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Postmortem - Prasthanam by Deva Katta
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What is this post mortem? is starting this exclusive, explosive and exciting section called Postmortem, where we conduct a postmortem of the latest releases. We shall be discussing and analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of the movies with their respective directors as to why those films have become hits/flops. We request the directors to give us their honest and frank opinions.
Prasthanam by Deva Katta

Deva Katta who gave a runaway hit like Vennela surprised everybody by giving a high quality content movie like Prasthanam. This movie has got rave reviews from critics and great appreciation from film celebrities. has caught up with this director of new generation. Here are the excerpts -

Inspirations and influences…..
In my quest to become a more mature filmmaker after Vennela, I’ve learnt that I just need to follow the discipline of a genre let it be a comedy, romance, drama or action whatsoever from my second film onwards.

I used to have weekend brainstorming sessions along with my friends Ravi (also my producer) and Suresh in Detroit - serving us with chilled beer and spicy biriyani (I’m a great biriyani maker…. claiming proudly!).

All of us were particularly drawn to the soul of Prasthanam and couldn’t convince ourselves towards the other underdeveloped stories.

The inspiration for Prasthanam at story level was none but all those great stories told as far as we can remember-starting from mahabharatha to pancha tantras.

“manishi charithre annadammula yudhamtho modalaindi, century-lugaa ayudhaalu maarinaa, yudhaalu maarale (human history is born out of sibling wars, for centuries only the weapons have changed, but not the wars…)”.

The plot seed is inspired from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and had the visual and dramatic influences from all those epic classics starting from Citizen Kane to Godfather.

But at the center of those inspirations were the overriding personal observations of my own political family, especially when it comes to characters like Bhasha, Durga, Sombabu, Bangaru Naidu etc. etc.

With Prasthanam I wanted to discover myself as an effective storyteller and revisit the very basics of cinema and human drama.

‘Historically’ this has been the history of a story: Every story starts from an idea and that idea becomes a short story told in a character’s perspective and that short story becomes a complete story carrying the perspectives of multiple characters in different proportions based on the dramatic choices of the storyteller.

When you have a story to tell, it must follow the act structure. This is how Prasthanam fits in that format.

Act 1: The family legacy, village feuds, Loki avenging Kesava’s death and carrying the family forward with a new seed of conflict - sibling rivalry going into the second act.

“rakthaaniki raktham, gundeku gunde vaidyamaithe, thegipoyina bhandhaaniki maru bandhame vaidyam, ide naaku telisina dharmam – if replacing blood with blood and heart with heart is a cure, then the only way to survive the loss of a companion is to seek another…this is only dharma I’ve realized..”

Act 2: Second act starts of with alli-iz-well for Loki and the family and eventually the external and internal conflicts growing to the peak burst with Chinna’s killing and Loki’s election result, throwing the characters out of their orbits and marching towards the thematic resolve in a higher plane towards the third act.

“naa manasulo santhosham unnanthavake nenoka samsaarini, preminchina koduku bathikunnanthavarake neno thandrini, ippudu cheekataina gathaanni, gaatlu padda mrugaanni – (I am a family so long as I am happy, I am a father so long as I see my living son…but now I am nothing but the darks of the past and a roaring animal with searing wounds…)

Act 3: Loki’s ultimate defense from the primary conflict - the internal - resorting to the brute forces against the good, culmination of the existential war between good and evil, eventual victory of good over evil not only on the physical realm, but also on the ultimate metaphysical realms.

“manishi taanu vithina pantane kosthaadu – what you sow is what you reap”

Eventually this compelling story became a screenplay with the efforts of the screenwriter and director continuously interacting within myself.

Things that worked and didn’t
What worked with Prasthanam is the core of the film 'an engaging conflict of good and evil' and the style of narration – keeping the characters as authentic and authoritative as cinematically possible.

What didn't work with Prasthanam is the so called ‘commercial factors’ which seemed forced into the movie and were giving away our own poor and under-estimation of the viewer – namely hero’s romance and the routine of the songs which eventually belittled the movie as the story progressed. Luckily we were able to chop off those portions right after the morning show.

Morning show effects and how it could have been better
The morning show of Prasthanam for media (where the media was also attending) happened in Cinemax and can be branded as one of the worst organized events in cinema – perhaps our audio release competes with it as well. This was just an obvious glimpse of a series of inexcusable organizational faults, in fact blunders that haunted us from the day of our audio release on 13th December till today:

• The show started 30 mins late for unknown reasons

• DTS did not work for the first 20 mins and then it was jumping back and forth between DTS and mono for an hour. As usual, theater guys blame DTS and the DTS guys blame theaters. This technical glitch happened in almost all the screens of Prasthanam on the first day.

