National champ and Badminton player turned filmmaker, Sarat Palanki’s debut film, Ala is a coming of age story that deals with issues that are both relevant and important. The filmmaker gives a positive message to his audiences through a bunch of graduate students – Suri, Snehith, Mickey, Indu, Tinku and more. An emotional yet rational fellow, Suri takes the most responsibility of the film as the leading character, played by Bhargav Kommera. Suri makes you sob and smile, with equal ease.
After some back and forth, we were able to chat with him over a phone call as he enjoyed his Mysore vacation. Read the edited excerpts of the interview below.
Q. How was the experience of working in Ala?
A. Ala is a very special movie for me. It was a wonderful experience. We travelled across Vizag, Goa, Hyderabad and other places for the film. It came to me after nine years of struggle. I started out as a Radio Jockey, moved to dubbings and voiceovers. I went to production houses and gave auditions. Later, I even worked as an assistant director for a few films. And then finally, Ala came my way.
Q. You are the lead character of the film. How did it happen?
A. One of my friends, Anil, who was the poster designer for Ala, introduced me to the director Sarat Palanki. Then he asked me to audition, then I did the screen test. He asked me to send him a three-minute self-taped video, after which I got the role.
Q. How did you prepare for the role?
A. After getting selected, we were in Vizag for almost 45 days to two months, preparing for the role. I was over-ambitious. Sarat told me to tone it all down and maintain the graph of the character. You know… like smile a little, don’t do it over-the-top. All of that Sarat wouldn’t allow. I was very scared to do it, but Sarat anna edited some clips and showed them to me. Then I thought I could do it.
Q. Did you, at any point, relate to your character Suri?
A. No, I did not. Like maybe in the way of conversation that Suri had with his friends or the lifestyle he lived. The engineering batchmates and all of that…
Q. How different or similar are you to your on-screen character?
A. Suri’s character is all about a combination of emotions. From love, laughter, sadness, sacrifice, friendship, it includes all the emotions in everyone’s lives. It connects to all age groups. Even I had connected to Suri’s emotions in the movie. And that made it easy and very flexible to act and easy to adapt to the situation.
Q. What was the easiest and the most difficult emotion to adapt on screen?
A. The easiest would be trying to express my emotions to Tinku in the second half of the movie Ala. And the toughest was pre-climax, explaining the story of Life of Pi to Mickey. That conversation had to be a little angry and irritated. So, that was a little tough.
Q. How would you describe the bond with your co-actors? Or the vibe on set?
A. Bonding with co-actors… we are like a family because Ala was all about emotional attachments for all. It was the debut for everyone. All of us were very hardworking and passionate about cinema. Snehith, Mickey, Ravi, Anand, the senior guy — Dayakar, they all really worked hard for the movie. They all did their best, maybe more than the best. Actress Tinku and Indu, they performed above their graph. It was really a pleasure to work with this team.
Q. What is your most favourite moment in Ala?
A. My favourite moment in Ala is when I am explaining the mother’s story to Tinku. Of course, it’s written and executed very well by the director. That’s my favourite moment.
Q. How was it working with Sarat?
A. Sarat… He is like a brother to me. He gave me a lot of suggestions during the shoot, or after the shoot. Both of us spoke a lot about cinema, a lot, and also about other things. He is the person who trusted me without even knowing anything about me. He took my audition, he narrated the script to me and finally, he selected me. Now the result has come out with a huge success. Thank you, Anna, thank you Sarat anna. It’s a pleasure and I am lucky, I feel fortunate to have worked with you, Anna.