Star power in three tiers

Family ties Chaitanya and Nagarjuna from the film Manam
Family ties Chaitanya and Nagarjuna from the film Manam

It’s the seduction of three generations. Ever since the Telugu film Manam (which means ‘us’ in English) was launched amidst much fanfare in March last year, it has become a much-awaited treat that people are gearing up for. The fact that legendary nonagenarian actor Akkineni Nageswara Rao (ANR), his son Nagarjuna (Nag), and grandson Naga Chaitanya (Chaitu) are coming together to share screen space for the first time is creating ripples of excitement that goes beyond just film buffs. The recently released teaser of the movie which crossed a million hits on YouTube bears testimony to this.

What makes Manam, set to release on 23 May, all the more special is that it is only the second such film to be made in India starring three generations of actors from the same family acting together. The first such film being Kal Aaj Aur Kal, had Prithviraj Kapoor, Raj Kapoor and Randhir Kapoor in it. Furthermore, it is being released at a momentous juncture when Andhra Pradesh is set to be divided into two Telugu speaking states, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Since Chaitu’s entry into films in 2009, Akkineni’s fanatical fans have had their antennas up, hoping for something special from the ANR stable. However, it was only after much deliberation and several rejections that young director Vikram’s script was considered. “The scripts that came to us before Manam were clichéd, in that most were about a grandfather, son and grandson, but Vikram’s script has the magic we were looking for. It is a story that spans a 100 years, from past to future — from the 1920s to 2030s , and evidently there is a lot to show. The script is not intense, rather it is very breezy and entertaining. There is an angle of reincarnation in the film,” shares Nagarjuna. Talking about the making of the film, he adds “the last two years have been extremely troublesome. There was a lot of disturbance — shootings would be stopped, movies were stopped from being released — some in Telangana and some in Andhra region.” But now he hopes things will be smoother, with the political situation having been resolved to a certain extent, which can only augur well for the Rs 1,000 crore-industry.

Considering the hype around the film, it was only natural that Nagarjuna takes the reins of production too. “It is a unique opportunity with all the three generations of our family coming together and I wanted to ensure everything goes right for the movie. So what better way than producing it myself? However, I gave complete freedom to Vikram to choose his crew. Be it Harsha, the dialogue writer, PS Vinod, the cinematographer, or Anoop Reuben, the music director — they have done excellent work and bring youthfulness to the film. Art director Rajeevan has done a great job in recreating the different time zones.”

The way ahead

The best way to adapt to the situation is to invite and entertain each other. This way we can enjoy the sizeable revenue that Telugu films make in both the regions. It is in the interest of the two new states to formulate a film-friendly tax structure, considering the popularity of Telugu films.

Senior writer and actor, Gollapudi Maruti Rao

“Bifurcation of the state is not going to create any problems for Manam. It’s in fact irrelevant, as both states have a predominantly Telugu speaking population.”

Senior producer, Tammareddy Bharadwaja

“There may be new studios built in Seemandhra, but the four walls of a studio do not make an industry. Film-making needs skilled labour, technicians etc. Human resource cannot be built overnight.”

Actor, Nagarjuna 

Quizzed about the release of the film at the time of the state’s bifurcation, Chaitanya says: “We have not thought about the movie on those lines. It is going to be an entertaining and magical film. Manam will be very different and something that the audience will not expect. And Telugu audiences from everywhere will like it.”

For the cinema audience in this part of the world, a film family is like an extended family and they are all waiting to be part of the nostalgia. Chaitanya shares the experience of making the film with his father and grandfather: “It took me a while to get over the initial hesitation, but once I got used to being with them before the camera, it was fantastic. My grandfather would be so good with his comedy that I would start laughing, and we would have to reshoot many times.” He recalls scenes where he had to call him ‘old man’. And he was obviously conscious and did not say them well enough. So his grandfather assured him he was doing a good job, giving him the confidence to say it right eventually. Chaitanya adds: “Grandfather was two extremes — he was extremely friendly and I can talk to him about anything as a grandson, but on the sets it’s like you see his alter ego.”

Unfortunately, it was during the course of shooting Manam that ANR’s intestinal cancer was diagnosed and he underwent a surgery. But eager to finish the film, he turned up to complete the shoot almost immediately after surgery. He even asked for the dubbing equipment to be sent home and completed his lines: “I don’t want some dubbing artist giving my voice,” he is believed to have said. ANR announced his illness to the public saying he’s coming back “victorious,” but unfortunately on 22 January, 2014, the star succumbed to cancer after having had a lively chat with his family the night before. Recalling his father, Nagarjuna says: “He was a man who lived life on his own terms. His discipline, dedication and professionalism continued to amaze me even during the shooting of Manam. There is so much to learn from him.”

It was this determination that led ANR to build Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad at Banjara Hills, way back in 1974, when South Indian films, both Telugu and Tamil, would be made only in Chennai. A few years later, when it was his turn to call the shots, ANR gave an ultimatum to Telugu film producers that unless the movies were produced in Hyderabad, he wouldn’t act in them. Subsequently, by 1990, the entire film industry moved to Hyderabad. The tax sops for films made in Hyderabad by the then government of Andhra Pradesh, headed by actor-turned-Chief Minister, NT Rama Rao, also helped. Over a period of time, all aspects of film-making, including state-of-the-art recording and dubbing facilities have been made available in Hyderabad.

While the film fraternity is of the opinion that the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh is hardly going to affect viewership, which has always been impervious to regional differences, certain other factors like tax structures and the film development policies of the two states are going to be closely observed. Currently, the entire film-making process, both pre- and post-production, can be completed in Hyderabad, thanks to state-of-the-art studio and recording facilities. With Ramoji Film City offering end-to-end solutions, not just Telugu films, but other regional-language films including Hindi, are being made here. These films enjoy huge tax sops that the Government of Andhra Pradesh offers.


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