In Conversation With Director Vamshi Paidipally: On Thozha/Oopiri and More

Vamshi Paidipally has been making Telugu films over the last few years, starting with Munna in 2007. Despite the not so great response to his first film he remained determined on his mission to be successful, as seen by the commercial success of his next 2 films, Brindavanam (2010) and Yevadu (2014). He is now ready with his latest venture, a bilingual film, Oopiri in Telugu and Thozha in Tamil, both of which release this Friday (25th March). Over the weekend he went on to have an interesting conversation with MAM and given below is an excerpt from the same.

Vamsi Paidipally 3You started off as a director with Munna in 2007. So how has the journey been so far and how did you get into films?

I have done my MCA and landed a job in the I.T sector and at one point I was even contemplating going to the U.S on work, like many with my profile would do. But then I was always interested in films from my childhood, used to frequent the theatre in my hometown a lot. So I decided to just follow my passion, became an A.D and that’s how it all started. My first film as an A.D was Jayanth C.Paranjee’s Eashwar (2002) which was Prabhas’ debut film; incidentally he was also the hero of my first film as director, Munna. In fact Munna happened quite early in my career but it did not do as well as I expected. I then spent nearly 18 months preparing for my second film, Brindavanam which did very well and so did my 3rd film, Yevadu. Now I am ready with Oopiri and Thozha.

Your second film Brindavanam turned out to be a huge hit; but it was very different from Munna despite being a commercial film. So how did you go about it?

Well I believe that as a creator I must never get stuck to making films in the same genre. Especially when a film succeeds there is a good possibility of wanting to repeat the success by making a similar kind of film. But I am always trying to avoid doing the same. I feel that the audience will accept any film as long as it appeals to them. It was not intentional as such, not an attempt to come up with something trailblazing etc., but yes I  did not want to make a film similar to Munna and in that pursuit I came up with Brindavanam over a period of time.

Do you watch a lot of Hollywood and International films? I’m asking you this because Yevadu had traces of Face/Off while Thozha/Oopiri is an official remake of The Intouchables.

Well frankly speaking I don’t watch too many Hollywood or International films. I do watch a lot of Telugu and Hindi films, but don’t visit the theatre all that often. However whenever my friends do recommend a film, including Hollywood and International films, I do try to watch them. The Intouchables in fact was recommended by my wife’s brother, but initially I wasn’t too keen to watch it. But one day I just went ahead and saw it, ended up liking it a lot. As for Yevadu, we consciously never even thought of Face/Off during its making. I do understand that there aren’t too many films with the angle of face transplant and hence people think Yevadu is inspired by Face/Off but then there is nothing in the plot that’s otherwise similar between these 2 films. In fact there was a Tamil film called Pudhiya Mugam (1993) which came out even before Face/Off, so would Face/Off then be considered as inspired by Pudhiya Mugam? People also have the habit of pulling down a film; by saying this is a rip off from that film etc. for reasons best known to them. So I see a lot of this talk around Yevadu as just unnecessary speculation, nothing more than that. Who knows if Oopiri works then again people may end up saying it’s just another version of The Intouchables :).

What made you want to remake “The Intouchables” and why?

Based on a real story, The Intouchables struck a chord in me somewhere. The story is something that I could connect to very well. This is something which tells you what life is all about. I knew consciously that it was very different from the kind of films I had done earlier (mass commercial films). The Intouchables hit me hard and I knew that it will go on to be a redefining point in my career if adapt it.

Vamsi Paidipally with Nagarjuna, Tamannaah and Karthi
Vamshi Paidipally with Nagarjuna, Tamannaah and Karthi

How did you go about casting the leads for Thozha/Oopiri? How did Karthi come in place of NTR Jr.?

Nagarjuna as the paraplegic was the first one I thought of, he was ideal to play the billionaire who had lived a normal life in the past. If not for Nag I may not have gone on to make Thozha/Oopiri. NTRJr. was known to me well, having done Brindavanam earlier with me. He was initially keen to do the film, but date issues and prior commitments etc. crept in and it did not work out with him. I then came across Karthi who fit in well as a real boy next door. Karthi was also looking to make his entry into Telugu films and so I guess it was a matter of right timing. I was just hoping he wouldn’t say no after the narration as I felt he was the right choice for the role. But luckily he was quite happy with the subject and promptly agreed to do the film.

