Interview
The movie is a Hollywood crime-thriller that explores the life of an Indian student who gets caught in the dark underbelly of the drug trade in the country.

Director Pradeep Katasani is all set to begin shooting of his Hollywood debut Silk Road and is quite excited about his first Indie movie. The film marks an important milestone in his journey, going from an engineering student to a filmmaker. Pradeep, who currently resides in Los Angeles, will begin his stint as a director with Silk Road, a crime thriller that explores the life of an Indian student who gets caught in the dark underbelly of the drug trade in the country.

Pradeep, an engineering graduate, was born and brought up in Hyderabad but shifted to the US with dreams of becoming a filmmaker. After completing his filmmaking course in the US, he tried his hand at short filmmaking and was a production manager for the much acclaimed Shabana Azmi movie The Black Prince and the US web series Ray Donovan.

In an interview, Pradeep spoke to TNM about his debut venture, the challenges of being an Independent filmmaker, the growth of Telugu cinema and his future projects.

Comparing his experience of working with big names in the Black Prince to directing Silk Road, Pradeep says that he is more excited being a director for Silk Road because of all the endless creative freedom that comes along with the job.

“Getting a chance to work on any creative project is always great but Silk Road is my passion project and my baby, so it is really close to my heart. I was mostly doing production jobs until now, so the extra creative freedom that comes with direction is very exciting too,” the director says.  

Silk Road is a movie born out of an eponymous novel, written by E Mapache. But Pradeep says the book and the screenplay were written simultaneously, with the director penning the screenplay and his friend Illeana writing the book under her pen name ‘Mapache’.

Silk Road, as an idea, was conceived in the aftermath of the incidents that led to tracking down of the Silk Road (the dark web) by the FBI in the US in 2012. I am a fan of crime-thriller stories and I, along with three other friends, decided to turn these turn of events in the US into a fictional narrative,” Katasani explains.

Pradeep says he spent most of his engineering days in Hyderabad watching movies and his dream of becoming a filmmaker has been relentless since then. The director adds that his dream is to make movies that focus on the fringe elements in society, and also confesses his ardent interest for historical fiction.

Silk Road is based on incidents that happened in 2012 where a lot of students from Telugu states had fallen prey to the drug trade in the US.  Though the movie is a crime thriller, it also focuses on the struggle of the Indian students, who are often pushed to fulfill their parents’ dreams, in a foreign land. I came to this country as a student. So this is a story I knew intimately. Since the movie is set in 2012, there are many changes that we had to be careful about, especially the kind of technology shown in the movie. We paid attention to the minute details so that the movie doesn’t fall out of the time period it is set in,” the director explains, adding, “Silk Road, which was initially planned as a six part web series, will now be released as a movie. We have taken feedback from a lot of people and after analysing it, we felt our story works well as a movie rather than a series.”

Pradeep's movie gains more relevance in the current political scenario in the US where around 150 Indian students have returned to their native land, falling prey to a large educational institution scam, and are staring at a bleak future riddled with the burden of repaying loans.

Silk Road, apart from being Pradeep's debut film, is also Tollywood actor Rahul Ramakrishna’s first stint in Hollywood. Speaking about the actor, Pradeep says that he has been a fan of Rahul from the time the latter had been a part of Telugu short films.

“I have watched almost all his works and was impressed with his short film Sainima. I really respect him as an actor and met him last year when I was in India. I believe he is the only Telugu actor who can pull this off. The movie doesn’t have a typecast hero but Rahul plays one of the most important characters in the movie,” Katasani says.

The cast of the series includes Rakesh Galebhe, who has been part of several indie Telugu films, Rajive Khilnani and Mathew Fuentes.

Budding filmmakers have never had it easy. Pradeep says that though there are differences in the way art and movies are encouraged in both the US and India, the gap is narrowing down due to the increased number of film festivals that have exposed the audience to movies beyond borders.

“Both the countries have their share of problems when you are a director aspirant. But in the US, the film festival scene is really strong, which helps budding filmmakers spread the word. Even people who work for all these platforms are quite knowledgeable about the techniques of filmmaking. Even though the scene is improving in India, it still has a long way to go and that is one of the primary reasons why Indie movies never get much support from the Indian audience,” Pradeep opines.

Being a first time director, Pradeep says that the most difficult part is the ability to develop a sixth sense. “One should have an acute sense of perceiving what can happen next, how the movie would fare. One should also be in anticipation about the future course of the movie. It’s difficult to make movies without a definite vision,” the director says.

Speaking about the current trajectory of movies in Telugu, Pradeep says that he is in awe of film makers like Tharun Bhascker and Sandeep Vanga Reddy, who are experimenting a lot with the contemporary style of movies.

“The problem of mass movies getting better recognition than the ones that you or I may like in terms of content, has always persisted. The situation is no different in the US, but people get a better exposure to offbeat movies through multiple platforms - which is not the case in India. But in the past 4-5 years, time has been good for Telugu cinema as we can see many young directors churning out novel concepts in the industry. Also, OTT avenues have really become popular in Hyderabad and I think that’s definitely a push to creating more experimental content in Tollywood,” Pradeep says.

On his future projects Pradeep says, “There are ideas that we are working on, but on any given day, my dream is to create a movie for the Telugu audience. I have a couple of projects in mind and the most important one among them is to film a movie in my state that talks about the problems of Telugu people that the audience can identify with.”