Thursday, September 29

Praveen Sattaru, director of Nagarjuna Akkineni starrer ‘The Ghost’, says he prefers stories that presence the intense persona of the actor

As ‘The Ghost’ gears up for release, writer-director Praveen Sattaru says he prefers stories that present the brooding, intense persona of Nagarjuna Akkineni over charming romances

As ‘The Ghost’ gears up for release, writer-director Praveen Sattaru says he prefers stories that present the brooding, intense persona of Nagarjuna Akkineni over charming romances

Those who have watched Kamal Haasan’s film Vikram, directed by Lokesh Kanagaraj, would be familiar with Fahadh Faasil’s character referring to Kamal’s character — Agent Vikram — as ‘The Ghost’ — a stealth undercover officer who disappeared from the radar, only to resurface on a mission. In a small way, Lokesh’s film also established a connection with Kamal Haasan’s 1986 film Vikram, Now, here’s a fact that Telugu film buffs who have followed the journey of actor Nagarjuna Akkineni would be aware of. His first Telugu film was titled Vikramand released in 1986. Back then, Kamal Haasan’s Tamil film Vikram had to change its title to Agent Vikram for its Telugu release in Andhra Pradesh. Cut to the present, Nagarjuna Akkineni’s new Telugu film The Ghost, directed by Praveen Sattaru, has him playing a former R&AW agent named Vikram Gandhi who returns from oblivion.

Once upon a time…

When we begin this interview, drawing these parallels, Praveen explains, “Lokesh’s Vikram and my film began around the same time. Initially, we had planned to title our film The Ghost, then we saw the first poster of Lokesh’s film with the line ‘Once upon a time, there lived a ghost’. I was worried if they would title their film The Ghost and thought Vikram Gandhi would be an apt title for us, named after Nagarjuna sir’s character. But eventually, they titled their film Vikram and we chose The Ghost,

Was Praveen tempted to change the title or character name to avoid comparisons? “If the film had a lesser known actor, I would have changed so that I don’t look like I am trying to cash in on the name Vikram and ‘the ghost’ reference. But it is Nag sir and since there is this history of his first film, we let it be.”

Director Praveen Sattaru, while filming ‘The Ghost’ in Dubai | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Praveen’s spacious office in Hyderabad is an oasis of calm. The promotional frenzy for the film, scheduled to release on October 5, is yet to begin. On a cloudy morning, over a mug of coffee, Praveen recalls watching Nagarjuna-starrer Shiva, directed by Ram Gopal Varma, when he was in school. The intensity the actor portrayed on screen stayed with him. Antham and Rakshana are his other favourites, more than Nagarjuna’s romance dramas. “If I had a chance to make 10 films with him, I would opt for stories that bring out the brooding intensity in him where he speaks less and looks menacing. Though I have also enjoyed watching his entertainers such as Hello Brother where his charming persona comes through, the serious characters are my favourites.”

Action thrillers

One of Praveen’s most popular films is the action thriller PSV Garuda Vega, He admits that writing action thrillers is easier for him than a drama anthology like Chandamama Kathalu,

Praveen was not a habitual movie watcher while growing up. A childhood favorite was Sagara Sangamam, which he says he must have watched more than 200 times; his family had the video cassette and each time he watched it, he observed something new. The interest in action films grew when he was studying engineering in Chennai and watched one of the Mission Impossible movies. His corporate stint in the US exposed him to more international films and action became one of his favorite genres. “When the emotions are strong enough to support the action, the rest of the film will work.”

Ask him about the broad, familiar tropes in action films involving a retired or defamed agent/spy returning to take up a mission and Praveen says, “The one-line story might seem familiar. But dig deeper if the story has something new and an Immersive screenplay that stems from the sensibilities of the filmmaker, it will not be repetitive. We have seen several boy-meets-girl love stories, for that matter. I do not draw inspiration from other films; my stories emerge from what I have read or heard about in the past.”

Not a glamorous prop

The Ghost features Sonal Chauhan as the female lead. The film had its share of hiccups with Kajal Aggarwal, who was initially signed as the female lead, opting out due to her pregnancy. Amala Paul stepped in briefly, but it was Sonal Chauhan who finally came on board. Praveen says the female lead has her share of high- octane action sequences and saves the male lead on a couple of occasions. “Sonal underwent rigorous training in martial arts, gun fighting, etc. There were instances when the stunt double could not pull off the moves and Sonal did it herself.”

Sonal Chauhan and Nagarjuna Akkineni in the film | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The song ‘Vegam’ hints at romance between Nagarjuna and Sonal Chauhan. Was Praveen conscious of not making it look awkward, considering the age gap between the actors? One might argue that older male actors romancing younger female leads is not a new phenomenon, but there is no turning away from how the present-day moviegoers react to it on social media. Praveen explains that Nagarjuna plays a character in his mid-40s while Sonal’s character is in her mid or late 30s. “In the story, both have had scarred childhoods and find solace in each other. The lyrics outline their journey. The rest is explained in the film. I have tried to not make the song appear forcefit or cringy; it blends organically with the story.”

Gul Panag, as Nagarjuna’s sister, makes her debut in Telugu cinema. Praveen was keen to have an actor who is not frequently seen in Telugu films: “This character hails from an affluent family, carries herself with grace and is in a situation where she needs help from her brother.”

Wholesome audio-visual experience

The Ghost has 1600 visual effects shots and a sound design (by Dharmendra Kakarla) that Praveen is confident will make it a befitting theatrical experience. For the background score, Praveen ensured that music composer Mark K Robin could watch the complete film before composing. “If one listens to the soundtrack, even without watching the film, one should be able to understand the journey of the story; music should not be in bits that merely reflect happy, angry or other moods. I wanted a wholesome experience of visuals and sound coming together.” Speaking of which, he remembers watching Mani Ratnam’s Bombay in Visakhapatnam, in his growing years, and being awed by the audio-visual experience. [ONLINE]

It’s been a little more than a decade since Praveen debuted as a director and writer. With six films and a web series, he has taken his time to write and direct projects: “I look at cinema as a medium through which I creatively express myself; if I am unable to do that, I might as well return to my corporate career.” He prefers writing solo and then discussing it with his team, rather than delegating the task. The web series 11th Hour was a different ballgame with him taking up a screenplay adapted from a book.

While The Ghost gears up for release, next up for Praveen is a project starring Varun Tej.

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