Directed by filmmaker Vivek Athreya (Mental Madhilo, Brochevarevarura), Ante Sundarniki is produced by Mythri Movie Makers and besides the leads, also features a host of known faces such as Naresh, Rohini, Nadhiya, Alagan Perumal, Rahul Ramakrishna, and Srikanth Iyengar, among others.
Ahead of the film’s release, Vivek chats with Silverscreen India about working on the project, pan-Indian cinema and more.
From its trailer, Ante Sundaraniki appears to be a romantic comedy featuring an interfaith couple, with Nani’s character, Sundar, hailing from an orthodox upper-caste Hindu family, while Nazriya’s Leela comes from a Christian household.
“I will not be able to reveal the core conflict at this juncture, but I will say this- although it is projected as a rom-com, it is not just that. It has the elements of the genre, but it more of a love story of two families, rather than two individuals. The film is a domestic drama and it has been ages since we witnessed such content on the big screen. You have humour, emotions, sensitive issues being discussed here,” says Vivek.
“As the film deals prominently with a Hindu and a Christian household, we have dealt with certain sensitive issues in a humorous way without hurting the sentiments of either group,” he adds.
Vivek says he had the idea of Ante Sundaraniki for a long time, since his second film Brochevarevarura in 2019. “Brochevarevarura was a caper comedy film and wanted to shift my genre. I wanted to do a lively film with social commentary. Films that talk about two religions and interfaith marriage have not been explored much. We have also explored different layers to an interfaith marriage, without being preachy. It is not blatant or on the face, but is more lively and subtle.”
The filmmaker wrote the script after finishing his sophomore directorial in 2019 and narrated it to Nani in early 2020. The film explores the lives of Sundar and Leela, from their childhood, mentions Vivek. “How they got along with each other, how they are together, the evolution of their families, comprises the stories.”
Vivek says they have tried to keep everything as authentic as possible. “We don’t intend to hurt anyone. So, whatever is coming from Christian family is generally what they speak about Hindus and vice versa. We just stuck to the story and did not cross the line for the sake of humour or humiliate someone to evoke laughter.”
“Even when I was narrating to Nani, I asked him if he feels there was any mockery of either faiths. I asked everyone I narrated the story to and when dealing with two religions, I did understand that there might be issues like that. So, during the writing process itself, I carefully evaded those danger lines,” he adds.
When asked about the rise of anti-caste cinema and whether the film portraying the lead’s caste, would sit well with the audience, Vivek says that the film does evoke any such issues, and adds, “In this story, Sundar comes from a middle class Brahmin family. Nazriya is from an upper-class Christian family. We have created these worlds to serve only as a backdrop of the story. It is not about bashing each other’s faith.”
Asked about why he thought Nani would be apt for the role, the filmmaker says, “I approached Mythri for a thriller with an ensemble cast but they wanted a lively and humorous script at the time. When I pitched this idea and suggested Nani would be right, they also had a good rapport and that’s how it all started. Although I did not have Nani in mind while writing, once I finished it, I found him to be a perfect fit. When I watch it now, no one could have done Sundar’s role better than him.”
Calling Nani, a “powerhouse of performance”, Vivek says that the humour in the film arises out of conversations, which only a natural actor could pull off. “If the dialogue modulations look forced, it may not work out. Likewise, Sundar may look like a simple and easy character. But it is a complicated character and it takes a lot of thought process to enact what he goes through. A performer like Nani can do it. He delivers dialogues with ease.”
Nazriya is making her Telugu debut with the film. On casting her, Vivek says that while he narrated the story to Nani, the team was looking for an actor to play Leela. “We had a lot of options and ended up saying we needed someone like Nazriya to pull this off. While she often plays bubbly and cute roles, in this film she has scope to perform beyond being just cute,” he mentions.
Given many Telugu films’ success off late on a pan-Indian level and Ante Sundaraniki featuring a cast from multiple industries, Vivek says that initially the makers did not conceive it as a trilingual film. Besides Telugu, the film is also releasing in Tamil and Malayalam. “As this film is beyond two individuals, but about two families, we never thought of roping in artists from other languages to establish connect there as well. Only later, did we think of going trilingual.”
Vivek feels that “universal storytelling” makes a pan-Indian film. The filmmaker mentions that the subject should appeal to all sections of audience. Taking example of his film, Vivek says that it is “culturally rooted” and the decision not to release in the Hindi market was made due to this. “Their culture is very different compared to the south. When it comes to south, we could handpick the customisations from each region that will be apt without hindering the storyline. For example, we picked MS Bhaskar sir to dub for Naresh garu’s role. We planned such aspects in south regional languages.”
The film’s music is composed by Vivek Sagar, who also composed for Brochevarevarura. Calling him a close associate, the filmmaker says that they employed “nostalgic” elements to compose music for this film. “We wanted to bring the 90s films, the simplicity of life, to Sundar’s world, which are traditional yet appealing to contemporary life. Similar approach was also taken for Leela’s world.” Ante Sundaraniki features 9-10 songs and Vivek calls it a musical film, which he says he decided during the scripting, where he wrote the music cues as and when needed.
Vivek, whose filmography primarily consists of comedy, says that it was very hard to write humour that does not come naturally from the story. “I draw my own sensitive line and see to it that one is not getting offended by someone else laughing. Ante Sundaraniki has comedy drawn from situational scenes. It is more dark comedy where the characters will be serious, but the audience will be laughing,” he adds.
This film is also the first time Vivek is pairing up with a star actor. Speaking about this pattern of a young filmmaker collaborating with a star, the director says that it is a welcoming pattern. He adds that when he met Nani and narrated it, nothing was changed just for his star image. “Him being stuck to the script and no interference from his side, helped a lot. With him underplaying, I could get into the flesh and blood of Sundar more and more. We did not change anything for the star Nani.”
As a director Vivek also prefers going to his sets with bounded script. “Shooting is a very scary thing for me and I need to prepare myself like an exam. Even staging, myself and cinematographer Niketh Bommi would plan it. So, everything is written in my script, though there might be small improvisations. I really have to go prepared since it is a screenplay-based film.”
The film went on floors in April 2021 and wrapped up in December that year. After Ante Sundaraniki, Vivek says, he needs a break before he starts working on his next script.