22 April 2010
The fundamental character of a writer or an aspiring writer is that there is a constant desire to express, discuss, debate and in turn validate the knowledge of living irrespective of his/her own intellectual level. It’s with that basic desire I am writing this article in order to share my experience (prasthanam) from a humble, light-hearted romantic debut film ‘vennela’ to a loaded existential character drama for a second film - PRASTHANAM.
Right after Vennela I was very puzzled in terms what should be my direction as a filmmaker. I had ample time for the second attempt as I wanted to continue my job in order to support my wife’s education to make sure both our careers are safe.
To me every film has to be an internal journey of knowledge i.e understanding people, nature, life and it’s wonders. I was looking for elemental connections that can set me up in that journey.
Before writing a story, I was only looking at the fundamental definition of a ‘story’ and what makes it grand, out of the influences of great classic stories starting from myths to epic films like Citizen Kane, Lawrance of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, God Father etc.etc. What I’ve realized as one of the consistent ingredients in these epic stories was characters and the life behind them that makes it more than what we see visually. I believed that when we respect the life behind each character, the story would simply feel grand. So my ‘Prasthanam’ of writing Prasthanam started just with an ambition that I should at least try to scratch on that surface - the internal journey of each character travelling towards a focused perspective as a story element.
Writing is the most laborious phase in the process of making a film as you have to constantly keep answering the critic within to justify each and every scene, song and dialogues that keeps the story evolving and revealing.
In my view it’s lot easier to make an international film without songs focusing on the subject rather than trying induce periodic ‘vents’ with unrelated comedy and songs. I’ve committed myself to extract as much comedy from some potential characters without compromising on the tempo of the film. Yet there was some insecurity in our team on the idea of breaking away from the 6 songs format even though all of us can clearly see 2 of those songs were a little forced and hampering the main plot.
Submitting myself to the team opinion on those extra songs and scenes, I’ve carried that material all the way till the release of the movie- after all it’s my second movie and I can only act so strong, I admire the strength of those directors who stood their grounds. (I now realize that this aspect should have been addressed in a different way within the screenplay itself).
Towards the final draft of the screenplay, my team was thoroughly enjoying the read but concerned about the overall length. So I had to converge a couple of characters and eliminate the late entry of an assassin (making Gowda carry the characteristics of a Special Task Force agent named Umapathi – reserved for my good actor friend Ravi Varma from Vennela).
Once our movie confidently felt that the screenplay carries a clear development of conflict points and reaches at a logical and reasonable conclusion with a gripping interest, our Prasthanam of casting for ‘PRASTHANAM’ started.
No doubt that we had more than what can chew in executing this kind of movie with little experience and little connections in the industry, it almost had to be an independent attempt. The only way we could be safe was by getting some star power into play that can carry the movie and give us an opportunity to invest on the grandeur of the film.
Based on the response and my own analysis, I can conceive three reasons why I failed to convince some stars:
1. Hero’s mother getting married to another man after father’s death – probably many doesn’t know this is the first act in Shakespear classic Hamlet.
2. Hero not being violent enough in other words ‘macho’ enough.
3. The question of Deva Katta who took so long to be back after a successful yet an amateur film Vennela which is known for slapstick comedy and dark love triangle - can he really handle this kind of and intense drama and grandeur or altogether can he handle a star?. My answer was I didn’t know, but I’ll try.
All those three reasons are very valid if I switch my perspective into theirs. So we realized these reasons have to be proved otherwise in order for us to survive in the industry. We’ve decided to cast an up-coming hero and a hungry senior actor despite the financial risks, very fortunate to have a producer who at times more passionate about the movie than the director himself.
Once we’ve decided to cast Sharwanand acknowledging his immense potential as an actor, I flew down to India in March 2009 and started looking for other important casting. On the first meeting itself I was fixed on Sai gaaru discarding the complaints from people about his ‘Police story’ image imprisonment. To me he is a phenomenal actor and that’s all matters to the movie. Most of the other cast was selected just based on the first instincts when I met them. Sundeep Kishan is a diamond among them.
Since we din’t have enough star power, now our major challenge is to keep the budget within 3 crores which itself is a 20-30% risk if the movie doesn’t fare well at the box-office.
Thus our prasthanam of planning for ‘PRASTHANAM’ started with serious doubts on financial justification of the project.
Having a bound script we thought it would be a sin if we can’t do a proper production design including story boarding and shot listing before hitting the floors. But in India, there are more talkers than walkers. I kept losing my time on false promises from key technical members and one fine day realized that I have to carry forward into production with a rough shot list since the budget meter have already started ticking. It was with the immense confidence that Ravi had on me, I pushed myself forward, half-prepared. He wanted a good product and at the same time didn’t want to give a free hand for waste spending which I must respect as my ultimate boundaries in executing the shoot.
