One of the biggest direct OTT (Over-theTop) releases in Telugu so far, V is all set to release this Saturday on Amazon Prime Video. Starring Nani, Sudheer Babu, Nivetha Thomas and Aditi Rao Hydari in the lead roles, the film is a neo-noir thriller with heavy emotions and drama, as director Mohana Krishna Indraganti describes it.
The film has Nani playing a psychopathic serial killer, while Sudheer Babu plays a celebrated cop on a mission to chase him down. The pandemic disrupted the initial plans of an Ugadi release in March. After a long wait of five months, V is now releasing on Amazon Prime Video directly.
TNM spoke to the filmmaker â€” whose works include the widely popular Ashta Chamma and the more recent film Sammohanam â€” about the challenges of making a violent thriller, writing intelligent women characters, the decision to have an OTT release and more.
Could you tell us about the aesthetic influences and references for V? What kind of a vibe can we expect from the film?
Two genres that have always fascinated me, the film noir of the American cinema of the â€˜40s and â€˜50s, and also the French noir that Jean-Pierre Melville and others have championed and mastered. I was also a big fan of â€˜70s Hindi cinema which very interestingly captured the conflict between systems. If you look at films like Deewaar, Trishul and Don, they were always about police versus gangsters or criminals, law versus crime. Usually you have two protagonists, each representing one, like Amitabh Bacchan and Shashi Kapoor (in Deewaar).
I always wondered how it would be to blend these two genres: the visual style in terms of the noir look, of dark edges and brooding style, coupled with these really powerful emotional exchanges; the dialogues, the dramatic scenes, and personal and family conflict.
To Sudheer, I said, look at Brad Pitt (from Fight Club). I donâ€™t want a muscular police officer, I want someone lean and athletic. Similarly, I told Nani to look at films like No Country for Old Men, where Javier Bardem did the role of a psychopath, or Keanu Reevesâ€™s role in The Watcher or Kevin Spaceyâ€™s role in Se7en.
I told them to watch all these guys not to imitate them, but to see how differently each actor was approaching the part. To the character of a killer, theyâ€™ve added their own texture with their performance.
Beyond what Iâ€™ve written on paper, Nani has added his own interpretations and created a certain texture to the character. Much of Naniâ€™s look in the film is the result of a lot of brainstorming. Sudheer Babu similarly did the same, he lost a lot of weight, he became leaner, he studied a lot of task force police officers. So we approached the film with a lot more seriousness than a regular mainstream film, where you would just go and create some mannerisms, and try to create some sensational image.
We may be doing a nice popcorn film, but it's also a very meaningful popcorn film. I wanted it to be an emotional experience, not just people fighting and having sound effects and action.
Itâ€™s very carefully designed. Even for cinematography, we had a lot of references. My cinematographer Vinda and I â€” we started our careers together â€” would watch a whole lot of films that we like, and we always wished we could do something like that. Weâ€™ve tried to pay tributes to all those films through V, through the lighting, design and costumes as well.
Thereâ€™s a lot of hype around the fact that V is Naniâ€™s 25th film, and his third film in your direction (after his debut film Ashta Chamma and Gentleman). Itâ€™s also your 10th film. What has changed for you both since Ashta Chamma?
I started off as a small filmmaker with very few means to make movies. I was trying to do low-budget and medium-budget movies, and to adjust my aesthetic and ambition to those limitations.
Although I believed I could do all these things earlier, I could not do it because of lack of resources etc. Of course with these challenges and restrictions, you grow as a filmmaker. As I grew, more producers started approaching me for my kind of films. My budgets increased, my audience increased. I could bring in whatever I learned in my filmmaking training abroad, because now I have the money, the resources and the audience.
Nani started off as a very shy but very ambitious and very creative kind of an actor, when he debuted with me in 2008. He made enormously risky choices, he challenged himself at regular intervals, he did all kinds of offbeat films in spite of commercial pressures. He has also grown and created an enormous fan base for himself, and people now look forward to Naniâ€™s films
In all my films, I tried to change the genre. But V is of a genre I always wanted to do, which is a giant leap for me from what I've been doing till now â€” because the scale is bigger, the risks are higher, the actors are bigger, the budget is big.
