“A film is never complete until it has left your hands to the theatres,” says director Srikanth Nagothi, referring to his urge to keep finetuning his film. His labour of love, the Telugu film Month of Madhu, is releasing on October 6. The name Madhu refers to an NRI character, played by Shreya Navile, who spends a month in India during which she learns about the bittersweet story of a middle- class couple, portrayed by Swathi Reddy and Naveen Chandra (his character is also named Madhu… Madhusudhan).
Srikanth’s first film Bhanumathi & Ramakrishna, drew critical appreciation and was released digitally during the pandemic. Marketing and releasing a film in theatres is a new ball game for him. “The response was fabulous for the teaser we unveiled a year ago. The trailer has received a mixed response within the film industry. I guess people are judging the trailer from a perspective of what they think the audience would like to watch,” says Srikanth, during this interview at a cafe in Hyderabad.
The warm feedback to Bhanumathi & Ramakrishna, made Srikanth think it would be simpler to make his second film. But it took a while to find producers — Krishiv Productions and Handpicked Stories— who would back a character-driven film with no stars. “Once I finished writing the character-driven story, I was sure of the actors I wanted to cast — Naveen, Swathi, Shreya and Manjula Ghattamaneni.”
The characters played by Naveen and Swathi turn the lens on the changing landscape of relationships. Srikanth recalls a divorce lawyer telling him that nearly 70% of marriages today end in separation. “Broadly speaking, a man cannot treat his wife like his father would have treated his mother. Women are changing and want better from relationships. I have tried to portray relationships without being judgmental or taking sides with either character.”
Srikanth explains that the issues that make Swathi and Naveen’s characters drift apart are not domestic violence or adultery. “In his 20s, Naveen’s character is like the guy everyone would want as a friend. He can come to a friend’s rescue and bash up a troublemaker. But with that attitude, he finds it tough to work under anyone. Alcohol becomes his escapism; he loses his job and cannot accept that his wife, whom he loves dearly, also has a problem with his attitude.” The trailer shows Swathi refusing to heed a lawyer’s advice to press false domestic violence charges against Naveen. She respects their love for each other and wants to separate on dignified terms.
Srikanth’s writing process involves writing a few drafts and having extensive discussions with his actors. There is always room for improvising the dialogues on the sets. “My actors come to the sets with ample understanding of their character’s emotional graph. The prep work helped us complete filming in just 46 days.”
Srikanth also chose to work with a technical team from different regions to think beyond the regular Telugu cinema format. For instance, cinematographer Rajeev Dharavath is an alumnus of FTII (Film and Television Institute of Pune), colorist Shiva has worked on RRR, Suren who did the sound mixing worked in mainstream Tamil films and Nithin who worked on sync sound is from Kerala.
An MBA graduate, Srikanth had worked in the corporate sector for 12 years before he decided to make movies. He and his childhood friend director Gowtam Tinnanuri (Malli Rava and Jersey) decided to take the plunge around the same time. The duo worked on Srikanth’s first film; that did not take off but turned out to be a learning ground for them. “The friend Gowtam referred to in your earlier interview is me. He keeps checking on me to see how I am handling the pre-release days.”
Srikanth confides in very few people, directors Gowtam Tinnanuri and Ravikanth Perepu being two. Ravikanth edited Bhanumathi & Ramakrishna and has worked on Month of Madhu as well. “There are days I have called him from the sets to explain what I plan to film; I told him that I am counting on him to make sense of the footage on the editing table. He is a few years younger than me, extremely objective and tells me if he agrees with my take on relationships in my stories.”
The opening line of Bhanumathi & Ramakrishna stated that life is all about making choices. Srikanth says it was a conscious choice when he quit his corporate career in his 30s. “Better pay or position would not have made me happy. I like to think I was more creative and chose this path of making movies.”