Srikanth Vissa, the screenplay, story, and dialogue writer who works in the Telugu film industry, is collaborating with some big names. He is penning the dialogues of two upcoming big-budget films, Pushpa, starring actors Allu Arjun and Fahadh Faasil, and the Ravi Teja-starrer Khiladi. He is also on board as the story writer for Devil, the upcoming pan-Indian period drama starring Nandamuri Kalyanram.
Vissa, who worked in the IT industry for 10 years before joining the cine field, started out as a writer and published a couple of novels. He says he prefers writing stories and screenplays to dialogues. “But, in the film industry, you get more work as dialogue writer. A lot of people approach you with their stories. They want dialogue writers to build the scene and screenplay.”
In this conversation with Silverscreen India, Vissa talks to us about his upcoming films, collaborations with filmmakers and actors, and more.
You worked in the IT industry before you began to write for films. How did the transition happen and when did you start writing?
I began to write from when I was 18, when I had just completed my 12th grade. My first novel, Sharasandhanam, was published a year later in 2001, by a reputed publication house in Vijayawada. I met the publishers and pitched my draft when I had gone in for my IIT entrance exam. It took them about eight months to read it. After that, I also published my second novel, Pratyardhi, with them. Then, I began working in the IT industry and for about 10 years, I did not write anything. I joined the film industry in 2013 after I met a film producer and told him a story. He introduced me to director Chaitanya Dantuluri, who took me under his wing as a dialogue writer. That is how I made my debut with Basanti (2014).
You have written the dialogues for two upcoming films with big stars, Pushpa and Khiladi. What do you primarily keep in mind while penning dialogues, especially when you know who is going to utter them on-screen?
Essentially, it is the body language and direction that are important. When I write dialogues, I mainly think of my own diction and way of speaking. But, for stars like Ravi Teja, who have a certain energy and style when delivering the dialogues, that has to be kept in mind too. So, for Khiladi, we keep Ravi Teja in mind. Pushpa, on the other hand, demanded certain dialogues based on the script. And in the case of Pushpa, even Allu Arjun has completely changed his accent to one that is Chittoor based. So, there are two approaches essentially – one based on what the script demands and the other on the person delivering it.
Do you have any particular discussion with actors, filmmakers, or others before drafting dialogues or scripts?
Not really. But when we go to narrate the script or scenes, actors usually ask for certain kind of script works.
Which star did you find it hardest to write for, and why?
Venkatesh garu. I have done only one film with him, Venky Mama (the 2019 film also starring Naga Chaitanya). Since he is a veteran who has been in the industry for 35 years and done over 100 films, he has already done most things in cinema and looks for new challenges. He used to specifically ask me what was there in a scene that challenged him as an actor. For every scene, he would ask me that same question. Hence, writing for him was the toughest.
What is your favourite genre to write?
I love and am good at writing thrillers. Most of the films that I am part of now are thrillers, like 18 Pages and Khiladi. A couple of other films that I am working on, headlined by big stars, are also thrillers. Both the books I have written are thrillers as well.
You are working as a writer in pan-Indian films like Devil and Pushpa. What is the process of collaboration with the director or other writers of such films?
Devil is truly a pan-Indian film because it is set in 1945, with the Independence struggle for a backdrop. It is the kind of story that everybody can relate to. While working on the script, we did not have the intention of making it a pan-Indian film. But, as we began to develop it, we decided to make it in other languages as well. Patriotism is a concept that is not limited to any one state. The backdrop is the Madras Presidency and we’ve tried to bring a universal element to the film. It is a work in progress.
Pushpa, on the other hand, is very region specific. In the whole of Andhra Pradesh, the red sanders smuggling happens in only two districts, Chittoor and Kadappa, so not many know about it. To take such a localised concept to a pan-Indian level is the challenge. Sukumar garu’s characterisation plays a big role in this. The way he designs the characters and mounts the story, makes it pan-Indian. Audiences will be able to relate to the characters even if not the backdrop.
Can you tell us a bit more about Devil’s production work?
We have award-winning production designer Rama Krishna on board and the DOP is Murali G. The script is ready, including the dialogues, and casting for the female lead is ongoing. Our next sitting will be sometime in December.
Most of your films are slated for theatrical releases. However, the OTT space has seen considerable rise in recent times. As a writer, how do you see this space?
I would love to work on a web series. The grammar of web series is very different from films – it’s closer to that of a book. I am a person who likes to read books over watching films. When I came into the cinema industry, I had to adapt to the grammar/storytelling of films. Films, even the biggest, most large-scale ones, only run for three hours and they tend to be protagonist centric. However, with web series, you get more creative space because of the longer format. They offer writers the chance to work on sub-plots, back-stories for characters, and so on.
Do you have any future projects you can tell us about?
Bhala Thandanana is my story which will star Sree Vishnu. It will be directed by Chaitanya Dantuluri. I am also working on a Ravi Teja film as a dialogue writer.
Any plans to take up direction?
Not anytime soon. It will take at least 1.5 years for my present commitments to get over. There is Pushpa 2, for which the shoot will start sometime next year. The basic script work was done along with the first part, but once the second part goes on floors, the nuances will have to be worked on. By the time that gets finished, it will be 2023. I also have that project with Ravi Teja and couple of other ones to wrap up. Once that is all done, I will get into direction.