Y Sunita Chowdhary
Former member of the Censor Board and writer Ramani in a chat with Klapboardpost.com discusses why Telugu film industry won’t hire female writers.
Unlike Bollywood, Telugu film industry has very few writers and Balabadrapatruni Ramani is one among them. She has been here over two decades but hasn’t found any change. In the little space she has found for herself, she is content writing her kind of stories and working on her terms and conditions. “After 23 years of my career in the film industry, I have come to a conclusion that the stories of female writers will not be used by successful heroes. They listen to it in one way if a woman narrates it and in another way if a man does it. I can’t work on genres that I don’t relate to. I can’t write James Bond, drug mafia and hero hitting 100 people kind of tales, I am a disciple of Balachander and follower of K Vishwanath, Bapu. The characters that are familiar to us, that surround middle class homes is something that I relate to, read and also write. We have even read Yaddhanapudi Sulochana Rani’s novels about rich heroes living in estates falling in love with a poor girl. Even there she brings you to a middle class set up always at some point. Just like that, I like to show life through characters that are familiar to us.”
She rues that when she was energetic, full of beans, she got less opportunities. Now with the opening of doors to the OTT platform, Ramani finds a ray of hope for herself and other female writers. Also these days, the directors do everything on their own, be it story writing, dialogues, screenplay or even lyrics so there isn’t much of a necessity of hiring another writer. In such circumstances, she approaches her producers whom she worked with at one time. Here too the producers have a valid explanation for not giving an opportunity, “They tell me that the director gets a story. The hero says he will work only if this director is roped in and his story is taken. He won’t use others’ stories. The producer is in a predicament, he throws the question at me that if he takes my story, he should hunt for a new director. In such scenarios, heroes don’t work with new directors. Some other producer cites the same reason, that he likes my story but the hero and director might not. They might like it if I leave the story to them, take my money and not expect my name in the title cards. Where is the satisfaction here? They never give great money and I never anticipated it too. If I had agreed, I would have been known as a ghost writer.”
She adds further, “I have written many stories, dialogues and screenplay. Other novelists have sold their work, I am the only one who goes to the sets and interacts with the director. Maybe they didn’t want to do that or they might have had too many restrictions in the house. Many told me that I might feel awkward, object to their profane conversations as story discussions happen mostly during evenings when people sit down to have a drink with writers. They were categorical, doubly sure that I won’t like all that and it isn’t possible for me to be a part of their group, so I had to return. V N Aditya, Chandra Siddharth are like brothers, they are in sync, they respect me and are like family members.“Ramani writes in the cosy confines of her home and has earned fans all over. She has a lot of readers who follow her work in the US too. The few films that she worked for didn’t work but she has no regrets and says they are stories that can be watched collectively, example Madhumasam, Repalle Lo Radha, Andari Bandhuvaiyya, Saradaga Ammayitho. She has done the screenplay for a few projects and had helped in writing the track of Vijay Devarakonda and Samantha for Mahanati though not completely as she had to leave abroad. Ask her to comment on the invasion of OTT into our lives, she says she was left with bad experiences. “I was given vernacular language movies and asked to write them in Telugu. My Telugu sounded bookish to the team. They wanted a mix of English and Telugu. These days people are demanding a slice of vulgarity that is common amongst teenagers. I also worked on Mrs Subbalakshmi for Zee5 directed by Vamsi Krishna. I am now busy with Kumari Srimathi which is waiting to go to the sets. Nitya Menen is the heroine.”
Kumari because she is not married and Srimathi is her name. Srimathi is synonymous with Parvathi Devi. It is the story of an educated woman in a village who isn’t married at thirty. She voluntarily is delaying marriage but people don’t want to believe that. Whatever you achieve in life is immaterial if your status is single but if you are married and on the family way, you are treated as an Oscar awardee. The satire is about the myth that a woman can’t get married if she is thirty and more so working. Ramani recollects, “Producer Swapna Dutt, during the shoot of Mahanati gauged that I have a sense of humour and told me to come up with a story. She narrated what was on her mind about a woman who is confronting old beliefs and is trying to embrace a new world and I immediately told her the plot. She liked it. As I said my stories spring from real life situations and characters and in that we find a lot of comedy. There will be a second season too. Naa kathallo ammayi telivi tho, medhassutho kodthundi. She doesn’t learn martial arts and hit people. The web series will be directed by Avasarala Srinivas.”
Ramani tried encouraging young girls who came to the industry with writing aspirations and even held screenplay classes but they seemed to be more interested in turning director immediately. She cites Nandini Reddy as an example. “You can’t be Nandini Reddy overnight, she too worked hard and only then she delivered Oh Baby! There was a struggle that you didn’t notice after Ala Modalaindhi. Most directors don’t like women writers sitting in front of the monitor, they have many ego issues. I have no Godfather and I never had to indulge in sycophancy to get work. I write aesthetic stories and romantic ones too. I am happy in a way that I am respected but I wish something could be done on the pay disparity.”