Shashank Vennelakanti, a dialogue writer who had worked on the Telugu version of several of Studio Green’s productions since their very first film – Sillunu Oru Kaadhal – has lodged a police complaint against producer KE Gnanavel Raja. In it, he has alleged that he has not been paid for working on the films produced by Gnanavel Raja.
In conversation with Silverscreen, Shashank says that he was initially enlisted by Studio Green to help with the Telugu dialogues of their Tamil films that were dubbed into Telugu. “I have been associated with Gnanavel Raja and Studio Green for nearly ten years,” he declares.
For NOTA, starring Vijay Deverakonda, Sathyaraj, Mehreen Pirzada, a bilingual film by Anand Shankar and produced by Studio Green, Shashank was asked to work on the dubbing. But, he tells us that he did much more than that. “I worked on recording the Telugu version of the songs. I worked on the teaser (that was released on September 6) and also co-ordinated with the VFX Supervisor for some work on the movie. I did voice tests with artistes and even began recording voices from people in Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore.”
From his account, Shashank seemed to have worn many hats in Studio Green’s dubbing division. He was officially enlisted as the dialogue writer, but was ‘taking care of everything related to the film’ during dubbing sessions. “Studio Green wanted a responsible and informed person in charge of the Telugu versions. And so I stepped in. I did everything for their dubbed versions. Sometimes I used my voice for the lead actors of the films.”
While Shashank has always maintained a cordial relationship with Gnanavel Raja, he says he was forced to file a complaint once he came to know that the work he had done for NOTA‘s teaser was used by the production team without giving him due credit.
“They did not even inform me that they were going to use the Telugu version of the teaser that I had worked on. It is my intellectual property. Nor did they give me credit. Even if they had proceeded without crediting the dialogue writer, I would have been quiet. But they credited the writer hired to replace me, when in reality, it was my work that they were using.”
Shashank insists that he still does not harbour any ill will towards KE Gnanavel Raja or the production company. “No bad feelings towards Gnanavel. I am only very disappointed that they did this to me. I have been a part of their family and treated them like my own family for close to a decade. So for them to do something like this has made me feel sad.”
Shashank says that the attitude of the director of NOTA was what that prompted him to leave the project. “I was ready and most willing to work with Anand on the film. I asked for his inputs throughout the time I worked on it. However he seemed very uninterested in the entire process and at one point, he became very confrontational with me. I have been in this industry for many years. I’ve worked with Kamal sir, Karthi sir and Suriya sir on their movies and they’ve never failed to give me that sense of respect and kinship. But Anand did not behave the same way.”
Anand Shankar, at one point, reportedly asked Shashank to leave the project if he would not be able to complete it on time. “I was given only one half of the film for the dubbing work. The material was incomplete, and despite this constraint, I worked to the best of my ability. Many of the characters’ voices from Tamil would have to be dubbed by themselves in Telugu, so those portions aside, I did the rest. But all I got was complaints. And then, there was just no response from Studio Green at all.”
Shashank declares that after he’d handed over the work he had done to Studio Green, he came to know on September 3 that the studio had hired Rajesh A Moorthy, a former assistant of his, to complete the remaining work. Shashank says that this information was deliberately kept from him. “I was not even credited for my work in the teaser. Only when it released did I see that I had been removed from the project. I have been a member of the South Indian Film Writers’ Association for several years. Till now, such a thing has not happened to me. This is a great personal insult.”
Shashank also reveals that he has not been compensated for his work on NOTA and also for several other films that he’d worked on for Studio Green. “They have always paid me at leisure. Even now, they owe me around Rs 15 lakhs. But now that they have effectively stopped their association with me (they won’t meet me or even talk to me despite repeated attempts) I do not think they plan to give me my dues. Gnanavel Raja is a man who has a lot of influence in the industry. Unless the police interferes, I don’t see how this can be resolved.”
But for Shashank, recovering his money is not the priority right now. “I did not do this for the money. A Shashank Vennelakanti dubbed film has a certain legacy in Telugu film industry. This has been conveyed to me by many producers and distributors frequently. I worked for my audience in the Telugu industry. And now, through such an incident, they have not only duped me but they have duped my audience as well. This is what I want to resolve.”
Shashank adds that the incident has outraged several of his close associates inside the Tamil and Telugu film industries. “See this is not the only thing I do. I have produced films and have been involved in the industry for a long time. I can make this a huge issue if I want to. But, I have contained all of my supporters and asked them to not interfere, as I still think of Gnanavel as a friend. I don’t want to damage that relationship.”
He had asked the South Indian Cine Writers’ Association to step in and mediate the dispute. But they did not respond to his pleas; the AP union chose not to intervene as well. “So the police was my only choice,” Shashank says.
A spokesperson for Studio Green declined to comment on the issue. Repeated calls to director Anand Shankar were not answered either.
Shashank, who is the son of noted Telugu lyricist Vennelakanti Venkateswara Prasad, says that such an incident has happened to him despite his experience and ties within the industry. “I have worked on Viswaroopam 2 with Kamal sir, and several other big budget films. But this is the first time that someone has set out to cheat me.”
While he hopes that the issue will be resolved quickly and all dues settled, Shashank says that he hasn’t heard from Gnanavel Raja or anyone from Studio Green yet.