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November 23, 2022 04:45 pm | Updated 05:41 pm IST
Actor-producer Nani collaborated with his sister Deepthi Ganta, who has written and directed the anthology ‘Meet Cute’ | Photo Credit: Arif MInhaz
Deepthi Ganta first heard the term Meet Cute in the 2006 Hollywood film The Holiday, in a conversation between the characters played by Kate Winslet and Eli Wallach. The memory stayed. Years later, when she wrote a series of five feel-good, conversational short stories on urban romances, she thought it would be an apt title. She shared the screenplays with her brother — actor-producer Nani — who encouraged her to direct them. The journey culminated in the Telugu anthology Meet Cute marking her debut as writer-director, produced by Prashanti Tipirneni and presented by Nani, and will stream on Sony Liv from November 25.
In this free-flowing conversation at Nani’s office in Hyderabad, the siblings recall their love for cinema. “Nani was a fantastic storyteller when we were growing up. If I missed watching a film, he would narrate it with such flourish that when I eventually watch it, the actual film may not match his narrative style,” Deepthi recalls.
She watched both Telugu and Hindi films while he queued up for the massy Telugu films at Satyam theatre, Ameerpet. “Basically, she was good in academics and loved cinema; I was bad in studies and loved cinema,” says Nani. At home, they fought over television content and the remote bore the brunt. “Often the remote would be taped to be held together; we even knocked off the buttons on the TV set and had to operate it using pins.”
While he entered cinema as an assistant director (AD) and then became an actor, she graduated in mechanical engineering, pursued a master’s in business and engineering management and took up a corporate job in the USA in 2005.
Sathyaraj and Ruhani Sharma in the story ‘Old is Gold’ from the anthology ‘Meet Cute’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Deepthi, who has been a sounding board for Nani’s ideas, points out the contrast between them, “When he narrates, you can visualise the scenes. I express myself better when I write. I would write when I needed to process my thoughts; I would also write short reviews of some of Nani’s films and he liked reading them. Once when I came home on vacation, he suggested I write a story about a girl child. I wrote it and he said it would make for a short film.”
Deepthi was content writing it, but was encouraged by Nani to direct it. “I had to return to the US in four days and had no knowledge of camera angles or shot divisions. He provided me with all the production help and asked me to give direction a shot.”
Nani chips in, “I spent some time on the sets and observed that she had a clear vision about how each scene should look on the screen. She also had the ability to bond with the cast and the crew, making them rally around her like a family.”
The short film Anaganaga Oka Nanna was released on YouTube in 2019.
The experience bolstered Deepthi’s interest in screenwriting. She looked up online screenwriting tools and read some of the scripts of Nani’s films, for instance Jersey.
The first story of Meet Cute titled Meet the Boy stemmed from her own pelli choopulu experience. “I fictionalised it a lot,” Deepthi is quick to add. A sucker for feel-good stories, she wrote a conversation-driven story. The pandemic had set in and she had begun to work from home. She spent the hours after work and her weekends writing. “If I revisit a story after a couple of weeks and still like it, then I would share it with my husband and with Anju (Nani’s wife Anjana Yelavarthy) and then with Nani.”
Nani’s interest was piqued when he read the story Old is Gold (starring Sathyaraj and Ruhani Sharma), in which two strangers waiting for their respective visa appointments at the consulate end up discussing relationship issues. “I told her that I will produce an anthology only if I like all the stories.”
Deepthi did not want every story to take the boy-meets-girl route. One story traces an accidental meeting between a mother-in-law and future daughter-in-law, another centres on an actress meeting a young man who isn’t star struck and does not recognise her, and so on.
Shiva Kandukuri and Adah Sharma in the story ‘Star Struck’ in ‘Meet Cute’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Reading the stories, Nani says he was curious to know what happens next to the characters. “Her screenwriting was more professional this time. I asked myself if such a script was submitted to my production house Wallposter Cinema by an aspiring writer or director, would I take it up? The answer was yes.”
Even at this point, Deepthi had no plans to direct them. She was content writing. Again, it was Nani who encouraged her to direct. She took a six-month sabbatical from work and came to India in 2021 to direct Meet Cute. She met the technical team and designed each story to take place in a particular season, with a corresponding colour palette.
This time, she was more confident on the sets. Nani reckons, “I was proud when I saw the final product. I have been acting for 14 years and have had my share of appreciation. It feels good when my akka, an outsider to the industry, springs a pleasant surprise.”
A common gripe with anthologies on digital platforms has been that one or two episodes stand out, while others pale. Nani and Deepthi are hopeful that they have averted that scenario: “All five stories have a similar vibe since it is helmed by the same director and the crew. We showed the film to different sets of people and asked them for their forthright opinions. They picked different favourites but said there was no story they did not like.”
(Meet Cute will stream on Sony Liv from November 25)
The Hindu MetroPlus / Telugu cinema
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