As one of the top league directors in Tollywood today, Gopichand Malineni casts his own charm when it comes to film making. A subtle balance between story, cast and commercial elements, his movies garner a sizeable command at the box office.
A simple lad from Ongole, Prakasam district never even imagined being in the top league of Telugu film industry someday. Refreshingly entertaining, Gopichand’s films get the audience hooked on to relish that delightful popcorn flick every time they walk in to theatres. In the troubled times of constant experimentation, changing audience preferences and tight battle up front with peers, he continues to strive and deliver the best for Telugu movie lovers.
Big banners, top line stars and hectic schedules – this did not hinder the warm and modest personality to indulge in a little casual banter, chatting over his long struggle, films, stories, inspiration and above all, his undying love for cinema.
Gopichand Malineni talks to Deepa Balasubramanian, decoding what it takes to be a top notch Tollywood director.
Tell us about your start with direction.
When I was in tenth standard, RGV’s Shiva was released. I had a great interest in that particular film since childhood. Hailing from Boddulurivaripalem, 20 kilometres from Ongole, I never had access to quality resources. We used to have VCRs in the compound. They would charge INR 1 per ticket. I had a free access and was the privileged one. We used to watch and discuss films even while going to school (smiles).
So there was an inkling towards film making since childhood..
I was mostly a film reveler. There was absolutely no interest to get involved with making them. Everybody spoke about Shiva. I still remember how people used to imitate Nagarjuna garu, holding cycle chains and making angry face gestures. I moved to Nellore while studying Intermediate education. Andhra’s first multiplex was built there, almost 20 years ago. Krishna, Kaveri and Kalyani theatres were big names and our college was next to them. And then one day, Shankar’s Gentleman was released. I saw the movie 20 times. You will not believe this but I used to bunk college and watch a matinee every day. I also watched the same films repeatedly, almost 6 to 7 times. This helped me analyse and understand them at a different level.
“Andhra’s first multiplex was built in Nellore almost 20 years ago. Krishna, Kaveri and Kalyani theatres were big names and our college was next to them. And then one day, Shankar’s Gentleman was released. I saw the movie 20 times”
How did the slow transition happen to Tollywood?
I adore Ram Gopal Verma style of films. Used to see all his comedy films. It’s not like I was only for one genre. I like all genres of films. Be it comedy, drama or action. I finally discontinued studies. When Vijayashanti’s Aashayam was shooting in Nellore, I went to watch the filming. There was a lathi charge and I was hit and bruised. Even though I had to tell about the incident at home and get reprimanded, I was amazed at the shooting process.
When did you move to Hyderabad?
I moved to the city immediately after quitting studies. I’m a big fan of Balakrishna garu. This made me seriously plan my career. I first joined ETV and started off as a camera assistant. This exposed me to some real hard news. I used to shoot prime time news for the channel. Not many know that it was me who covered the exclusive shooting of Osey Ramulamma.
Later came a great start where I started working in the direction department of Srihari’s film Police as an Assistant Director.
Are there any film makers who inspire when it comes to direction? Any particular favorites overall?
RGV – he influences me when directing action films. Shankar influences me to look at grand treatment while filming. EVV inspires me in Comedy. This way, I have picked up various learnings from some of the directors who really motivate me.
Given there is a stiff competition within the commercial space, what is your formula for success?
I make films based on what the audience wants. That is the whole idea. What they would like to see is what I work towards to give all the time. For example, as a film goer, I like Shankar’s films. They come with a strong story line, racy screenplay and convey a strong social message in an engrossing way. There is a serious issue addressed, but the audience is not grilled to boredom. The entertainment is nicely maintained with the main story and characters in the foreground.
Coming to ruling the box office. What makes your brand of films a stand out?
Script – It’s my biggest bet. I look at telling my story in an entertaining way. I add grandeur and glamour. Mixing all of these ingredients, I look at blending them.
“I make films based on what the audience wants. That is the whole idea. What they would like to see is what I work towards to give all the time”
You have and are currently working with all the top stars. Do you have any actors who are close to heart?
I made my first film with Ravi Teja. I share an endearing friendship with him. I learnt a lot from Venkatesh garu. Both of them give space to their directors. I’m also very comfortable working with Ram. It’s easy to film when it comes to the three of them. I don’t have to sweat it out. They also have an excellent comic timing. Especially Ram. He has this amazing ability to throw surprise punches into the scene.
“Balachander garu always showcased strong leading ladies. The power and gamut of their roles would be engraved forever in mind”
What about the leading ladies of your films?
All the heroines that I have worked with so far have different styles. They carry their individual talents and grace. It was particularly superb working with Shruti Haasan and Rakul Preet Singh. Shruti is super flexible and easy to work with. She doesn’t carry her father’s stardom as a baggage. Rakul is a pleasant person. She understands the director’s ideology rather well.
Going back to the golden era. Do you have old time directors in your list of favourites?
Yes, K Balachander. He tries daring scripts in a real and raw way. His films are close to middle class and very natural. Balachander garu always showcased strong leading ladies. The power and gamut of their roles would be engraved forever in mind.
“Vizag has to be caught in the frame. It has easy to shift locations coupled with nature and scenic beauty”
What about Hollywood?
I love John Woo films. Lately, I have started liking Christopher Nolan as well. They are both action based conceptual directors. Cinema Paradiso, an Italian film, stands out to be one of my all time favourite movies ever watched. Of course, The Godfather takes a prime place in my list too.
What are your favourite shooting locations?
I always think Vizag has to be caught in the frame. We shot 12 to 15 days for Balupu there. Vizag has easy to shift locations coupled with nature and scenic beauty.
Any message for the future directors?
I would just say one thing – Keep working hard. There are no shortcuts.
Gopichand’s film Pandaga Chesko starring Ram and Rakul Preet Singh is set to release soon. Let us wish this pride of Andhra all the very best!