What were some of the challenges in making V?
The most important thing is the genre â€” it is dark and violent. Iâ€™ve never dealt with violence, it is not necessarily my favourite emotion. Unless I feel really compelled to incorporate it, Iâ€™ve never used it in my earlier films. But this film is violent by nature, it has to deal with violence
So dealing with violence on a day to day basis is very challenging for me, as a director. And for the actors also, I am sure itâ€™s not a very pleasant emotion to deal with it on a day to day basis. We have to deal with blood, murder and all kinds of psychotic elements, which kind of challenge you as a person emotionally.
Shooting the film was also very difficult because we were shooting for a lot of nights, there were a lot of action and stunt sequences that the actors had to take risks for, which they went ahead and did. But they were all very tense affairs because we had to be very sure that nothing happened to them.
Your films are known for having well-written female leads. Could you tell us about the women in V?
I take great care in representing women because I am very fond of women-driven stories. V is probably a more male-driven film compared to my other works, but Nivetha (Thomas) and Aditi (Rao Hydari) are central to the plot. Their screen time may be less compared to both the male leads, because the film is about two men fighting each other. But itâ€™s also about how these women bring meaning to their lives, and bring perspective to the conflict , instead of making it simply about two macho men brainlessly beating each other up.
The presence of these women in their lives gives them a certain perspective, a certain purpose, a certain sense of meaning. How that happens is something you have to see in the film, but itâ€™s very important that the women in my films play not just an eye candy part, they have to contribute to the narrative.
How do you ensure that you write meaningful women leads?
I try to do my homework. I am also surrounded by extremely brilliant women in my own household, my mom is a writer, my wife is a PhD. Most of the women I know, my friends and colleagues, are more educated and more well informed than I am, and I constantly learn from them.
Subconsciously, all that admiration I have and my friendship with them, what I learn from them, seeps into the way I write women characters.Their mischief, their sense of humour, the way they make fun of some of the stereotypes that mainstream cinema perpetuates, all of that I try to write into the dialogues through these women.
You'll see that in the opening scene of V, with Nivetha and Sudheer, where Nivetha says what kind of a woman she is. I obviously have to research and consult, but when I write, I don't think itâ€™s a conscious effort. It seeps in naturally. I would be mortified if I ever wrote an unintelligent woman.
Could you tell us about the decision to release V on OTT? What changes were made from the theatrical release version of the film?
We dreamed about a theatrical release and so we did things a certain way, we lit it in a certain way â€¦ But these are extraordinary times and we have to make the best possible choices. We didn't want to kill the excitement around the film by waiting indefinitely. We also realised that a lot of people want good entertainment now. Besides, we had no clue as to how long we had to wait. There was no clarity, so we thought weâ€™d go for it.
To approximate and to bring this (OTT) experience closer to a theatrical experience, we tried to tweak the visual a little bit grading wise, we tweaked the sound, we tried to create a little more surround as much as we could, from 5.1 to stereo.
We tried to give our best approximation, to bring the Atmos experience to OTT. And when we tested with different devices and different environments, we were very happy. We also looked at the least ideal to ideal environments to watch a movie: what if I am watching it on a phone in traffic, as opposed to a proper home theatre setup. We tried to find a middle ground to the entire spectrum, to give the best possible visual and aural experience to the audience.
Could you talk about your literary influences? Are you considering any adaptations from Telugu literature for your future projects?
I believe that it's essential for a filmmaker to be acquainted with other art forms, to be well read, to know about dance, theatre, music, painting, photography. Cinema is an amalgamation of all these art forms, and our exposure to these art forms will give us a sense of yardstick of excellence.To hone my skills as a director, writer, and a creative person, I feel all filmmakers must have a very close relationship with literature and other art forms, but especially literature because it is very close to cinema.
I would like to adapt the popular novel Chivaraku Migiledi by Buchi Babu, and also Saptabhumi (by Bandi Narayanaswamy, which won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2019). There are a few more, like one short story by Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao, for which I had written the script. All these are there in the pipeline. I have to find the right funding and the right atmosphere, the right cast and crew to do it, but I'll do it eventually.
Film stills courtesy: Amazon Prime Video