Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Srikanth Odela’s swashbuckling debut

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Superstar Nani’s much-anticipated film Dasara hit the theaters today. Ahead of the release, Srikanth Odela, who made his directorial debut with the film, speaks to the Hyderabadi media, and discusses the origins of Dasara, how he ended up casting Keerthy Suresh, and more.

Amartya Smaran

Debut director Srikanth Odela is one lucky technician. Of course, he’s lucky! However, it’s not to say that the man doesn’t reek of talent. Dasara hit the theatres today and right before the film’s release, the first-timer spent some time with film journalists on Wednesday discussing the origins of Dasara, how he ended up casting Keerthy Suresh, his obsession with Silk Smitha, and learning the crux of filmmaking during Covid-19— a lesson for all budding filmmakers.

For four long years, he’d just show up at director Sukumar’s house hoping to find some work. One fine day, the Pushpa director gave in and said, “Alright! Make a short film”. He apparently liked the short and asked him to get on board for Jr. NTR’s Nanannaku Prematho.

On February 16, 2022, leading man Nani slammed the clapboard for the first time. They call it “Muhurtham Shot” in Tollywood. An auspicious start to any project down south. Almost after a year, Dasara has finally seen the day of light to fully occupied theatres coupled with fan hysteria.

Dasara is set in the Singareni Coal Mines near Godavarikhani. The filmmaker says, “It’s a story that I’ve been listening to since my childhood!” Srikanth took inspiration from major real-life incidents. He hails from Peddapalli and grew up in Singareni, now that his father was a Sigareni employee. The village featured in the film— Veerlapalle is his grandmother’s native place. “Be it anything, I just go there. It is just 8kms away from Sigareni quarters. I lived most of my life there. Based on an incident that occurred in the village, I put the pieces together and made this film,” explained Srikanth.

As you’ll know by now, the young director narrated the story to Keerthy Suresh for four long hours. Four seems to be his lucky number! Because four years in and around Sukumar’s office and four hours narrating a story when he was finally ready to make his own film. Anyway! The film demands the actors to speak with a Telangana accent and Keerthy Suresh’s mother language is not even Telugu. Why then didn’t he go with a Telugu heroine?

“After Nani anna okayed the film, there was a long break because of different reasons. During that gap, I went on a search for a Telugu-speaking actress for at least eight months. I wasn’t doing that to kill time. It was something that I did genuinely and tried searching for the perfect leading lady in remote villages. The moment I’d spot someone, they’d shy away because it’s the movies. We were so adamant to cast a Telugu heroine but for some reason, it didn’t work out,” shared the Dasara director.

Now what Srikanth did here is truly praiseworthy. Eight months in search of a Telugu-speaking girl? That’s phenomenal! All the jazz about filmmakers not casting Telugu-speaking women in films used to seem a bit odd. How could he not find a single talented charming lady? That remains a question.

“There is a problem!” expressed Srikanth Odela talking about the dearth of Telugu-speaking heroines. “I don’t know what the reason could be. Seriously speaking, after eight long months of searching for the perfect lead, I simply ran out of time to even crack what the problem could possibly be.” All told, if given an opportunity to direct another film, the passionate debutant told us that he would never give up on searching for a local actress.

The makers cast approximately 58 women from the village to play different parts and trained them for a year. All these women are new to films and Srikanth quipped, “We did all that, but if we would find a Telugu girl, of course, it’d be superb!”

So, obviously, the makers locked in Keerthy Suresh purely based on her acting prowess. What she did in Mahanati(2018) is truly mesmerising. We asked Srikanth to talk about how flawless Keerthy was in terms of nailing the Telangana Accent. To which, he replied, “She has extraordinary brain power. She can grasp anything in five minutes. I was really shocked seeing how quickly she could grasp things. I never had an issue with her and she dubbed for the film.”

Open the director’s Instagram profile and you’ll notice he’s fascinated by the late actress Silk Smitha. Okay! You don’t have to open his gram because a huge portrait of the actress looms large in the background in one of the songs (DhoomDhaamDhosthaan). She made it into the film! Does that metaphorically mean Dasara would take the uncertain shape and form and make way for all those highs and lows of Silk’s life? “No! There’s no metaphor as such,” he answered. “But you’ll have all the ups and downs. It’s got nothing to do with Silk.

When I read about Silk, I was really impressed by the decisions she made at that point in time. I understood how much she loved cinema. I could just relate to her and that’s why I like her.” Oh, well! It’s a homage, guys.

Srikanth comes across as someone with great film knowledge. First film! At such a huge scale? And he says he learned the majority of the filmmaking techniques during the Covid-19. We asked if he could share his inspiring story so that aspiring filmmakers would learn something.

“Very modestly,” he said, “I don’t think I have that much in me(haha)! During Covid I was free. I really haven’t watched much English cinema. I must have hardly watched 10 English films. I only watched Indian cinema. I’d watch K. Viswanath Garu’s films or Raghavendra Rao Garu’s films amongst other great directors and I’d analyze why these filmmakers were blocking the scene in so many different ways or why are they using so and so number of shots to convey something. I’d ask myself all these questions and I wrote down all of them in three to four books during Covid-19. That has genuinely helped me. I never read a filmmaking book. I just watched films and learned filmmaking.”

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