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Okka Kshanam: Allu Sirish on why he’s excited about the film and the biggest challenge he faces as an actor

Ask anyone who has interacted with Allu Sirish, son of producer Allu Arvind, over the years, you are bound to come across the same question lurking in their mind – “We thought he will turn producer just like his father. Why did he choose to be an actor?”

His own elder brother Allu Arjun; cousins – Ram Charan, Varun Tej, Sai Dharam Tej and Niharika; uncles – Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan, Naga Babu are all popular actors in Telugu film industry. There’s a running joke that there are enough actors from the ‘Mega’ family to form a cricket team.

It’s been four years since Allu Sirish made his foray into acting with Radha Mohan’s Gouravam, and he has seen his share of ups and downs since then. It might seem like everyone in his family is competing for the same pie, although at different levels, but, right now, Allu Sirish has other things in mind.

Allu Sirish

Just ahead of the release of his upcoming film Okka Kshanam, we catch up with him on the sets of the film. So far, he comes across as an actor who hasn’t figured out what he is good at and every film in the past three years has been some sort of an experiment to gauge where he stands. “That’s a fair assessment. To be honest, Gouravam’s failure was such a huge setback for me that I lost faith in my judgement. I didn’t know what would work at the box-office. After that film, I collaborated with Maruthi for a romantic comedy, and later I did Srirasthu Subhamasthu. To some extent, Srirasthu Subhamasthu showed what I was capable of doing, and it earned me a lead role in Vi Anand’s Okka Kshanam. It’s been a steep learning curve for me. When Anand saw my previous film, he thought that I would fit the role of an youngster with whom the audience too will sympathise,” Allu Sirish says.

Okka Kshanam, directed by Vi Anand, is based on the concept of parallel life, and it follows the life of Jeeva, played by Sirish, who must fight against destiny to save the life of his girlfriend. From the trailer, it’s evident that incidents which occur in the life of a couple (Srinivas Avasarala and Seerat Kapoor) happen in Sirish and Surbhi’s life too to the T.

“Their present is your future,” Jayprakash tells Sirish in one of the scenes, which triggers a series of incidents that lead Sirish to stop an impending danger. “The film toys around with the idea – Is your destiny prefixed or can human will rewrite it? I was thrilled when Anand told me the story. Prior to his debut as a director, he had worked with AR Murugadoss. I know that anyone who comes from that school of thought would pick a high concept and simplify it that it reaches the widest possible audience. For most of our Indian films, you don’t have to spoon feed to the urban audiences; however, not everyone is that sharp. We didn’t want to dumb down the film. We just wanted the largest possible audience to understand the film. We explained everything in a very simplistic way. There’s nothing fancy or hard to understand about it,” Sirish explains.

The genre of the film is such that, at times, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing the lead role because the narrative gets highlighted more than everything else. Ask him if he felt that it was a risky move to dabble with such a subject so early in his career, Sirish recalls the advice which his brother Allu Arjun, fondly known as Bunny, once shared with him.

“Bunny once told me that if you start looking at the length and screen-time of your role, sometimes you end up losing out on good films. He did films like Vedam and Rudhramadevi which made him a well-rounded actor. There are other characters in Okka Kshanam which have a lot of footage, and frankly, you won’t even see me in the film for about 30 minutes, but the film ends with me fighting for my love. The story is written in such a way. I’m not very finicky about all these things. I’ve already played a second lead to a superstar like Mohanlal, so, I’m kind of used to all this. Truth be told, I really want to share screen space with young actors of my age and be part of films like Bangalore Days, if they are open to the idea.”

Few days ago, the film was in news when a section of media alleged that Okka Kshanam was inspired from a Korean film Parallel Life; however, Sirish vehemently denies these allegations.

“I did see parts of the Korean film after the allegations were made. But it’s a completely different film. I follow world cinema to a fair extent, and the moment Anand told me story, I asked him if he got inspired from another film, and he said no. In fact, the whole plot originated from a simple incident – what if a boy and a girl meet in the parking lot of a shopping mall? My conscience is clear that we have made an original film. We are trying to dub the film in other languages too. I really feel that the film has a potential to be remade in other foreign languages too, like how 3 Idiots and Munnabhai MBBS travelled to the West,” he opines.

Interestingly, Anil Sunkara, who produced 2 Memiddaram, the official remake of ‘Parallel Life’, gave a clean chit to Okka Kshanam and announced that there are absolutely no similarities between the two films.

