Thirty and still single? A question often faced by women and men who haven’t conformed to societal norms is the focal point of the new Telugu film Bhanumathi Ramakrishna (BR). Written and directed by first-timer Srikanth Nagothi, the film starring Naveen Chandra and Salony Luthra will stream on Aha from July 3.

Going by his observation of his two older sisters and his female friends, Srikanth says “Girls have a lot of fun when you just let them be.” He points out that women who are single at 30 have it tougher than men. “She’s considered to have been ‘left out’ from the marriage scenario,” he says. Srikanth worked in the IT sector but his heart was in filmmaking. He tried his hand at short films and did storyboarding for ad shoots. When he decided to take the plunge into feature films, he began writing a romance drama discussing the ‘30 and single’ topic.

BR began like an independent film and Srikanth felt it would befit the web space: “I wanted to cast actors who would appear realistic in their parts and narrate the story without box office constraints,” he says.

He wrote the story from the woman’s point of view, trying to imagine how a strong, independent woman would navigate societal pressures soon after a break-up, when she’s pushing 30.

Fun yet responsible

BR unfolds in a corporate office in Hyderabad, with Salony as Bhanumathi and Naveen as Ramakrishna who moves to Hyderabd from Tenali. “They are extremely different from each other,” adds Srikanth.

Salony Luthra in the film

He was drawn by Salony’s choice of films — Tamil films Sarabham and Oliyum Oliyum, American films Forbidden and Turned Out, among others. “She’s an NSD (National School of Drama) graduate and I liked her approach to acting,” he says.

Salony had just completed Turned Out and was looking for “a light-hearted yet socially responsible film after the heavy duty ones” she had completed. She remembers being awed by the material given to her: “I asked Srikanth who had written it; I was spellbound that a male writer could read a woman’s mind so well,” she says.

This is her first Telugu film and she says, “It’s our way of telling the girls out there that it’s okay to take your time. Marriage should happen when you feel confident about taking that step. I liked Bhanumathi’s characterisation — she’s educated, modern, values self respect and is culturally rooted.”

An unlikely choice

Naveen Chandra

Naveen’s casting happened by chance, says Srikanth. He and Naveen met through their gym trainer. Srikanth had been on the lookout for an actor who could play a small-town guy in his 30s, getting acquainted with the corporate world in Hyderabad. “Once Naveen asked me what I am working on and I narrated the outline of the story. The next morning he called and said he’s interested in playing Ramakrishna. I was hesitant since I felt he might be too masculine for that part. At the same time, it was reassuring that a well known actor like him believed in my story,” says Srikanth.

Naveen laughs recalling the initial conversations. “Srikanth was looking for someone who’s good hearted but not conventionally good looking. He had to be slightly bald, have a paunch…”

With Naveen stepping in, the film went through some changes. Hours of discussions followed, for days. “Typically, one tends to show a rural guy wearing spectacles and sporting well-oiled hair. We changed things a bit. Instead of my beard, I opted for a stubble. And I wear a ‘bottu’ (kumkum). That worked,” says Naveen.

The physical attributes aside, Naveen had to think and act like a small-town guy, which he says wasn’t that easy to crack. “Ramakrishna doesn’t have big dreams. If he can earn enough to support his parents and save some money to get married, he’s happy. And he has this cheerful vibe about him,” says the actor. Adding authenticity to his character were the clothes handpicked by Srikanth, in ₹200 to ₹300 range. BR happened when Naveen was also working on Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava, Devadas and Evaru.

When BR was nearly done, producer Sharrath Marar offered to present the film, says Srikanth: “Through him we were able to connect to Allu Arvind and the Aha deal worked out,” he says.

A camaraderie of filmmakers also happened at the post production studio, when Srikanth and Ravikanth Perepu (whose Krishna and his Leela will also stream on OTT soon) saw each other’s work. “I was struggling to find an editor who would approach my film from a slightly unconventional point of view. Ravikanth offered to edit the film. It’s been a good journey so far,” sums up Srikanth.

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