“Nepotism exists because it comes from a sort of acceptance”: Nag Ashwin
Nag Ashwin Reddy, a Telugu film director and screenwriter, is a mass communication graduate from School of Communication (SOC), Manipal. He began his career as an assistant director in the psychological thriller ‘Nenu Meeku Telusa?’ in the year 2008 and also assisted in films like ‘Leader’ and ‘Life is beautiful’. Following this, he made his short film, ‘Yaadon ki Baraat’, which was selected for the ‘Cannes Short Film Corner’.
In 2015, Ashwin made his independent directorial debut with the coming-of-age drama film, ‘Yevade Subramanyam’. It went on to become a critical and commercial success, putting him on the map of the Tollywood industry. Recently, he worked as a writer-director for a biographical drama film, ‘Mahanati’, which was a box office blockbuster and received appreciation from all quarters.
The Manipal Journal met with the renowned director for an interview while he came down to Manipal to deliver a talk as part of the resource panel for Article-19, the SOC’s official media event.
You are an alumnus of SOC of the batch of 2003-05, which also re-started Article-19, the media fest. How does it feel to be back and see the continuation of the tradition? Did you expect it to be taken forward with the same enthusiasm all through the years? Let’s also talk about college fests and their exposure and influence on students in breaking out of their comfort zones and finding their niche, parallelly.
It feels great to be back in Manipal and remember old times and college memories again. Everything is constantly in the process of evolution and it is interesting to see how aspects of the college or fest in particular are re-interpreted uniquely over the years. When we re-started it, we sure did hope for it to continue and get bigger. We were optimistic but honestly, I did not expect it to turn out to be so positive and come so far. Talking about college fests, it’s a major platform for students to showcase their talents or find their forte. The format also allows them to make new rules and also break out of it at the same time, which gives them new experiences to learn from.
In one of your TEDx talks, you mentioned that after every movie, it is again a blank slate for a filmmaker to begin right from the start line again. It is also known that each director has their own method towards their craft and their unique way to go about it. Does your ‘clean slate’ involve unlearning or adding up on the experiences and takeaways from each project?
Well, every script or idea is new and by default it becomes a blank slate. So when the writing process of every script or story starts, nothing much can be used from the previous concepts because each one has its own tone. To a certain extent, it does involve unlearning but it is also about discovering new things within the story and adapting it along the process. Taking both my films into consideration, the first movie had nothing to do with the second one, as it needed a whole new way of writing and different method of approaching its making. I believe this holds good for every film and the actual deal lies in figuring out how to tell each story in the best way possible.
Your latest directorial venture, ‘Mahanati’, has been very well received and was also called one of the biggest multi-starrer in recent times, having renowned artists from Telugu, Tamil and the Malayalam film fraternity. Was it a conscious decision to get such an ensemble cast along with making it a bilingual movie?
Casting was a conscious choice for sure, keeping in mind the characters and how well each one fits into the roles. The movie is based on the life and times of a legendary yesteryear actress, Savitri Garu, who was as well known in Tamil as well as Telugu, to an extent where the audience in Tamil Nadu found it surprising when they found out that she actually hailed from Andhra Pradesh. They accepted her so much as their own. So I felt it was only fair and justified to have her life depicted to them in Tamil too.
Again in context to your (TEDx) talk, the internet dominantly runs the world and everyone is formulating and voicing out opinions constantly. You were very vocal about the abundance in the amount of content on the Internet of all kinds which is negatively impacting people. At the same time don’t you think the Internet is also playing a part in the wider reach of cinema? What is the scope for a better balance of both the good and the bad that comes out of modern technology?
In context to the reach of cinema, it does change the game completely. High speed internet and cell phones which are a recent phenomenon are broadening all fields in today’s times. I’ve met so many people who have watched my films on their mobiles, which was not possible a few years ago and the proper streaming in high quality that takes place on platforms like Amazon Prime for example does make an impact. The reach of people consuming content has just become wide for anybody with a phone.
That said, I still have a strong opinion that having any and all content available to people all the time on their hands is something that can’t be moderated, because we weren’t used to such a thing before. It didn’t exist before and for the first time in history we have so much information freely and for no reason, accessible to everyone. So anything that’s new and exciting, social media per say, tends to give a hit of dopamine to the brain and in turn results in addiction to it very easily. It’s a new world but this also maybe a major issue, the solution to it lies in figuring out where it should be stopped and the balance for it to not pervade too much into our lives.
In November 2018, you questioned Telangana Minister KT Rama Rao on the negligent medical care provided in government hospitals due to which you lost a cinematographer friend. The quality of medical care in these hospitals has been a matter of concern for some time and as stated by you, it is high time ‘government hospitals’ cease to be synonymous with carelessness and death. At present, what is your take on this issue ?
I think the problems exist on all sides and it is very easy for government hospitals or for the doctors in it to get defensive because they do work hard and they really are overburdened but I genuinely also think that it is not unfixable. Not only Hyderabad, any city for that matter has government hospitals that are overburdened and overcrowded and nobody is really working on it. The issue lies in the fact that people assume and even worse, accept that if they are coming to a government hospital, then their survival chance is already at a fifty percent.
Responsibility is something that the government should primarily focus on bringing in. In a city like Hyderabad, where there is a new start-up or a software building coming in every week, there is absolutely no lack of funds and there is certainly more than enough to sort out health centres. Government has to make sure that education and healthcare is on the right track, everything else in terms of GDP growth and development will also get on track.
The phase of biopics is prevalent in the cinema industry in India and lives of many personalities are being depicted on celluloid. Your latest venture too is a biopic. Some of these biopics have been called out for being made with a motive of justifying or ‘whitewashing’ the actions of the protagonist. There are other biopics that have faced backlash for factual portrayal of events or incidents. Being a filmmaker, especially an acclaimed one, what are your views?
My approach has always revolved around whether a story is useful or if it worthy enough for the next generations to know and remember. If you believe that it is worth it and the people have no access to know about the personality at this point, then it should be told in such a way as to get them to consume and watch it. Personally, it has nothing to do with glorifying a personality or justifying them or their actions. Any movie, at the end of the day should be about the story.
Crowdfunded films are steadily gaining momentum and are broadening the aspect of ‘good cinema, for the people by the people’. What are your thoughts on the encouragement of new platforms and initiatives to promote the same?
Supporting and finding ways for movies to be made and stories to be told is very important. Today’s time is probably the most exciting time to be in because it is no longer just movies or cinema. There are so many avenues and ways to put stories out. Films are being made everywhere, be it Netflix or Amazon and there is so much content that every story will somehow find a way to be viable. So I think it’s an interesting time to be a filmmaker or artist, in general.
Lastly, nepotism remains to be a topic of raging debate around the Indian film industry and has reached a point where it cannot be denied. Having worked with actors from varied backgrounds alongside being in close association with members of the fraternity, what is your opinion regarding this?
Nepotism exists and it’s everywhere, be it business houses, politics, movie and so on. I think it is because we have such a long history, whether we know it or not, about kings, their descendants and the like. In a way, we all accept and are curious to know what the son or daughter of so and so are going to end up doing. It comes from a sort of acceptance. Having said that, it can only work as long as there is talent. There are people who have come from nowhere and also some who are from families who try and try but it all comes down to how good and determined the artist is.
Featured Image Courtesy: Tanya Arora
Edited by: Niharika Nambiar