Over a decade ago, Vishnu Manchu returned from USA — where he studied filmmaking, trained in martial arts and acted as an extra in a handful of Hollywood films — with a goal. "Whether in terms of technology or originality, we (Telugu cinema) lag way behind Hollywood. I promised myself that I will return as an equal someday," confesses the lanky actor. After 13 films, spread across 11years, he believes the promise will be kept after Anukshanam hits the screens next month.
...Now that's a very big claim to make
I've had blockbusters like Dhee, Doosukeltha and Pandavulu Pandavulu Thummeda. But if somebody asks me what are the films that I'm proud of as an actor I would pick Rowdy and Anukshanam over everything else. Other than experimenting with my costumes and facial hair, I haven't done anything different. Rowdy was the first step towards satisfying the actor within me, and now with Anukshanam, I'm confident people will say "OK, Vishnu can act". This movie will give me respect as an actor and I am confident I can match up to any actor in the world.
Then what stopped you so long? You are Mohan Babu's son after all...
All this while, I was caught up in the struggle of trying to prove myself at the Box Office. But there was a voice inside me which kept saying, "You are an actor, Vishnu". Stop trying to fit in and follow your heart. All the characters I played in my hit films were on-screen extensions of the real me. I'm the funny guy who makes people laugh in real life, I can't help if you like the real me. Script writers often tell me "meebody languagekichalabauntadisir," (the role will suit your body language). Unfortunately, as actors, we accept such scripts and get typecast trying to protect our little bubble. But inside me, the desire to challenge myself kept burning. I just didn't know how to strike a balance between commerce and art, and then I met RGV. If I didn't meet him, I would have lost hope in the dream of what I had as an actor.
What changed after meeting RGV?
My acting changed with Rowdy. Anukshanam is India's first serial killer film. More importantly, my approach to filmmaking changed on its head. I was acting in films with budgets of over Rs 20-25 crore, but my last two films were made on a fraction of the cost.With Anukshanam, RGV has experimented with this new way of distributing movies and in a few years, everyone will be doing it. In fact, I will be breaking even on the first day of the movie's release. We've recovered 80% of the costs through the bidding at the film's auction.
You've got into overseas distribution as well?
Part of the reason is because there are no professionals involved in Telugu movie distribution. It's usually a few techies who pool in money and form a consortium and buy your movie, distribute it and payments happen six months later, because rotate the surplus that they make from one movie goes into buying another film. The moment one film tanks, the money gets stuck, there are no agreements signed between the producer and the overseas distributor. So we decided to get into it ourselves.
Is there a market big enough for Telugu films in USA?
It's huge and in terms of market, it is bigger than a Vizag area. There are more Telugu people living in the US than any other community from India. There is a huge market out there. It's just that we don't subtitle our films. My movie Vasthadunaraju wasn't subtitled, but it collected about $60,000. Denikaina Ready collected over $6,00,000, then Doosukeltha, PPT and Rowdy — they have all grossed over $1,50,000 and they were all subtitled.
We hear you are going to make a big announcement soon...
Yes, and it's going to take people by surprise. I will be producing a film under the 24 Frames Factory banner with one of the biggest superstars in Tollywood. The announcement will make people go crazy.