In the past four years, with five films to his credit, Sirish has had a bumpy ride, although he’s slowly finding his feet on the ground.

When he was 21, he played an active role in film production and marketing, along with his father Allu Arvind who heads Geetha Arts, one of the most successful production houses in the country. It was around this time that a lot of people began asking him if he’s going to make his debut as an actor. “My dad was pleased with what I had done and thought I can give acting a shot; however, he was clear that he didn’t want to nudge me if I wasn’t ready. It took me a while to convince myself that I really wanted to do this,” he recalls.

The actor has had to face his share of criticism over the years, and at one point of time, the incessant trolling on social media seemed too much to handle. “The memes are quite funny, at times, though,” he laughs, adding, “I’m open to constructive criticism and I do take suggestions like I need to be more energetic on screen, seriously. But if people think that by trolling me they are showing their loyalty to their favourite actor, then there’s nothing much I can do about it. I have other things on my mind to deal with.”

So far, Sirish didn’t have to face a situation where he had to compete with members of his own family for good scripts. In fact, he confesses that he exchange notes on scripts that come his way with Varun or Sai Dharam Tej. Ask him what’s his biggest challenge, considering that he hails from a family that’s filled with actors, he broods over it for a minute and says, “All of us have some influence of Megastar Chiranjeevi garu since we grew up watching his films. The biggest challenge is trying to be original. If we try to imitate him too much, then people will get bored of it.”

For now, he is confident that Okka Kshanam will change people’s perception about what he can do onscreen and also encourage people to write scripts for him. “I’m really keen to see how Okka Kshanam performs at the box-office because it’s a great marriage between a high concept and a commercial narration,” Sirish signs off.

Vi Anand’s Okka Kshanam, starring Allu Sirish, Surbhi, Seerat Kapoor, and Srinivas Avasarala, is slated for release on December 28.


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ASC Awards: Roger Deakins wins top cinematography honour for sci-fi film Blade Runner 2049

Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins has won the top award for a theatrical release at the 32nd annual American Society of Cinematographers Awards, for his fantastic and surreal imagery of Denis Villeneuve’s film Blade Runner 2049, as reported by Variety.

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

Roger Deakins. Image from Twitter/@TalkFilmSoc

This is the fifth honour for the cinematographer by the prestigious body, including a Lifetime Achievement award in 2011. Deakins has already won the Golden Globe for Blade Runner 2049 this award season, and is the current favourite for an Oscar, an achievement that has eluded the veteran cameraman, known for his work in The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and The Assassination of Jesse James. Traditionally, in the 32 year long history of ASC Awards, thirteen winners have gone on to win the Oscar as per the same report.

Blade Runner 2049, saw Deakins build on Ridley Scott’s original and influential neo-noir futuristic world. The film was marked with giant, intensely illuminated holograms advertisement interact with the lead actor, and a glitch-ridden virtual Elvis Presley performance in a low-lit abandoned Las Vegas auditorium. The dusty, apocalyptic vision of the Blade Runner universe was deftly crafted by Deakins for the 2017 sequel.

“He has to be Roger Deakins on every shot. He has all the pressure of the world on his shoulders. He’s very, very focused. He doesn’t talk very loud. He doesn’t like to repeat. And his crew…his crew would die for him,” Villeneuve, who has collaborated with Deakins on his two earlier films, Prisoners and Sicario, told Vanity Fair.

ASC Awards also honoured lensman Mart Taniel with the spotlight award for November. The honour focuses on excellence in world cinema. Taniel beat the exquisite Hungarian movie On Body and Soul, which is also up for an Academy Award this year.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:02 PM


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North India’s angry young men: Snigdha Poonam examines a generation’s anxieties in her new book, Dreamers

Upon reading Dreamers, Snigdha Poonam’s splendid cultural study of a generation’s appetite for ruthless ambitions and change, it’s apparent that India’s young men from the north are driven by a peculiar hunger. They chase fame, fortune, power and lofty dreams just like every other millennial but these small town youth are unlike their city counterparts. It’s an unquenchable anger that sets them apart — anger that their country was spoilt by the Congress, anger that corruption was at its peak, anger over their lost izzat, anger over the lack of jobs… Enough anger to make them want to be famous, important and rich beyond their dreams. And while some of them are lucky enough to realise their dreams, some others are stuck in an illusion forever.

