The beauty of the filmmaking business is its unpredictability. There’s no rulebook for success. It’s an unlikely melange of art and business – a balance that’s very tough to attain given its ever-evolving nature. The tastes of audiences change by the day and one needs to always think ahead of the curve. A good story isn’t alone always enough; reasonable star power, a strong crew, the right budgeting, disciplined execution and timing of the release contribute to the success. Uppena, that released on February 12, is a classic example where trade pundits were stumped by its performance at the box office.
If all went well, Uppena should have had a summer release in 2020. Promoted as the launchpad of Vaishnav Tej, nephew to actor Chiranjeevi, the film was shot way beyond the stipulated time, facing umpteen delays for many reasons and the budget had shot up immensely (nearing Rs 25 crore), leaving little scope for being a profitable venture. Now, the film is being hailed as a success story but there were reports that the filmmaker Buchi Babu Sana didn’t have enough clarity during the making and not many were happy with the changes being done at the last minute. The surprising aspect was that beyond all these external factors, Uppena had a soul that none could deny.
Love stories are always a great draw among audiences when sprinkled with the right element of innocence and humour. Besides Shamdat’s terrific visuals to complement the story and director Sukumar’s touch to the writing, there were two good-looking newcomers (including Krithi Shetty), a solid supporting cast and great music. The promotion was relatively leisured and gradual for Uppena – there was ample breathing space between the pre-look, first look, teaser, trailer and song releases. It was all packaged innovatively and aggressively by the film’s PROs Vamsi-Shekhar & Madhuri Madhu, who left no stone unturned to draw the attention of social media users.
In the rarest of cases of a film benefiting from the pandemic delay, Uppena’s team utilised their music extremely well to keep the buzz surrounding the film alive for many months. This time gave enough window for Devi Sri Prasad’s music to grow on the audiences. It’s extremely courageous of the producers to have held onto their film for a theatrical release, even when projects featuring big stars were thinking of the OTT route. Mythri Movie Makers in a recent interview had even revealed that the move could have even brought them big profits.
Additionally, the absence of any image to its leading actors was a blessing in disguise. Make no mistake, there were immense expectations in the lead up to its release, but a majority of the audiences went in with an open mind in the hope of a good film. And all of this despite a crucial twist in the movie being leaked many months before its release. Krithi Shetty too was the cynosure of all eyes for many months, Vijay Sethupathi was coming in great form after a success like Master. Chiranjeevi and other pre-release attendees went slightly overboard in promoting the film unrealistically, claiming it would make history, garner 100 crores.
However, all said and done, Uppena makers did everything to ensure that the film was the buzzword among young audiences. The bigger challenge was if the content had enough meat in it to meet expectations. The story wasn’t entirely new. Vaishnav Tej too wasn’t the stereotypical hero in the film, he was just like any other character around whom the film revolved. Krithi Shetty had performed beyond expectations and though Vijay Sethupathi’s dubbing left a lot to be desired, his screen presence more than made up for it. Sai Chand’s experience added depth to the supporting cast. There was a strong situational reference to the songs that were picturised delectably.
It has been a lot of time since a full-fledged romance with a core social issue at the forefront came in Telugu cinema. The film focuses on the issue as much as the romance. The result is a decent film made with pure intentions and somewhere the sincerity managed to strike a chord with audiences. The release for a Valentine’s Day weekend, the absence of a strong competition were among other factors that helped Uppena.
The important lesson to learn out of Uppena for filmmakers is to give enough time for the promotional content – teaser, songs, promos – to grow on the audiences. Great music too can go a long way in contributing to a film’s buzz – we saw how Neeli Neeli Akasam helped 30 Rojullo Preminchadam Ela. Had Uppena been made on a tighter budget, the aftertaste of the victory would have been even sweeter.