After Writing That Scene, I Knew I Had Written A Piece Of Cinema: Hemanth M Rao

The filmmaker discusses how his new film, Sapta Sagadache Ello: Side A, evolved from a real incident to the fine, poignant form it is now in
Hemanth M Rao Interview
Hemanth M Rao Interview

Hemanth M Rao’s romance drama Sapta Sagaradaache Ello: Side A is one of the most moving and affecting movies of the year. While Hemanth insists that it is “not a sad film”, anyone who has seen the film can assure you that it does leave the viewer heavy-hearted, as we witness lovers Manu and Priya fight against all the odds to unite and lead a peaceful life. There’s a lyrical beauty to the film even during its most heart-crushing moments, reflecting the care that went into the crafting of these moments. 

In a recent interview with Film Companion, Hemanth opened up about his process of translating the thoughts in his mind into moving images that create a visceral impact on the viewer.

A still from SSE
A still from SSE

Excerpts from the interview:

You said that an accident you witnessed in 2006 inspired you to write the film, and the story kept evolving in your mind. What shape was the script in when you pitched it to Rakshit Shetty?

Since it was an old idea on which I had worked extensively, it was well-formed by then. When I decided to do this as my third film, post-Kavaludaari (2019), I worked on the script and the idea evolved because my perspective changed over the years. My emotional intelligence and my maturity factored into how I saw the same material. When I went to Rakshit, I went with a base idea but the screenplay and scenes were all new. I just told him about the graph of the character and the story. After he liked it, I added all the details.

You stated that the Gopal Deshpande scene, in which he points out to Manu how Priya always turns back before leaving, was one of the first scenes you had written in the early drafts. That brings me to the question, don’t you write chronologically? Or do you flesh such moments first and then connect the drama between them?

When I start writing a film, I’m always thinking about that film and there’s a crazy amount of chaos in my head. I think it’s common for all writers. Initially, you don’t want to write because it’s taxing, tiring, and exhausting. And when you eventually start writing, you cannot stop the ideas coming into your head; it keeps happening all the time. You might be having a conversation with somebody but a voice in your head keeps talking to you about the different directions the story can go in. I try to organise these thoughts in a pattern by creating different folders on Google Keep to make a note of ideas related to shots, scenes, and dialogues. Not all of it is chronological and some of it can be totally useless. I filter those and then try to make sense of it, only after which the actual writing process begins.

Stills from SSE
Stills from SSE

One of the best things about the film is its realistic portrayal of life in prison. What was your research like?

I visited a prison and had multiple conversations with people who were incarcerated there and those who were back in the world after serving their time. I even had a chance to interview those who are criminals by career—they keep going in. I had prepared a questionnaire to understand the life, power dynamics and the ecosystem inside the prison. Those responses helped me build that world.

Was it shot in a real prison?

A major portion was in the Shimoga prison. In addition to that, we also built sets. The meeting room, for instance, is a set. Some corridors of the prison were also built with sets.

Why did you create an external antagonist in the form of a prisoner who keeps picking on Manu, when there’s enough internal drama to explore through the guilt, grief and pining experienced by Manu and Priya?

It wasn’t written with the intention to create more conflict. Manu is going to a world he has no clue of. When one takes a shortcut in life, they only consider the distance they are saving. If one has to toil for twenty years to achieve something and if there’s an option to accomplish it within six months, the latter always feels like a better proposition on paper. When Manu makes that decision, he doesn’t know what else is in store for him. A lot of people make a mistake by taking the fall. Even in the accident that I witnessed, another driver (not the one who committed the accident) took the fall. I wonder why people do it regularly. Around three to four months back, there was another such case where the person who didn’t commit the crime took the fall for it. I felt it was a good thing to examine what they were signing up for. And that world is alien to Manu. I didn’t look at it as an additional conflict but as something that would shape Manu.

A still from SSE
A still from SSE

What is your favourite scene from Side A?

I would say it’s the juxtaposition scene in the end. When I wrote it more than 15 years ago, as I rode back home, I could feel the wind on my face and it felt so beautiful because I knew I had written a piece of cinema. I was waiting to bring that scene alive all along.

How did it feel when you watched the final copy of the film, after MR Rajakrishnan did the sound mixing, and it was complete?

Even I got to experience my film for the first time only after Rajakrishnan sir finished his work. It was very overwhelming. I made calls to Rakshit, Rukmini, Adhvait (cinematographer) and Charan (musician), and I was sobbing. I was very happy. You see, I was working with a lot of constraints on my first two films and the stress was so crazy that I never really enjoyed the process but for the first time, when I saw the copy of Side A, I felt a great sigh of relief. I enjoyed the whole process.

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