• In Cinemax, they did not even had a blank leader at the intermission and the show continued without interval. Later, there was an abrupt break.

These issues just prolonged the movie, which already had a unanimous complaint after the morning show - the length (running for 2hrs 56 mins). Despite our torture, the critics and viewers felt widely positive about the movie and we survived the final test.

Release and post release difficulties
We released the audio on 13th of December in a meaningless rush with another poorly coordinated effort demeaning the enormous positive report the movie was carrying till then by the internal talk along it’s trail on sets, labs and edit suites etc. We ran into some personal and financial issues after the audio release which I cannot be explicit about and can only say this: All those issues could have been solved with a little more mature mindset and passion towards work as opposed to false egos. A simple communication could have resulted in a timely and effective release earning us lot more money than what we ended up making.

Prasthanam could have been released with 80% of its budget recovered before release, if we were a bit more sensible and timely. Instead we pushed the movie into a ‘stale’ and the rest is all self-evident. What matters at this stage is simply an effective team, not one or two work horses who are mentally and physically tired by now giving more than what they could and a lot more than what money can buy from them.

We had a good and healthy crop, we’ve faltered miserably in reaping and selling the crop. It’s true, point blank! Prasthanam is not a case study on how to make a film; it’s a bigger case study on how not to release a film.

How come such a strong mouth talk didn't translate into as strong revenues
Half of this question is answered in the previous point. We did everything opposite to what all those small but financial blockbuster films for example Anand and Happy Days purely out of inexperience, over-confidence and miscalculated decisions. For an example, how can we justify a 75 print release with Darling to release the following week and Simha the subsequent week? Both of those films were deemed hits along with Prasthanam. Another fact: even many of those so called blockbuster small films have also lost money, just creating a brand paying forward. You will be surprised if I name those movies. A key reason for that:

Viewer’s inertia towards watching small hit films in theaters: One of my friend’s friend was in a theater in USA on 30th April (Prasthanam was released on 16th April), there was Darling and Prasthanam playing in the same complex. My friend’s friend gave a raving review about Prasthanam and at the end informed that she saw the film online, pirated. She came to theater that day to watch Darling. My friend was pissed off and shared this with us.

I think you can understand more than what I can write based on this incident.

Business model of the movie and the revenue scenarios
The movie was released with the help of local distributors on commission basis who did their best in getting decent theaters but yet could not stand against the sweep of two big films in the subsequent weeks, which also did well critically and financially. As the word mouth for our movie became ‘super strong’ by the second week, the crowd was pulled into watching the two big star films leaving Prasthanam as a third choice in their priority list. By the time we could draw attention in B and C centers, it’s too late to sustain. The movies survived for 50 days in main cities. We had a good run in USA and an extra-ordinary run with online torrents (pirated) though it didn’t pay a penny to us. Prasthanam stands as one of the highest downloaded film on piracy portals. By the 8th week we’ve put the movie up for online streaming at for a mere $1.99 though it was too late by then. There was one dude who writes proudly on a social network that he still enjoyed watching the piracy version of Prasthanam online and had a coke for $1.99 instead of paying for Rajshri. We can only say, well enjoy my friend, if it really tastes like coke to you. That’s another angle to think of.

I can’t speak for the final numbers, but overall the stamina of Prasthanam viewer response is a minimum of 8-12 crores at box office, everything else is a failure on our part collectively.

Alternative revenue sources for small movies.
It’s really about time to dig new business and enterprise solutions in serving small budget movies in carrying them to common man who has developed an immense inertia towards small movies. Examples: HBO style of ppv broadcasting, digital projections with small capacity theaters, online streaming at an affordable price before the online piracy strikes, exploring the underserved viewers across the globe away from theater system etc.

There can be a wide range of corporate solution that’ll make it a win-win situation.

Why multiplexes are not showing the film
We've gotten 3 multiplexes with the oddest timings possible and couldn’t negotiate for better timings or additional screenings. But the reason is nothing but pure commercials. When we were running 60-80% on weekdays and 100% on weekends, Darling and Simha were running 100% in as many shows they could offer for the next two weeks of their releases, why would any sensible business man lose even that 20% on our movie? Even for those limited number of shows? It’s a business not charity. By the time we could get better timings by 3rd or 4th week, it was hard to pull the crowd who already had a crystal clear copy of DVDs stolen directly from a lab projection before sensor.

