Fellow Andhra boys, college friends and software engineers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK gave up their lucrative jobs in the United States of America and set themselves a six-month time limit to give their filmmaking careers a chance. That was in 2008. Nine years later, they are still here, and ready to present their most Bollywood movie yet: the August 24 release, A Gentleman, starring Sidharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez.
The partners, who made their first film Flavors “out of their bedrooms”, came to Mumbai in 2003 and have so far made four features – crime comedy 99 (2009), crime drama Shor in the City (2010), zombie comedy Go Goa Gone (2013) and the romcom Happy Ending (2014). Along the way, they dropped their surnames and adopted the more hip-sounding “Raj & DK” title.
“After 99, we said okay, now we can stay here,” Raj said, but it wasn’t easy persuading their families. DK’s mother was particularly anxious about their decision. “My mom kept asking me if I was going to go back to a real job. Once the film was done, she was like, oh great, you’ve finished. Now go back to your job and focus on that. Basically she thought filmmaking was a hobby.”
Raj helped DK out: “Auntie and I had a quick chat, because I don’t think she was getting through to him. She said I hope this not a career and just a hobby that you are making bigger.”
After their early independent-spirited and irreverent films, the writer-director team moved into the mainstream with Happy Ending and have cemented the transition with A Gentleman. What the films have in common are genre elements.
“A Gentleman is also a genre film of our sensibility based on our script and story, but with just a little more money in it, a little more than Shor for sure,” Raj said. “In fact we made this film on a romcom budget and shot in parallel to save time and resources. The independent spirit is still intact and that uniqueness, or whatever it is we bring, has been brought to the mainstream set up. Our approach remains the same, it’s just the packaging that is making you think that maybe they sold their souls.”
The filmmakers are fans of the action comedy genre, and cite Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Lethal Weapon, Nice Guys, Baby Driver and the later Mission Impossible films as among their favourites. “Once you take away all the marketing trappings, the gloss and the songs, the film is still the film,” DK said.
Raj added, “A Gentleman is 99 on steroids. It’s a crime comedy with the same intertwining plots. This is 99 with marketing.”
An extended kiss had to be snipped at the behest of the censors, but Raj and DK do not see that as a problem. “This kiss is too minor a thing – A Gentleman is a fun, cool, action film for all audiences. It isn’t embarrassing in anyway,” DK said. “All we have had to do is reduce the duration of the kiss. The experience with the censors was not unpleasant at all. I have my own personal point of view on censorship, but we have never had any problem with any of our films. Even Go Goa Gone was released as is, with an A certificate.”
In a previous interview, Raj and DK had said that they use a code to communicate on the sets. Is the code still in use?
“What code? Telugu?” DK responded. “Yes, we do and it still works because fortunately for us, most of the people we work with don’t know Telugu. Sometimes we will be discussing something and a light boy will look up, smile and say you are from Hyderabad?”
The duo agrees that it is immensely helpful for them to have roots outside of Mumbai (DK’s mother lives in Bangalore and Raj’s family is based in Andhra Pradesh). “That keeps us rooted, and close to what we were and who we are,” Raj said. “So we know that world and work in this world.”
The collaborators are keen to increase their output. With a web series for Amazon Prime Video and another feature film in the works, they are considering tweaking their working methods in order to be more productive. “We are pretty open and flexible with all our communication and we love to do everything together,” Raj said. “At the same time, if we want to make a film a year, rather than one in three years, we would have to make some adjustments. We have had a chat about I produce one that he directs and vice versa.”