One of the first few things that stand out while talking to actor-turned-director Rahul Ravindran is his eloquence and self-awareness about his career so far. Twice in the past 15 years, when he had to take significant decisions about his career, he knew the price he might have to pay for his complacency, a zone that he did not want to be. The first time around, it was about giving up a lucrative job in Mumbai to pursue a career in filmmaking. And the second was almost a decade later, when he made up his mind to finally take a step towards making his longtime dream - to direct films - come true long after he became an actor. The journey, in his own words, has been a learning experience that prepared him to make his first film Chi La Sow. As the film gears up for release, Rahul goes down the memory lane to recall his fascination for cinema.
One of the earliest films that changed his perception about storytelling was Mani Ratnam’s Nayagan. “I remember watching it on TV and it just blew my mind. It was so different from everything else that was being made back then. Nayagan was the first film which sowed the seeds of my fascination for cinema at a young age,” he recalls.
Years later, when he went to do his post-graduation in marketing from MICA, it was a course in film studies, taught by Prof AF Mathew, that opened a whole new world of cinema for him. “I would say Mathew set my mind on fire. He taught me how to watch a film, deconstruct and process it long after watching it. It was here that I learnt that every film is political and that a writer’s or a director’s personality reflects in what they create, whether it’s plot or characters. Everything that I learnt during the course changed the way I look at cinema. In hindsight, it was a major turning point in my life. I knew that I wanted to make movies at some point in my life,” Rahul says, adding, “Once I started working in Mumbai, I decided that the day I save Rs 1.5 lakhs, I’m going to quit my job and try my luck in film industry. Since I didn’t know anyone, I wanted to start off as an assistant director and learn filmmaking.”
Before he came back to Chennai, Rahul was offered a few TV commercials and one of them got him noticed by Ravi Varman’s team. When he was called for an audition, little did Rahul realise that it was for a lead actor’s role in Moscowin Kavery. “For a while, I kept calling different people, hoping to land a chance as an assistant director. When Ravi Varman’s co-director gave me a scene, I was under the impression that even assistant directors have to audition like actors (laughs). It was then I realised that it was the lead actor,” he laughs. While the film was in the making for almost two years, it was here that he met his co-star, who was also making her acting debut, Samantha Akkineni. “I remember the first time I met her, she came running, stood next to me and said, ‘Thank God, you aren’t too tall’!”
The two have been thick friends ever since and it turns out that Samantha, inadvertently, played a crucial role in Rahul’s life in the subsequent years. A few years later, he married Chinmayi Sripada, who dubbed for Samantha in Ye Maya Chesave and several other films over the years. And it was at Samantha’s engagement that Rahul met actor Sushanth, who would go on to play the lead role in Rahul’s directorial debut Chi La Sow. And that’s not all. A month ago, Samantha and Naga Chaitanya, who saw the final cut of the film, liked it so much that they convinced Nagarjuna to watch the film. “Once Nagarjuna sir saw the film, he liked it a lot too and he decided to present the film, along with our producers (Siruni Cine Corporation). I guess Samantha and I have some karmic connection when I think about all this,” he smiles.
In 2012, Rahul made his debut in Telugu cinema as one of the lead actors in Hanu Raghavapudi’s Andhala Rakshasi, which got him noticed. Two years later, he scored a hit with Ala Ela, a buddy comedy, which led to plenty more acting offers in Telugu. “Back then, I didn’t sign a film for nearly 10 months after Ala Ela because I was being careful about my next set of films. When you work really hard and take a step forward, you don’t want to do anything that might ruin your chances after that. Within the first week of a film’s shoot, you know whether you are happy or not with the way things are going, but I never interfered. It took me few more years to finally take the plunge and take up direction. I guess you never know if you are ready or not to make a film, but I wanted to ensure that I had the technical knowledge to make a film. That’s what took me so long to pursue my longtime dream,” Rahul explains.
The core idea of his debut film Chi La Sow was inspired from a real-life incident as told by one of his close friends, but once he began developing the idea, it became quite a personal film. “A decade ago, one of my close friends decided to get married and met a couple of prospective brides. He barely met them for 10 minutes each and made up his mind to get married to whomever his parents chose. Back then, I found it crazy that someone would come to a decision that quickly, but I guess you do know if you have a good vibe with anyone in such a short span of time. It got me thinking what if he spent more time with each of those two women, would his decision change? That’s the core idea of Chi La Sow, but once the idea and characters grew, the entire story changed. I put myself in the protagonist's shoes and a lot of dialogues in the film are inspired from the conversations I’ve had with my parents who were pestering me to get married a few years ago. In that sense, it’s quite close to my heart,” he reveals.
The entire story of the film unfolds within a span of 24 hours and it added a different paradigm to the storytelling. Ask Rahul if this decision was intentional, he says, “I’ve seen people who have dated for 10 years and after they get married, they would get divorced within three months. And then, there are arranged marriages, where the couple meet for 10 minutes, and they live happily ever after. Nothing makes sense anymore (laughs). It got me thinking how long does it take for anyone to truly understand someone truly and make a decision. What could happen in a day that would help you see the best and worst in a person. After a point, the facade, which you put on to impress the other person, falls and at that point, either the bond becomes deeper or it just breaks apart. What would make people reveal their innermost self to others? I found that fascinating.”
Rahul Ravindran is all praise for both the lead actors, Sushanth and Ruhani Sharma, who played Arjun and Anjali respectively in the film. “I hadn’t seen any of Sushanth’s films before I pitched the story to him and people were surprised with my choice since Sushanth had been doing commercial films till then. I thought he was the right fit for the character and I can say that he has truly reinvented himself in the film. And Ruhani is quite an intuitive actor. I was blown away by her transformation when she faced the camera. She put in a lot of hard work to learn her lines and get the emotion right. In fact, working with the whole cast was quite fulfilling. Now, I can’t wait to see how the audience react after watching the film,” Rahul signs off.