of their script.
Response to Raj Tarun’s comment on making his actors feel comfortable on sets
It’s incredibly sweet of Raj Tarun to say that I make him feel comfortable on the sets. I come very prepared to the location and inform our shoot plans in advance so that there are no surprises or shocks while filming it. With web shows, we’re expected to come up with content spanning four hours at the same time we get to make a feature film and it’s important to be organised and meticulous in our approach. Aha Na Pellanta’s shoot was so peaceful and comfortable.
Raj Tarun trusted me so much that he never came to check the monitor. If I wanted anything more, he would blindly trust me and wouldn’t ask any questions. It’s this mutual respect that worked well for Aha Na Pellanta. The vibe of a set is mostly decided by how well the script shapes up. The actors came prepared and we were very focused on what we wanted to make.
I am generally an introvert and I talk very little on sets beyond explaining the scene to actors. In terms of atmosphere, there was chivalry all around because of the absence of hierarchy. Everyone would talk to each other comfortably without any airs; Raj Tarun interacted with the production manager and the spot boy as if he were one among them. When there’s such positivity on the set, there’s no need for any extra effort to create a happy atmosphere.
Helming a story set in an episodic format
The credit for writing the show in an episodic format must go to Dawood. He had to plan the script as if it had seven intervals and keep track of the run time. We didn’t have to work too hard for it because the story already had so many interesting twists and turns and the episode hooks fell in place organically. In terms of filmmaking principles, shot division, and camera movements too, I followed what I generally do in feature films and didn’t try to do anything different.
On standing up to the extremities in the industry and not losing hope
I went through many lows and it’s important to not lose hope. Everyone has the same 24 hours a day and it’s important to look within and understand where we’ve fallen short. It’s important to interact with the right bunch of people. Ultimately, I realised, ‘adaganide..ammaina annam pettadhu.’ You need to be open for interactions, move with the right bunch of people, not let frustration take over you and upgrade with time, exposing yourself to a wide range of films.