Santo Mohan Veeranki: ‘Comedy is our forte’

How design engineer Santo Mohan Veeranki turned to filmmaking and helmed the Raj Tarun starrer Telugu project ‘Stand Up Rahul’

Pre-pandemic, stand-up comic acts were a staple in Hyderabad’s cafes, restaurants and bars. “There were at least 10 events each week,” says Santo Mohan Veeranki, who makes his debut as feature film director with the Telugu film Stand Up Rahul, in which actor Raj Tarun plays an aspiring stand-up comic. He and Raj attended stand-up comic events to watch performances and gauge audience reaction.

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The popularity of stand-up comedy in Hyderabad, Vizag and Vijayawada, where nationally popular comics as well as home-grown ones made their presence felt, didn’t surprise Veeranki: “Comedy is our forte. Over the decades, look at Telugu comedy films. We love to have a good laugh,” he reasons.

  • Directors’ Club: The teaser, released a few days ago, has perked up interest among viewers. What has also caught the eye is a cameo by director Venkatesh Maha. Veeranki and Maha had met at the former’s short film screening at Lamakaan, Hyderabad, and were roommates, before the latter made Care of Kancharapalem. Incidentally, Veeranki appeared in a cameo in Maha’s Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya.
  • Veeranki signed Sweekar Agasthi, who composed music for Care of Kancharapalem and Middle Class Melodies, and says, “Again, this was going against the norm. I often joke that Sweekar has finally arrived in Hyderabad, after Kancharapalem and Guntur (Middle Class Melodies).

Veeranki’s parents hail from Vijayawada, but he grew up in Pune where he pursued mechanical engineering; work took him to Bristol, the UK, where he worked as a design engineer for Airbus. Somewhere down the line, he was bitten by the filmmaking bug. “I hadn’t watched many movies in my formative years,” he says, and recalls a rare outing with his family to watch Hum Aapke Hain Kaun.

Read More | Santosh Mohan Veeranki’s career journey

In the UK, he began watching films and says cinema fascinated, but never fatigued him. He began writing scripts, taught himself how to film, edit and process footage. A bunch of short films followed.

He returned to India in 2014, determined to make films. In Hyderabad, he discovered that most actors and producers preferred an oral narration to reading scripts: “It was a nightmare for an introvert like me who had avoided presentations even at work. Oka line cheppandi; story brief ga cheppandi (tell me the storyline; narrate the story in brief) requests stumped me. I had to learn to speak well. I attended open mic events and tried stand-up comedy,” he recalls.

Veeranki realised he wasn’t cut out for stand-up comedy, but he loved to narrate stories. He founded the Tale Teller Troupe India in 2016 to encourage free-form presentations. He then founded the Cinephiles Film Club to host film screenings. “I began feeling at home in Hyderabad; I found excitement in the chaos and grew exponentially,” he says.

Raj Tarun in the film 

The germ of the idea for Stand up Rahul was sown in the UK. When he decided to make a feature film, he revisited the idea, fleshed out the script with the help of writers Anusha Rao and Prashant Yerramilli. He didn’t know how to make a pitch to production houses. Guidance came from producer Suresh Babu, who suggested that he edit a show reel, instead of expecting producers to watch his short films.

Meanwhile, he made a list of 10 actors to whom he could pitch the story. He first met Raj Tarun, the 10th on that list: “It was like casting against the grain. Going by his earlier films, I wasn’t sure if he would be game for an urban rom-com. However, even before I began narrating the story, he mentioned that he liked stand-up comedies. At the end of the four and a half hour narration, he agreed to do the film. By the time I reached home, he had already informed the producers [Nandkumar Abbineni and Bharath Maguluri] that he was keen to do this project,” says Veeranki. But Veeranki wanted to be doubly sure. He asked Raj to go through an audition, and the actor agreed.

Varsha Bollamma was roped in as the leading lady for the urban, coming-of-age rom-com.

Veeranki and Raj bonded over their love for world cinema: “Two of our favourite coming-of-age films are Rudy and October Sky,” says the director.

Stand up Rahul went on floors after the extended lockdown in 2020 and is likely to release in theatres later this year. features Varsha Bollamma as the leading lady. Veeranki hopes that with this film, stand-up comedy as an art form will gain popularity in tier 2 and tier 3 cities of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, given the popularity of Raj Tarun in these regions.

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