Ahead of their film Colour Photo, friends Sandeep Raj and Suhas share their journey from making one-minute videos to finding a foothold in Telugu cinema
Actor Suhas and director Sandeep Raj grew up in Vijayawada, in nearby localities. But they didn’t know each other until the love for cinema brought them together in Hyderabad, years later. The Telugu film Colour Photo, which will stream on Aha from October 23, marks Sandeep’s debut as director and Suhas’s first as the protagonist.
Colour Photo turns its gaze on colour, class and caste differences that come in the way of romance between the characters played by Suhas and Chandini Chowdary. The story begins in 1997 in a semi-urban scenario and the film was shot in locales near Vijayawada.
Metaphor of societal hypocrisy
- Talking about actor Sunil as the antagonist, Sandeep says, “Imagine giving a human form to the hypocrisy of the parents and society that stand between the lead characters. Sunil’s role embodies those hypocrisies.”
“I like films that reflect a region’s culture,” says Sandeep. A Telugu film buff, he also looks out for other language films that capture region-specific ethos, “like the Tamil films made by Vetrimaran, or the Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights.”
When the film’s co-producer Sai Rajesh outlined the story of an introverted dark-skinned guy falling in love with a fair-skinned, intelligent young woman and wanted to address class and caste differences, Sandeep loved the idea and wrote the screenplay. “In the 25 days I spent writing, I visualised locales that would make the film look authentic. The Machilipatnam beach and Krishna University building are some places where time seems to stand still,” says Sandeep.
Setting the story in the late 90s, before the mobile phone boom, helped Sandeep explore the yearning of the two lead characters: “During the lockdown, many of us stayed connected through video calls. Imagine the 90s. If parents opposed a boy meeting a girl, they wouldn’t be able to interact even if they lived in adjacent lanes,” says Sandeep.
Video route to cinema
Comedy has been Suhas’ forte; he shot into the limelight in 2015 through his YouTube videos and then collaborated with Sandeep to develop video content for Chai Bisket website and YouTube channel.
Sandeep and Suhas began with comedy. “We first wanted people to watch our content. Once we built a substantial subscriber base, we explored other genres,” recalls Suhas.
Before his stint with Chai Bisket, when pursuing B.Sc Computer Science in Vijayawada, Suhas enacted one-act plays, memes and skits. He then moved to Hyderabad and tried his luck in the movies, in vain: “I loved cricket and cinema as a child. In college, I also choreographed dance performances and thought I could be a choreographer in cinema. I discovered my love for acting later.”
Sandeep’s focus was on drama and cultural activities during his B.Tech days and he was a huge fan of S S Rajamouli. On a whim, he arrived in Hyderabad and auditioned for Baahubali in 2013. “I was just 21 and didn’t fit the bill of a well-built guy that the Baahubali team was looking for,” he recalls.
However, his humorous posts on Facebook got noticed by Chai Bisket website. “They wanted me to write and were willing to pay, so I took it up. We began with one-minute videos and slowly increased the duration. Our videos became popular,” recalls Sandeep.
Moment of recognition
A turning point for both Suhas and Sandeep was their short film Athiti, which went viral. The Telugu film industry took notice.
Suhas was offered character roles with a touch of comedy. He began with Padi Padi Leche Manasu, but with Majili he got noticed. A host of films followed — Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, Dear Comrade, and more recently Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya.
Meanwhile, Sandeep got writing opportunities. He has co-written the screenplay of the forthcoming film Aakashavani with director Ashwin Gangaraju, and penned the dialogues for Nagesh Kukunoor’s Telugu film Good Luck Sakhi.
Sandeep and Suhas’s collaboration for Colour Photo happened at the insistence of Sai Rajesh: “He said Suhas would be apt as the hero. I hadn’t thought of my friend as a hero until then,” Sandeep confesses.
Suhas was jittery. He was doing well as a comic actor and the money was decent too: “I was scared that I will lose opportunities trying my luck as the hero,” he says.
He and his wife went on a short trip to Tirupati. Contemplating on the Tirumala hills, Suhas decided to take the plunge: “I took a risk moving to Hyderabad from Vijayawada, why not take another risk with this film? More importantly, I loved the story,” Suhas reasons.
Suhas is counting down days for the digital release and Sandeep is eager that the film reaches a wide audience: “It would have been great to have a theatrical release. But given the scenario, I want people to watch this intense story wherever they are, without the fear of COVID-19 in a crowded environment,” says Sandeep.