YNOT Studios and Reliance Entertainment proudly present “Martin Luther King” (Telugu), a Mahayana Motion Pictures Production. Directed by Puja Kolluru in her debut, the film is touted to be a political satire featuring Sampoornesh Babu in the lead role while VK Naresh and Sharanya Pradeep play key roles.
The film’s teaser, released on Gandhi Jayanthi day, elicited an overwhelmingly positive response for its unique blend of political satire and entertainment, making it a refreshing addition to Telugu cinema. The film also showcases Sampoornesh Babu in a captivating new role as an actor.
Starting on October 9, the cast and crew embarked on a tour of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, offering early premieres in cities like VISAKHAPATNAM, VIJAYAWADA, NELLORE, KURNOOL, and WARANGAL. The enthusiastic reception and reactions from these premieres have been truly remarkable.
As the film is scheduled to release on October 27, lead actor Sampoornesh Babu and screenwriter Venkatesh Maha interacted with web/print media journalists on Tuesday. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Q) What are the reasons that made you say okay to a remake?
Sampoornesh Babu: Martin Luther King is made keeping the Telugu sensibilities in view. Initially, Venkatesh Maha garu called me up and asked me to watch the Tamil original Mandela. I politely said I don’t understand the Tamil language. He said not an issue and asked me to just observe the principal character in the film. Maha sir told me that I won’t be mouthing the monologues like I did in my earlier films. It’s a refreshing one.
How did the project come to you, Venkatesh Maha garu?
I was first asked by Sashi, the representative of YNOT Studios, to direct the movie. He told me that senior journalist Bharadwaj Ranjan suggested my name in Telugu to him. But I was busy with a handful of original scripts already when Sashi approached me. I had a reason why I made Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya.
But for this flick, I openly admitted that I can’t do it. Later, when I watched Mandela, the original Tamil film, I felt it was something new. It should reach the people. Such stories should be made in all the languages, in all the nations in which democracy exists.
That’s when Puja Kolluru came on board. YNOT Studios already had dealt with a number of female filmmakers. The biggest problem we had faced was to whom to cast. I was supposed to present a ppt to YNOT Studios explaining how the film should be made in Telugu incorporating Telugu nativity and cultural details into the adaptation.
Suggestions kept pouring in as to who would be the best artiste to reprise the role of Yogi Babu. I had no clue, so I slept and woke up the next day. Sampoornesh Babu’s name came to my mind. Because I felt people could relate to him as a common man.
Sampoo has a different image on the Telugu silver screen because of his characters. Was it a challenge for you to cast him?
Venkatesh Maha: Actor Sampoornesh Babu has cooperated well with us. We had a 40-day workshop. I was busy overseeing the production logistics and funds for the movie. Director Puja had brought in new techniques during the acting workshop. It was like the actor’s eligibility was decided only after he passed the written test. This was a new methodology. I was surprised watching the sync between director Puja and Sampoo.
You portrayed a few out-of-box characters in your filmography so far. For the fisrt time you made an attempt to portray the feelings of a common man through Martin Luther King. How is the changeover?
Sampoornesh Babu: I am enjoying the changeover. It is an entirely different changeover. It was during Hrudaya Kaleyam, I experienced a feeling of whether I was the person who acted in such a role. I couldn’t believe myself when I watched myself portraying the character. And after many years, I experienced it again with Martin Luther King.
When director Puja garu told me about the workshop, I was in fact surprised. Because I am an actor who has some good films under my belt. So I gave it a try when she asked for a workshop. It really changed my thinking.
Venkatesh Maha: The walking style took up a major portion of the session. Puja thought once Sampoo nails the style of walking, automatically the character of a cobbler kicks in.
Q) Does the character make any impact on you personally?
Sampoornesh Babu: I haven’t followed the character graph of Yogi Babu. I was told to be as myself — how Narasimha Chary would be in his native village. Not like Sampo. That was when I felt the difference. How a cobbler walks in a village. This character made me recall my past when I first learned the ropes of acting. Puja garu had complete command over the subject.