Thus the most challenging job of my life thus far – the prasthanam of filming ‘PRASTHANAM’ started on June 10th, 2009.
Right from day one of the shoot (Evado vaadu song and the fight sequence towards the end of the song), I had to face a chaotic atmosphere in fighting for quality of the film on one side and keeping the budget under control on the other side.
By the third day we had to replace our first DoP due to personal reasons….. had to see Nandu (Sharwanand) going through a scary accident (a glass piece cutting his chin during the fight)….. shoot had to be postponed for 10 days in order to get Nandu heal and look for an alternate DoP.
It was during that unforeseen break, a miraculous fortune happened to PRASTHANAM which is Shamdat, our Director of Photography, my dear friend and a very sensible and sensitive human being. Shamdat is a GREAT cinematographer not because of his lighting skills, but because of his sensitive reception of the director’s vision, Shamdat is a GREAT cinematographer, not because of his innovative blocks, but because of emotional attachment to the story, character and geography.
We’ve regrouped, with Sham and I connecting with each other like age old friends right from the moment we met. Though we’ve re-started with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm on 20th June, 2010, that morning Sham fell into a 10 feet ditch, running with the loaded camera towards ‘Loki’ from ‘Parsthasaradhi’ when Loki wins the election.
Sham’s face was gory like Ghost, but there was no single crack or a scratch on the camera, Sham’s muscles were ruptured and bones were broken, but there was not a single bolt un-riveted from the camera. He held it…. like a mother holds a new born baby…..lying down on a ten feet ditch amidst the rumble of rocks and bricks….he held it, in tact!
These were very few of our pains and struggles we faced throughout the project, from artist dates issues to incompetent team members running through every department, with several ironical decisions made to save a penny ultimately leading to the loss of a dime…. Everywhere our inexperience of executing the shoot kept haunting us with more spending throughout the project.
Finally on October 23rd, 2009 the shooting of PRASTHANAM was completed in 72 shoot days (out of which 4 of those days werelost due accidents and the demise of our late CM). By now the budget has already come close to 3 crores and we needed another 1 crore to meet the post production and release.
Thus, with little money in hand and a very inexperienced team around, our PRASTHANAM of post production started.
With a lot of baggage and dried pockets, we had to carry forward to keep up the quality of the shoot and live up to the demands of the script in terms of back ground score, digital intermediate etc. etc. we had the toughest phase of our journey during the post production. I call it toughest b’cause there was too much time wasted and too much of our work compromised. Yet we did our best in maintaining the integrity of the film and brought the movie towards a safe release.
Our Prasthanam of releasing ‘PRASTHANAM’ started, with our minds and bodies tired, hopes raising at every step of the way.
If it was not for our executive producer Vijay Krishna, I sincerely doubt if Prasthanam would have come to the release stage. He is the coolest person I’ve ever met in my life and a very sensitive and sensible human being. He was there for me all along, like my driver, like my friend, like my savior and like a balm to my pains all along the project.
With a total budget of 3.8 crores (thanks to more than 20 lakh worth of last minute savings negotiated by Vijay and Vasu Vallabhaneni), we released the movie on April 16, 2010 with low key publicity rushing ahead of the big movies as our movie needs enough time to settle down purely based on word of mouth.
With considerable deficit, we are keeping our fingers crossed about the run of the movie amidst big releases, entirely depending upon the raging word of mouth all over the world from Telugu film lovers.
It took us a couple of days to really believe how much of an impact the movie had on the industry circles and among the hardcore movie lovers. After watching Monday and Tuesday theater responses we have confirmed that the movie is a good hit and will take at least a week to settle down in most areas. Historically these kind of films take time to sink in to common movie goers, since their compelling publicity force is a strong word of mouth. We could have been a bit smarter in releasing with lesser number of prints for the kind of publicity we could afford. It’s a vital lesson learnt!
Out of all the great personalities embossed in my heart that kept us moving forward, the first person I would like thank is my producer, my soul mate Ravi Vallabhaneni to whom I would answer a call any day keeping my personal needs aside. The movie is an unquestionable proof of his unwavering character and uncontaminated passion for a meaningful cinema.
With an immense public response and critical acclaims, our bodies are healing and our minds are gaining focus towards the next step of this enjoyable ‘PRASTHANAM’ of filmmaking.
End note: Please support PRASTHANAM in requesting all the blogs that are uploading our movie online, please help us heal by killing piracy.
The journey of discovering truth is nothing but an endless process of learning what’s not true. – Deva Katta.