Poonam, who writes for Hindustan Times, travelled to India’s towns and villages in the north, besides her own hometown of Ranchi, to find out what these young Indians wanted. “The idea was to [go to a small town] find out four or five people whose stories stood out and follow them for a year to see how close they get to their dreams. As I progressed with that brief, it became a larger project,” she says. Initially, Poonam chose four people in and around Ranchi, but as she travelled to other places, it became 6-7 people in 3 or 4 locations, to whom she kept going back for anywhere between a year and three years.

Snigdha Poonam

Snigdha Poonam

South India and its millennial population feel like a glaring omission from the book, but Poonam says she chose north India for a reason — that it was “representative of the frustrations of this generation because it does more badly than south India; its level of education and employment is poorer. More logistically, the book was never meant to be a sequel to Butter Chicken in Ludhiana [Pankaj Mishra’s travelogue on small-town India]. I was doing the opposite thing; I wanted to limit the number of people and places,” she says.

Among the people Poonam meets is Pankaj Prasad or ‘The Fixer’, an entrepreneurial young man in southern Jharkhand, who is a small-time lobbyist and liaison — an important link between the  state administration and citizens — or rather a go-to man for villagers ready to pay him for sarkari services. Then there’s the founder of WittyFeed or ‘The Click-Baiter’, a startup that thrives on American obsessions from Kim Kardashian and lip-sync battles to banal listicles on Katy Perry’s weirdest faces. To match success stories, Dreamers also has a chapter on the disputers — the angry young men complaining about the future of this country and turning to various Hindu groups who tend to their anxiety. Like Vikas Thakur, with his funky tattoo and beach sandals, who wants to become a politician because he wanted to stand up for Hindus. Or 19-year-old Arjun Kumar who cannot wait for Valentine’s Day year after year because it’s the only day he can deal with couples the way he wants, with an iron rod.

Poonam also gifts us with a rare chapter on an angry young woman — Richa Singh, who fought the Allahabad University elections and won and moved on to mainstream politics. Just like the south Indians who are absent from this book, women too are very obviously missing. But it wasn’t intentional, says Poonam. “I met young women too who had dreams, but when you talk to young men about their dreams, they’re not just talking about their own dreams but also what they want for their country and what they want from the world.” For many young women dreamers, “it was about changing their own lives and in some sense that itself was a huge leap for them to take and they weren’t going to talk about how India should go back to becoming the glory of world civilisation. A lot of the anxiety about their place in India and India’s place in the world was very manly,” she says.

To round off, Poonam has the strugglers as well — men who dream big, plan elaborate and push hard but still remain at the lowest possible level, men like Mohammad Azhar who dream of becoming Bollywood superstars but instead get exploited.

The underbelly of Dreamers not just gives us a peek into toxic masculinity and anger, but also uncovers the appeal of religion, specifically Hinduism, to these men. What does it offer them in a way of appeasing anger or giving them something to move forward? According to Poonam, it offers them a basic sense of identity, honour, and masculinity. “When I spoke to these young men, they were not speaking about religion per se because I knew more about religion than they did and they didn’t connect with any texts, they didn’t have the most basic understanding of what they were fighting for, starting with cows,” she says. And most of the angry men just ended up being Hindu. “I was looking for anger in general, but what I found was that the minorities — young Muslim and Dalit men — were busier looking ahead in terms of opportunities, whereas the Hindu men were looking at the past, at what they had lost, and wanted to restore the old order. Religion had very little meaning in their lives…”

Book cover for Dreamers

Book cover for Dreamers

Essentially, these men always saw a society that’s constantly conspiring against them and their Hindu heritage. They also saw a leader in Narendra Modi — someone like them who’d made it, from tea vendor to Prime Minister — who promised them the India they wanted, whose politics aligned with theirs and whose rhetoric reeked of Hindu nationalism. Modi would transform their beloved India back to its glorious past, they believed. Poonam says that the growing young population she talked to were political in an ambitious, idealistic way in that that there should be smooth roads, no corruption, and trains running on time. “But there was a general hope in Narendra Modi and a lot of disappointment in how Congress had steered the country since independence. That is very common and a lot of that was borrowed perception,” she says.

