I wrote screenplay in 16 days, Vamsi about Sitara!
Sitaara (1984), directed by Vamsi, is considered as one of the all-time classics in Tollywood. The film won numerous awards. Director Vamsi recalls the making of the movie. He pens his thoughts..
The background story..
'Sitara' played Pahadi raga in my life. It washed my tanned face with the water of 'vennela'. Based on my novel 'Mahallo Kokika', I wrote the film's screenplay in 16 days by burning the mid-night oil, day in and day out. Probably because my previous film had not done well, producer Edida Nageshwara Rao garu decided to shelve the project. But his relative, Babjee garu, fulminated and convinced him to keep the project afloat. Once again, the climax came out so well (in writing) that it felt like a classic in waiting. Having given a thorough audience, Edida garu said, "Everything is fine, but for the hero's death in the end".
Since I had been associated with his production house for many years and had been like a family member, I, not concealing that I was piqued, told him that if the hero was to be kept alive, changes would have to be made from pre-climax onwards.
He insisted that I change it as needed. Piqued more, I asked him what changes he would want to be made. "Why get angry? Does the hero have to die for the climax to be great? Just watch 'Siri Siri Muvva'", he shot back.
No matter for how many days and nights I ruminated, the kind of climax I wrote couldn't be created. It's the climax that I liked the most about the script. Maybe because I didn't want to hurt Nageshwara Rao garu even if it meant going against the grain, I rewrote the climax and narrated to him the new version the next day.
Story behind the title
"Choose a title that starts with either 'Sha' or 'Sa'", he said. "Isn't it Viswanath garu's sentiment?" I replied. "It's our sentiment as well", he averred. The Hindi version of 'Seethamalakshmi' was playing on TV that evening. The title was 'Sitara' for a film directed by Gulzar's assistant. The title Nageshwara Rao garu wanted was found.
We went to Ilayaraja garu. I faltered while giving him a narration, as I am used to even now. After listening to the script, he stumbled upon an idea pertaining to the heroine's characterization and said that he will dish out a one-of-its-kind tune. Thus 'Kukuku Kokila Raave' was born. 'Kinnearasani' song, which stopped at 'pallavi' in 'Sagara Sangamam', we used it adding a 'charanam' in this film. A song left unused by my guru Bharati Raja's movie 'Nizhalgal' was used for 'Sitara'. In this way, a very good album fell in place. And all the numbers were penned by Veturi garu.
When I proposed that we should start off with shooting 'Vennelo Godari Andam' number, my producer didn't like the idea as it was a tragedy. So, we started off with shooting 'Nee Ganam Mrudhumadhuram' for namesake.
How Bhanupriya was selected
When I proposed Radha's name as the heroine, the producer found out that casting her would overshoot the budget as she charged Rs. 1 lakh. I then asked about a tall, dark girl who had come to the producer's office recently. "Bhanu Priya is her name", he said. When she came to meet me, I asked her to come over for a session the next day. She was made to wear a saree used by Jaya Prada for 'Sagara Sangamam'. That day, we sat down and asked her if she had worked in a movie previously. She told me she had done a Tamil movie. After Suman joined us in the afternoon, some stills in their combination were clicked till evening. After large-sized photos came out, I found that that girl had a photogenic face. If ever there were wide eyes, it has to be hers. K Viswanath garu came just in time as if he had some work there. He endorsed Bhanu Priya, saying she was looking good.
When the producer's wife commented that Bhanu Priya had a squint eye slightly, Viswanath garu said that it's a sign of luck.
When she came to our office in the evening, I told her, "You are the heroine". "Thanks, andi. I will meet the director and thank him", she said. "I am the director", I told her. "What? Is it not K Viswanath garu? Isn't he the one who directs movies for this banner?" she asked.
She was on board, but I knew Bhanu Priya was not the Sitara of my imagination. Except for wide eyes, she had no other feature of my Sitara.
Locations and budget
We shot in fort of Venkatagiri and also Tota Tarani created a set in Vahuni studio in Chennai. We shot for 30 days and no scene had dialogues in the schedule. Nobody understood what was happening. The producer said that at this rate, the shoot will take 70 days to be completed. "The budget can't exceed Rs. 16 lakhs. Make it fast", he said.We made an outdoor round trolley for this movie. It was a first in the industry.
No one liked the movie at preview show
When the final copy was ready, I showed the film to the producer. His family and the entire unit too watched it. Since dialogues were less, there was no comedy, and thrills, nobody liked the movie. The producer went away in a car without talking with me. Even though they didn't like it, some unit members watched the movie once again next day as Ilayaraja garu was watching with me. After the first half was done, he called me and said that after a long time, he had to give music to the fullest extent. "It's going to be only music", he said. The producer's face lighted up.
As Ilayaraja garu added music to one scene after another, my spirits started rising. He was never the one to watch a movie once he had done with RR. But this time, he made it a point to watch the movie in a theatre with me sitting next to him. I can never forget that incident.
I was told that Bharati Raja garu looked for me after watching the movie. But I was not there. A day before the release, my producer said, "Some portions in the first half may have to be edited out". When I said they are poetic portions, he retorted saying cinema was all about business. Since 'Ananda Bhairavi' had comedy, our competitor got positive talk from day one. But a week later, our film too survived.
Amitabh wanted to remake it
Amitabh Bacchan made it a point to invite me, the producer, cinematographer and Bhanu Priya at Taj Coromandel. It was then that I had the opportunity to interact with my favourite Jaya Baduri at length. Amitabh Bacchan asked Bhanu Priya if she will do Hindi.
All State Awards went to 'Ananda Bhairavi' that year. "Ours is a house which made Shankarabharanam", the producer would tell me. "We haven't received any award". "We did a mistake, daddy. We edited out the climax while sending the movie to the panel. We shall send the entire version to the National Awards committee", the producer's last son said.
Janaki garu received the Best Female Singer Award for 'Vennello Godari Andam'. Anil Malnad received the Best Editor award. And the film got the Best Regional Film award. During my flight to the National Awards ceremony, K Balachandar garu was next to me. He was travelling to collect an award for 'Achamillai Achamillai'. I stood up and told him that I had wanted to work under him, but the Nepali gurkha didn't let me meet him. "We were destined to sit next to each other like this. How would God have let you work under me?" he said, blessing me.
'Sitara' is the film which made my guru Bharati Raju garu talk about me. It gave me an opportunity to shake hands with the President of India. And many more.
Oh! Such wonders my novel 'Mahallo Kokila' did!
- By Vamsi (director of 'Sitara)