Director Prasanth Varma is a self-confessed ‘movie freak’, who revealed in the course of the interview that he spends his birthdays at multiplexes watching at least four movies on the day. He even quit watching cricket because he could watch five movies in the same duration of a game. His first feature film as a director, Awe, which has an ensemble cast including Kajal Aggarwal, Nithya Menen and Regina Cassandra among others, has hit the screens today.
It has not been an easy journey for the young filmmaker. “I was writing crazy, crazy stuff like this. When I was pitching the ideas to the actor and directors, they used to tell me these are too advanced for Telugu audience and we have to wait 6 or 7 years to make films like this. That 6-8 years have passed and I’m making a film now,” said Prasanth when asked why he chose to make such an experimental film for his debut.
He pitched his first film idea to a producer, who said it would cost Rs 500 crore to make it. It was about eight years ago, at the time when Shah Rukh Khan’s Ra.One with Rs 150 crore estimated budget was India’s costliest film. Director SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali films and Shankar’s 2.0 were years away from going on the floors.
“I didn’t have the idea back then, that you’re not supposed to write films like this (that would cost Rs 500 crore) if you’re a first-timer. About 16 or 17 of my films from different genres got shelved. If a story demands Rs 3 crore budget but the hero’s market value at the time is Rs 2 core, the film won’t happen,” he reasoned, talking about the business standpoint of a film project.
Coming from an engineering background, Prasanth did not go to any filmmaking school or assist an already established director in making films. He taught himself about the art of filmmaking through books, watching world cinema and shooting short films. When he came to the mainstream, he understood it was a different ball game.
Prasanth said it took so many years for him to get attuned to the business of cinema and finetune himself as a filmmaker, who understands the market and make films accordingly. “The last eight years I only learned politics, productions and how to get my first film onboard.”
After a series of disappointments, Prasanth decided to write and make Awe on his own. He had estimated a budget of Rs 5 lakh to shoot his first feature film before actor Nani came onboard as a producer.
Impressed by Prasanth’s previous short films, Nani decided to bankroll Awe on a bigger scale. It is MCA star’s first film as a producer under his home production banner Wall Poster Cinema. “Nani is a kind of producer, who gives complete freedom to the director. I could easily do another 10 films for his banner,” noted Prasanth.
Nani has also given his voice to a fish, which is the narrator in the film, while Ravi Teja has given the voice to a bonsai tree.
The debutant director is confident that an original film like Awe has never been made in the Telugu film industry. “It is a genre-bender. Every 10 minutes, the genre of the film changes. We’ve not shifted the genres, just because ‘it’s cool’. There is a reason for that. In the climax of the film, you’ll understand, why we had to do the genre shift,” he said.
Prasanth noted that Awe is a drama with a social message. “We have a great message in the film but it’s not a serious preachy film. About 60 percent of the film is a comedy. Ravi Teja, Nani and all play funny characters. There is a lot of fun but it’s not a commercial film. A film like this has never happened before.”
Prasanth also revealed that none of the actors in the film know the complete story. So how did he convince the actors to sign his film without giving them a full narration? “After I discussed the characters with them, I could see a glow in their eyes,” he said. “You might not have seen Kajal like this in her whole career. People were playing characters that they might not get to play again if they leave this film. So a lot of actors have to adjust their dates with other projects, to accommodate this film,” he said.
“It was very easy to convince them (actors),” he added. “If this film works, I will be doing much crazier stuff.”