Q) It was a barber in the original version. It is changed into a cobbler in the Telugu remake. What was the reason for bringing changes in the script?
Venkatesh Maha: The traditional occupation of the cobbler community is the most oppressed community in the caste system as far as Telugu nativity is concerned. We changed the lead role into a cobbler not to discriminate against someone or some sect, but to reflect the realistic picture of the society.
What made you take a shot at acting? How were you onboard Martin Luther King?
Venkatesh Maha: Director Puja had first asked me to do the character. She knew that I acted in a couple of films – Ante Sundaraniki and others. However, we took auditions and looktests of a prominent actor. But the problem we had faced was he couldn’t give his dates because he had already given his word for some big films.
About 10 days before starting the shoot, senior actor Naresh garu said I was the perfect fit for the character. The next day, they arranged the photoshoot and that’s how I landed into it.
What’s the reason behind turning down the offer of directing Martin Luther King?
Venkatesh Maha: First time when I watched Mandela, I felt I should have taken it up. I was confident that I could bring the same tone that director Madonne Ashwin had brought to Mandela. Then it would be a similar film to a Tamil flick. But we need a refreshing tone to the remake.
I was sure that I would bring freshness to the writing. We needed someone who could present a technically and visually fresh film. I told Sashi that I would collaborate with you and produce it as well as provide a screenplay to it. When I put the phone down, Puja was right behind me and said she would direct it.
Now you were shown in a different backdrop, will Martin Luther King change your phase?
I have not thought about whether it would change my phase as an actor. But I can say, the film would connect with audiences. The early premiers have gotten a massive response. Many of my friends told me that I bagged a good film after many years. I am happy for that. After portraying the lead role of Martin Luther King, I felt as if my responsibility towards society was increased in me.
Has anyone lured you with money to sell your vote anytime in your real life?
Sampoo: It happens to everyone in this world. But I have not yielded to such tricks. I had never taken money and never sold my vote during elections. I cast my vote to a contestant whom I liked. I keep telling my mother and brother not to sell their votes. That is my nature.
Is it easy to do a spoof comedy or content-oriented characters like Martin Luther King?
All my earlier movies were so easy to act in. I didn’t face challenges as I faced in Martin Luther King. I was involved in the character, disconnecting with people for four months, I lived life like an ascetic.
Is this a deliberate attempt to release the movie during the election time?
Venkatesh Maha: No, we haven’t planned in that way. Even if you see my first film, I first started it early showing the film to people. Martin Luther King was ready in February. As part of the promotional plan, we resolved to first show the movie to people.
So we thought if a public review is positive we could directly go for the release. Then, we planned to release it in May. Since too many films were jostling for the space, we held the film back. Now I feel that the universe has conspired with the films’ release so that it coincides with the elections.
Who is going to emerge as king? Is it you or the lead character played by Sampoornesh Babu?
I personally believe that every individual on the planet has the equal rights. After watching Martin Luther King, every one among the audiences feels himself to be a king while leaving theatres. Everyone who worked for Martin Luther King, is going to get credit equally. Everyone gave their 100 percent effort for the film, it would get reflected in every pixel of the film when you watch it on the screen.
After scoring massive hit with C/O Kancharapalem and Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya, were you bogged down with too much responsibility to deliver another hit at the Telugu box office?
Venkatesh Maha: No, there is no such pressure on me. And I don’t make similar stories over and over again. That’s why I came up with a new subject, Martin Luther King, of course it is a remake film.
You’re sending a message about casting a vote through this film. What social responsibility do you both have?
There are many I can’t name them now. Social responsibility on the whole, I can say, Martin Luther King reminds the lines written by the great poet Sri Sri garu. When I made people hear about the song in this film, they praised me saying these lines are from old films, how could I get them. That’s our plight now. So coming to your question, whatever I do, one could see my desperation to do something for a better world. That’s all I can do.