Gangaraju Gunnam has been a household name in the Telugu industry for clean, quality entertainment whose appeal spans across all age groups. In over a three-decade career, the writer-director-producer has firmly stood by his ground, clearly preferring quality to quantity - films like Little Soldiers, Aithe, Anukokunda Oka Roju serving proof.
Otherwise, what could probably explain his call to wrap up Amrutham when its TRPs were on an all-time high. He claims to have exhausted himself creatively during its production over 6 years on television (311 episodes) and his commitment to not compromise with its quality for the lure of TRPs or money necessarily drove his decision. It’s a move not many producers would have opted for, especially in a scenario like Amrutham. After attempting a feature film version taking the Amrutham universe forward (Chandamama Lo Amrutham), Gangaraju Gunnam is a picture of confidence while discussing the second season of Amrutham, titled Amrutham Dwiteeyam that’s currently streaming on Zee5. Here’s what he had to share in a chat with LetsOTT.
Amrutham is perhaps the only sit-com in the Telugu television space to have garnered such humungous popularity among all age groups. Why did it take so long to replenish your creative energies and what factors played a key role in the timing of the second season?
We got burnt out in the process of shooting for over 300 episodes. Even though we were topping the rating charts (on Gemini TV) every week, we couldn’t do it anymore week after week. However, we always had it in our mind to give it another shot again. While Amrutham’s popularity was yet again soaring on the digital portals and we were approached for a second season (by Zee5), we had just committed ourselves to do it now. There were specific reasons for us to do it in the current timeline - we didn’t have the pressure of delivering the episodes every week and had enough time to write and rewrite. I thought it was a good time to take a chance.
While the original Amrutham was being made, it was only you who had to set a standard and had to live up to that. The audience were accepting because they also didn’t expect much and savoured what they got. Is the challenge bigger for the second season, because the bar has already been set so high?
It has been challenging. When someone attempts anything new initially, the audience has no expectations. The moment it is successful, the pressure mounts. Even during the 311 episodes, we made during its television telecast, we had to come up with a twist ending every time. How many times can you practically outguess the audiences? The fact that makes our job for the second season even more difficult is because a generation entirely grew up with it. And anything associated with childhood, people regard it as beautiful and the best phase of their lives, though it may not be the truth. You can’t fight nostalgia. There may be students who’re away from their homes - like in a hostel, or another country and anything to do with their roots has a rosy tint to it. This is something similar. Amrutham Dwitheeyam may not exactly be like the first edition of Amrutham at all.
One can’t and shouldn’t ideally compare it with the original.
It’s unfortunate that late actor Gundu Hanumantha Rao can no longer play the iconic Anji. However, LB Sriram seems to have given an interesting, renewed twist to the role. How did the choice happen?
LB Sriram wasn’t an immediate or a direct choice. We went through numerous names and even did auditions. Like how Sirivennela Seetharama Sastry garu wrote ‘Orey Anjaneyulu’ in the title track (imagining Gundu Hanumantha Rao), everything in our writing process too revolved around Anji - to stop imagining Gundu Hanumantha Rao garu for the role itself was a challenge for us. It took us at least five-six episodes during our writing to stop hearing his voice. Devunni teeskochi pettina, vallaki nacchadu (Even if we bring any God to act in the same role, the audiences may not be satisfied with it). Because no one else can be Gundu Hanumantha Rao. We thought LB Sriram could fit into the shoes of Anji though. We believed that he, being a versatile actor who has done both serious and comedy roles, could be a surprise element in the second season and probably pull off the challenge well.
Is it a relief that the time constraint (of delivering an episode every week) and the TRPs aren’t an issue when it comes to the digital medium?
Certainly. The time and the limited number of episodes make it easier. Good writing needs time and the weekly deadlines don’t give you that breather. I never understand TRPs though. I may have written or produced over 1000 episodes of various shows and I still can’t point out how the TRP-spike and reduction works. Those who claim to know the game, I leave it to them. They are never among my priorities.
It’s a given that the audiences who grew up watching the original Amrutham would naturally watch (or be inclined to catch) Amrutham Dwiteeyam. However, would it be necessary for a first-time viewer to familiarise themselves with the original to understand the second season?
We have written Amrutham Dwiteeyam in such a way that a first-time viewer doesn’t need to watch the original Amrutham (before they watch the second season). The initial episodes of the second season more or less fill in the gaps and reintroduce the characters again - the episodical format akin to the original commences only from the third episode. Even in the third episode too, we let the characters express and grow on the audiences. It works both ways to the loyalists of Amrutham and a fresh set of viewers - it’s a difference between reintroduction and introduction of the characters with both the groups. Starting from the fourth episode though, the characters get onto their business and as writers, we took it for granted that the audiences would have understood the Amrutham universe by then.
While writing characters like Amrutham, Anji, Appaji and Sarvam, there’s a thin line that separates their characters from being funny and not eccentric. As a writer, does this delicate balance pose a challenge?
The balance is difficult to attain, even if you have done it for ages and lots of episodes. It’s about negotiating a very fine line. The only aspect I had to maintain in every episode is that these bunch of characters are very nice people - Amrutham, Anji and Sarvam. Even if they cross the border from being funny to silly - as long as it is not crude - it doesn’t matter. They are stupid and there are no two things about it. The other rule that we follow during our writing is that these characters dig their own graves. That’s the very essence of Amrutham. If only Appaji is creating the problem and these characters are totally innocent, Amrutham becomes a tragedy and not a comedy.
Gemini Television may have certainly played a significant role in making Amrutham to what it is today. Was the journey with Zee5 any different?
I need to clarify here that neither Gemini nor any other television channel was integral in shaping up Amrutham. We swam against the tide to get it onto television. It took us six months to get it onto a channel. It was rejected initially by ETV, at a time when had already shot about eight-pilot episodes. Gemini also didn’t want to do it on a commission basis. Finally, they had agreed to give us a slot on payment. Because ETV and Gemini had rejected it initially, we ended up owning Amrutham. It felt horrible then because we had no money. Years later, we owned the property. So there’s little that any channel had to do with Amrutham. It was a help that no one interfered. I didn’t have to send a concept to anyone. We just went ahead and shot it the way we wanted it to be. Even now with ZEE5, we didn’t have to send them the screenplay of the first three episodes. They trusted us with it.
What’s the idea behind releasing only three episodes of the second season on March 25?
The original idea was to release every episode one alternate week. We had planned 24 episodes so that the show would probably run for 10 months. With the promos getting so much traction, Zee5 wanted to release many episodes in advance. Only six episodes were shot because of the Covid-19 lockdown and we could complete post-production on only three of them. We plan to air a bunch of three episodes, every four-five weeks.
Do you have a third season in mind already?
I would always want to do a season three because that means the audiences would have loved the second season. Of course, it also means good money. Writing 24 episodes itself for the second season is tasking. Taking it forward creatively isn’t easy, so another season wouldn’t make it any rosy prospect either. It’s a grey zone for us.