Nagesh Kukunoor: ‘Good Luck Sakhi’ is a bright, sunny film for these messed up times

Director Nagesh Kukunoor discusses his first Telugu feature film ‘Good Luck Sakhi’, starring Keerthy Suresh as a shooter, scheduled to release in theatres on January 28

Nagesh Kukunoor describes his first Telugu film Good Luck Sakhi, starring Keerthy Suresh as a 10-metre rifle shooter, as “a bright, sunny film to watch in these messed up [pandemic] times.” It has taken the Hyderabadi writer-director a little more than two decades to do a homecoming, with a full-fledged Telugu film.

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Filmed partly in 2019 and in 2020 after the first lockdown, the film has taken its time to arrive in theatres, with each wave of COVID-19 throwing the release schedules of several films out of gear. Settling down for this interview in his office, Kukunoor reminisces, “I moved on from Good Luck Sakhi and made Season 2 of City of Dreams (Disney+ Hotstar); when I returned to the film months later to check the colour grading on a large screen, I watched it with a smile. It’s a happy film in an utopian space that I keep returning to.”

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  • Among the contemporary Telugu films he has watched, Kukunoor lavishes praise on Care of Kancharapalem, Mail: Kambalapally Kathalu and Tharun Bhascker segment Ramula in the anthology film Pitta Kathalu

Kukunoor had written Good Luck Sakhi years ago, intending to collaborate with late director Hrishikesh Mukherjee. A fictional story emerged after he spotted a news clipping of shooters Chandro Tomar and Prakashi Tomar 23 years ago.

His co-writer Rohit Banawlikar chanced upon the story a few years ago, and suggested that it be revived. “Rohit knew Sudheer Chandra Padiri, who was keen to produce it. Sudheer approached Keerthy Suresh through his friend and stylist Shravya Varma. Keerthy loved the story and the film got rolling. Keerthy has filled the role with joy. Sakhi is my kind of heroine — real, spunky but not over the top.”

Keerthy Suresh in ‘Good Luck Sakhi’

Good Luck Sakhi is set in a fictional village and besides sport, the story discusses gender issues and questions the notion of luck. “I wrote it as a wacky sports romance comedy, trying to keep the Hrishi-da vibe alive. The story is narrated in a lighter vein and the problems are not overwhelming.”

He looks back at his 2005 film Iqbal, where Shreyas Talpade played a deaf and mute character who dreams of playing cricket for India. Kukunoor reckons it was an underdog story of human triumph in which sports was incidental. “Both Iqbal and Good Luck Sakhi are stories where I have used sports as a metaphor to life. Extraordinary things happen when someone plays a sport and pushes oneself beyond a threshold.”

Kukunoor is a fitness enthusiast and follows the journeys of cross-fit athletes: “I am also a huge fan of sports films — basketball, baseball, horse racing… Secretariat (2010) moves me to tears. I have a couple of scripts that are hardcore sports films. Iqbal and Good Luck Sakhi, in that sense, are not hardcore sports dramas.”

He also sees Iqbal as a happy film in an utopian world. “I try not to be pigeon-holed into making certain kinds of films. Dhanak (2016) was also in a happy space. Then, I worked on season one of City of Dreams, exploring a darker milieu, before taking up Good Luck Sakhi.”

Keerthy Suresh and Jagapathi Babu

The Telugu film paved the way for him to collaborate with long-time friend and actor Jagapathi Babu: “He would often ask when we would work together. I am glad we were finally able to do it. I also got to work with incredible talents like Aadhi Pinisetty and Rahul Ramakrishna.”

Good Luck Sakhi also forged Nagesh’s collaboration with music composer Devi Sri Prasad, who is synonymous with catchy numbers in star-studded big budget films. Kukunoor remembers the music sessions in DSP’s Chennai recording studio: “He is like a mad bundle of energy, so full of ideas and with an ever-present smile. The first song that was released, ‘Bad luck Sakhi’, has a Hollywood musical vibe to it but is in sync with the Indian rural setting.”

The first schedule in 2019 was swift. When the team regrouped on sets in September 2020 after the first lockdown, many of the shooters from the Telangana Rifle Association were hesitant to join the climactic portions given the pandemic conditions. “We worked with a small team and limped our way to the finish line.”

Director Nagesh Kukunoor

Director Nagesh Kukunoor
| Photo Credit: K V S Giri

For the Telugu dialogues, Kukunoor took the help of his long time associate Devika Bahudhanam and writer-director Sandeep Raj. Though familiar with Telugu, it was not Nagesh’s primary spoken language since childhood. He would shift between English and Hindi with family and friends. “My confidence in Telugu grew while making Sakhi… I don’t lapse into English or Hindi as often as I used to earlier.”

Kukunoor ensured that he had complete control over the story and script. He recalls an incident when he met producer Tutu Sharma for Rockford (1999), his second film, soon after the runaway indie hit Hyderabad Blues (1998). “He read the script and gave me suggestions. I stood my ground and stated that I wrote the script according to how I perceive the story. He trusted my conviction and let me be. Since then, I have never let anyone throw constraints in the name of box office.”

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