“I didn’t go to a film school ever. Now that I’m at Annapurna College of Film and Media, teaching students, it makes me look at myself through a different perspective,” says ace director Neelakanta.
A student of Loyola Public School and Loyola College, Vijayawada, Neelakanta realised early on that his true calling was films. After completing his BCom he moved to Chennai to pursue his dreams. There, he began assisting director Vallabhaneni Janardhan and worked with him in a couple of films.
He then produced the film Jamadagni, directed by Bharati Raja, starring superstar Krishna. Neelakanta recalls that his ‘classroom’ was the sets. “Being on the sets gave me great insights into the art of direction. I’ve always liked Bharati Raja’s films Pathinaru Vayathinile and Sigappu Rojakkal. And being on the sets with him was enlighting.”
A fan of ‘alternate’ cinema, Neelakanta attributes his knowledge of cinema to the great auteurs. “I’m a big fan of directors like Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee, K Balachander, Bapu garu, Satyajit Ray and ilk.
Some insights from his teachings during a Song Workshop Project at Annapurna College have been captured below:
- A lot of my craft has been honed watching their films and learning from them. In my time that was the best kind of classroom learning you could ask for.
- My movies are greatly influenced by the style of K Balachander. The way he weaves interpersonal relationships and delves into the psyche of the character, it’s so realistic. I strive for such realism in my films.
Neelakanta has won two national awards for his film Show – one for best feature film and the other for best screenplay. In the year 2003 he won the Nandi award for best screenplay writer for the film, Missamma.
But he admits that no one taught him how to write a screenplay. “Though I learnt a lot being on the sets, no one taught me how to write a script. I did it by myself,” he explains.
Quiz him on what it takes to make a good film and he says, “It all begins with the story.” He elaborates, “When you have a good story idea, you need to work on it. You need to see how you can translate it to a script and how that script takes your vision on the big screen.”
But a story alone cannot win the day for you, he says. “If your story is good, but the direction is bad, your film will suffer. If story and direction are good and cinematography bad, then too your film will suffer. So, in filmmaking, all departments are important. As a director you need to keep a close watch on everything,” he explains.
Having spent years in the industry, Neelakanta is hopeful the regional industry will see a drastic change in the way films are made, just like Bollywood. “I like the way Bollywood has found that fine balance between art and mainstream. Directors like Vishal Bharadwaj and Anurag Kashyap make these strong, socially relevant films and yet, manage to fill theatres.”
“To begin with, it’s wrong to demarcate films and call them ‘art’ and ‘commercial’. It’s all about storytelling. But for long we have been fed on this concept of how a film should look and how it should be categorised. It’s amazing to see independent cinema has found so many takers in Bollywood,” he says.
As far as Telugu films are concerned, “we are getting there” he feels. “The change in Telugu cinema is happening slowly but surely. There are independent movies being made, and they are getting good response from the audience. But the scale on which they should be made needs to get bigger,” he opines.
“No film industry can compare to the grandiose of ours. I hope the same money is pumped into Indie cinema. And I feel it won’t take long for us to get there.”
While breaking into the industry is not an easy task, the director offers some words of advice to young aspirants. “One needs to have perseverance. Never give up. The industry is a tough and ruthless place. If you want to survive, you need to strive. Remember, your hard work will pay off one day. But till that day comes, never stop dreaming.”