Thozha is your first Tamil film, so how easy or difficult to make a transition from Telugu to Tamil films?

Well for this I would give Karthi a lot of credit as he took a lot of responsibility, helping me to a great extent with Thozha. That’s why I have also jokingly told him that he would be credited as my 1st AD as well :). While I am not very familiar with Tamil I realized that there have been others in the past as well who had similar language difficulties but went on to make films in other languages and still do very well. So it was all about believing in myself, having the right kind of support and getting the kind of expression I wanted to be brought out properly. I had support from Karthi and someone called Murugesan, also Raju Murugan the director of Cuckoo has written the Tamil dialogues and even he was of big support to me.

Both the films (Thozha and Oopiri) seem to have been edited by 2 different people (Praveen K.L-Thozha and Madhu-Oopiri). Why is that? Do both the versions have any major changes as such?

Well to have 2 different editors for the 2 versions was a very conscious decision of mine. I wanted the audience to be very clear that this is a genuine Tamil film (also a genuine Telugu film), and not just a bilingual for the sake of it. Keeping the two separate audiences in mind (for the 2 language versions) I wanted the film to look authentic and address the sensibilities in mind. Hence I brought in Praveen K.L and Madhu, who understood my requirement and did a wonderful job. There are no major differences in the film as such. The plot is the same; the run time is the same etc. Of course there are minor changes here and there and a few characters are played by different actors in the 2 versions, like Vivek plays a role in Thozha which is done by Ali in Oopiri. Apart from these basically the film is genuine in both the language versions.

What are the challenges involved in making a bilingual film? How did you manage to pull it off well with Thozha and Oopiri?

Well in my case I would say the most challenging thing was to actually make 2 different films at the same time, make sure that I do not miss out on anything, so it had a lot of associated stress and strain. But then I treat that as part and parcel of my work. After all pleasure and pressure goes hand in hand. It is a film that is a journey, a journey of beautiful people that I will always cherish forever.

How did you go about choosing your locations like Belgrade and Ljubljana, places not seen so often in Indian films?

Well unlike my earlier films which were mostly action oriented here the scope was very different. So to make it enduring enough I knew that I had to push the envelope only through locations and production design. Thankfully my producer PVP backed me completely. So we went to some really wonderful locations, some of them not commonly seen indeed. We took a lot of care to bring the visual quality of the film to a very high standard. My DOP P.S.Vinod and production designer Sunil Babu played a big role in ensuring the same. There are some lovely sets erected for the film in India, all of this of course you would appreciate perhaps only on watching the film.

You have worked extensively with Dil Raju in your earlier films. So how do you compare working with Dil Raju and PVP?

Well I guess it’s all to do with the comfort level one shares with the other person. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with Dil Raju on all my earlier films; he has always backed me in all possible ways. I guess he has seen some potential in me and hence has worked with me repeatedly. I share a lot of mutual respect with both Dil Raju and PVP. While both are two different entities I must say it’s my privilege to have worked with both of them, as they equally backed me and supported me in every possible manner.

What do you think is the USP of Thozha/Oopiri? Why do you think the audience must watch the film?

Well the USP is very simple; it’s all about celebration of life. You only have one life, so go on and celebrate it.

What kind of genre would you like to explore after Thozha/Oopiri?

Well to be honest I haven’t really given it a thought yet. I am still busy and preoccupied with Thozha and Oopiri. I am waiting to see how they will be received and accepted by the audience. It’s been a little tough as it’s a case of having made 2 films at the same time. Once I am completely done with Thozha and Oopiri I will then probably sit down and start thinking of my next film. As of now I haven’t really given it a thought yet.

Thank you so much for talking to us and here’s wishing you all the very best for the release of Thozha and Oopiri.

It was a pleasure talking to you, I hope you go on to watch the film (either version) and hopefully like it as well :).

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