Director Venky Atluri on working with Dhanush in his new film, Vaathi

Director Venky Atluri on working with Dhanush in his new film, 'Vaathi'

Atluri talks about exploitative private schools, and the challenges of making a bilingual

Director Venky Atluri, who had made romantic entertainers in Telugu like ‘Tholi Prema’, ‘Mr Majnu’, and ‘Rang De’, is all set for the release of his first-ever Tamil-Telugu bilingual ‘Vaathi/Sir’ on February 17, headlined by leading and popular Tamil actor Dhanush.

In an interview with The Federal, Atluri starts off by explaining how he came across the idea of making ‘Vaathi’, which is based on the subject of exploitative private schools. “During the pandemic, I happened to watch a report on how private schools across the country exploited parents and students by demanding transport fees at a time when they were conducting online classes. When I looked back, I realised the privatisation of schools started in the 90s, so, I tried to get to the root cause of the exploitation. And, I did plenty of research, and penned this script on the education system in India,” he says.

And, Dhanush readily agreed to get on board as he could relate to the script having grown up in the 1990s, he adds. Atluri, who actually started his career as an actor, later switched to direction because he was more drawn to writing and direction.

Tamil-Telugu bilingual

Being a Tamil-Telugu bilingual, Atluri had to make some minor tweaks in the two versions otherwise the “emotional” elements are similar in both languages. “In Tamil Nadu, after the tenth standard, you have the higher secondary medium, while in Telugu states, we call it junior college. Also, there is a science and commerce group in higher secondary in Tamil Nadu but we refer to them differently. So, there were just some terminology differences in the Telugu and Tamil scripts,” he points out.

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Talking about Dhanush’s involvement and how he approached his character, the filmmaker says, “Dhanush sir told me that he would like to portray the character as a young likable teacher and not as a typical strict and disciplined school teacher. I also wanted his character to reach the audience that way. We all would’ve had a teacher who was like a friend and brother to us, I wanted Dhanush sir to be in that zone”.

Besides being an actor, Dhanush also helped Venky Atluri in changing a few lines of the script to suit Tamil sensibilities. Atluri recalls, “I wrote the script in Telugu and later translated it in Tamil. While reading a few scenes, Dhanush sir felt that the words were too literally translated and he tweaked it a bit here and there and added colloquial terms to make it sound more organic in Tamil. He also made certain scenes simple but they were originally written with commercial high moments. However, watching those scenes again on the editing table, I feel that my intent is conveyed but in Dhanush sir’s style.”

Interestingly, when Atluri first penned the script, Dhanush was not in the plan. “It was my producer’s idea to narrate the script to Dhanush sir. I wasn’t sure whether he would like my script and insiders in the Tamil film industry had warned me that he was super busy. However, as soon as I narrated the script, Dhanush sir immediately asked me when shooting would start. I was so surprised and thrilled,” recounts Atluri.

Language issues

Talking about the painstaking process of shooting the same scenes twice in Tamil and Telugu, the director says, “As a filmmaker, it wasn’t strenuous for me but the actors found it difficult because Tamil actors weren’t good in Telugu language and vice versa.” But Dhanush sir and the other actors were cooperative on the sets and made the entire process easier, he adds.

The director also points out that though ‘Vaathi’ tackles a serious subject and features hard-hitting facts, the film has elements that are entertaining and does not preach in any way.

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“After watching the film, I’m proud and emotional. Dhanush sir has also watched the movie recently without the background score and he was very happy,” confesses Venky.

Besides Dhanush, Samyuktha and Samuthirakani play pivotal roles in the film. “I had seen Samyuktha and Samuthirakani’s films earlier. Their choice of scripts and performances convinced me that they were perfect for the respective characters they play in ‘Vaathi’. Along with Dhanush sir, the performance of these two actors will be a major highlight of the film,” he affirms.

Talking about GV Prakash’s contribution to the film, the director says, “GV Prakash sir is a successful actor now and busy shooting for his films but he never made us wait to come up with the background score or the songs. He was very punctual and delivered the songs.”

Of late, many Tamil filmmakers are moving to directing Telugu films and vice versa. Talking about this new trend, the director says, “Well, in the 90s, many dubbed films of Kamal sir and Rajini sir were huge hits in Telugu. During the pandemic, people in India started watching films in other languages with subtitles and the differences have become blurred now. If the content is compelling and entertains the audiences, they don’t mind watching a film in any language.”

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