Coming back to the subject....

who is the hero of Prasthanam. may be they expected more force with the hero.
Of course, if I had the budget and luxury, I would’ve brought more force to Mitra’s character and made it more heroic keeping the climax intact. It was a matter effective presentation of the substance within the limitations. There could have been more force in Mithra’s character, I agree.

Good to gray transition of Saikumar character, can it be better transitioned
I could have had one dialogue during Chinna’s challenge with Loki before the campaign song, that would have simply made Loki’s character a little more transitioned. I actually aimed at ‘putra vathsalyam’ and ‘biological connection’ to come out as a surprise element from Loki and yet look natural to life. Given a second chance I would incorporate that one dialogue for a smoother transition – May be in the Tamil version which is shaping up seriously.

Bhasha killing people on road, in public witnessed by traffic police
I have seen such incidents happening in front of my eyes, with traffic police watching like standbys both in Tirupathi and Chennai. Those killers I’ve known haven’t spent even a week in under police custody. Wake up, that’s where we live in!

Sandeep character unpredictability
Chinna (played by Sandeep Kishan) is defined as wildfire (told through the old man’s analogy). This character has been consistently maintained that way providing the necessary curiosity and fire power to the story.

Oldman: “...manishi kudaa nela meeda raalina daggara nunchi chache daakaa nippulaa mandutune untaadu, aakalitho manduthaadu, kopamtho manduthaadu, korikatho, eershyatho manduthune peruguthaadu. aa mantatho kondaru muttukunna vasthuvunallaa thagaleduthu mande sudigundaallaa eduguthaaru, ade mantatho inkondaru jnaanaanni vethukuthu cheekati lokaaniki daari chupe deepaallaa eluguthaaru - man also burns like fire from from birth till death with hunger, anger, lust, greed and jealosy... in that fire some men consume everything that comes in their way and grow into a wildfire... some search for knowledge with that same fire and glow as the beacons to the dark world...."

Mother character finishing
Some people felt that the mother character could have been elaborated more and is left a bit unfinished. I believe anymore screen time for the mother character might have made it more melodramatic. I only wanted to focus on the dynamic and possessive characters, which is why the movie has the energy and tempo it carries now. The finishing of the mother character is easily conceivable, may be Mithra brought her home from temple after Loki’s death or he will do it in the second part if there is one…. For that segment of the story, her resolve is well justified if you think a little more in my perspective.

How well the ending justified for the story. Alternate endings
We had two other endings for the story that were a lot less convincing because they felt a bit routine and predictable. The keystone of the subject element is to explore the average human vulnerabilities through Loki who can be good and bad, situational. This has to be convincingly established especially in the climax. I believe the current climax has elevated the movie a lot compared to the other two options i.e. Mithra killing Loki or Bhasha killing Loki.

Loki's behavior after killing Keseva
The theme of Loki’s character is an eclipse, an eclipse which lasted for a short time while killing Kesava to change his fortune and an eclipse that lasted for a little longer when he lost that fortune founded upon that immoral act. The cycle of action and resul….. Even though some people felt, Loki’s reaction could have been trimmed off after killing Kesava, it wouldn’t have completed his character definition otherwise.

Real incident inspirations
Somewhere in my sub conscience almost all the characters and scenes have real life roots. It went a long way away from those roots once the magic of imagination and fictionalization took over.

Finally, the definition of Entertainment
In my perspective anything engaging is called ‘entertainment’ as opposed to breaking it down to elements like comedy, music, romance or action. Everything is entertaining as long as you know your audiences and you know how to engage most of them if not all of them.

Special Interest - Piracy insiders
The piracy copy of Prasthanam was obtained through a theatrical recording even before the movie was censored in one of the three major labs. I will not name the labs, since it has got nothing to do with them. It was done by some low life(I mean morally) employee without their knowledge. That person did this heinous act for few a thousand rupees costing my passionate producer lakhs of rupees.

The problem in such screw-all systems is the lack of punishment when the crime is exposed, thus keeps crime striving at every place to the lowest possible level.

Other Post Mortems:
Vedam by Krish
Magadheera by SS Rajamouli
Arundhati by M Shyam Prasad Reddy
Ashta Chemma by Mohana Krishna Indraganti
Gamyam by Krish
Happy Days by Sekhar Kammula
Godavari by Sekhar Kammula
Bommarillu by Bhaskar
Chatrapati by SS Rajamouli
Anukokunda Oka Roju by Chandra Sekhar Yeleti
Manmadhuru by Vijaya Bhaskar
Santosham by Dasarath
Jayam by Teja.

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