Poonam writes that less than 17 percent of India’s graduates are immediately employable and only 2.3 percent of the workforce has undergone formal skills training, which means that the country needs to educate about 100 million young people over the next 10 years, “a task never before undertaken in history”. Yet these young Indians, who have grown up with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and “cultural values of their grandparents”, are creating opportunities for themselves in various fields with the help of the ubiquitous internet. Facebook especially, Poonam says, is a tool through which young people are able to manage how other people see them. “The sense that they can manage their perception is very common among young people even in the villages. Even if you want to have the slightest of part to play in politics — and these are the people who are doing this at the block, tehsil level — Facebook and WhatsApp is where they like to do that and they’re becoming really good and smart at it.”

Perhaps this is how young Indians will change the world, one status at a time.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 13:15 PM


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Jayam Ravi on upcoming space film Tik Tik Tik: ‘It’ll be a milestone in the history of Tamil cinema’

Actor Jayam Ravi, who established his career by starring in Tamil remakes of several popular Telugu films in the beginning of his career, made really interesting choices in the last three-four years which has paid off handsomely.

From playing a boxer in Bhooloham to turning into a zombie in Miruthan, he was last seen on screen playing a tribesman in Vanamagan. As he awaits the release of Tamil cinema’s first space film Tik Tik Tik, in which he plays an escape artist cum astronaut, Ravi opens up in an exclusive chat with Firstpost about the experience of working in the film which is unlike anything he’s done in his career so far.

Jayam Ravi in Tik Tik Tik.

Directed by Shakti Soundar Rajan, the film marks Ravi’s second collaboration with the director after the zombie actioner Miruthan. Recalling how the project materialised, he said: “After the release of Miruthan, Shakti called me one day and said he has two scripts – a big project and a small film. He asked me which one I want to work on. I told myself that I’m anyway not going to be around to do 200-300 films. Even if I do one film, the experience should be equivalent of doing five projects. I conveyed the same thought to Shakti and that’s when he pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik.”

As much as Ravi was excited about the idea of starring in a space film, deep down, he was hesitant. “Initially, I was very hesitant. But I always look at positives over negatives in anything I do in life. When Shakti pitched the idea of Tik Tik Tik, I saw many positives. A lot of people didn’t attempt a space film so far is because of the misconception that we can’t shoot in India and the high cost involved. But Shakti and I had faith in our script and we found a VFX studio (Ajax) in Chennai which delivered the kind of output which was beyond our expectations. We gave them some test shots to work upon and they came out really well.”

Despite his faith in Shakti and the script, Ravi said a lot of people couldn’t believe they could pull off a space film. “When I told some well-wishers and friends that I was going to do a space film, nobody believed in me or in the project. They looked down upon the idea itself. The bigger challenge for us was to script a movie like this in the first place. It needed a lot of vision and clarity. I could foresee the result when I read the script but nobody believed in us expect our producer. But I was quite confident because audiences have always supported whenever I attempted something different. Even though the execution was very strenuous, we were thrilled with the output which was beyond our satisfaction. It’ll be a milestone in my career and in Tamil cinema,” Ravi said, heaping praise on his director.

“A project of this scale and vision requires a lot of research work. Even while shooting, Shakti had to look after so many things as this is a script that’s powered by logic. Since it’s about science and space, he had to keep in mind several things when on the sets. We had to make sure that everything looked believable. Shakti was well backed by art director Murthy. They complemented each other so well. This is a film with a lot computer graphics and most scenes were shot on green mat. A lot of planning went into the shooting process. Everything the actors could touch was actually built from scratch. What the actors couldn’t touch which was mostly everything in the background was created with the help of CG.”

Nearly 80 percent of the film was shot in zero gravity condition. A race against time thriller, it’s a story of five astronauts, who go on a mission to stop an oncoming attack of a meteorite. “As most of the shooting took place in zero gravity conditions, we had to be attached to the harness. We’d wear the space suit and then be attached to the harness for long hours. We’d shoot from morning to evening and most of the times we don’t even take a break because taking off the suit and putting it back on was a time-consuming process.”

Having grown up watching space films such as Deep Impact, Armageddon and 2001: A Space Odyssey among others, Ravi hopes that children celebrate Tik Tik Tik as this generation’s space film, which also stars his son, Aarav, in a pivotal role. “I really hope children warm up to this film. When we made Miruthan, it was passed with an A certificate by CBFC, so it was not suitable for children. I’m sure Tik Tik Tik will appeal to children as well,” he said.

Published Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:01 PM


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