Psycho-thriller Gatham is Kiran Reddy's first film as director and co-producer. Kiran was passionate about cinema since childhood, and got to direct his first feature after making 13 short films, spread over many years. He took a sabbatical from work to shoot the film. "Keeping intriguing conversation as real and simple as possible to let the screenplay dictate everything is more exciting," says the director about Gatham, which releases on Amazon Prime Video on November 6. Excerpts from an interview.
What inspired the core of this film?
It's a bit dramatic. Ideas enter our mind when we do something outside our routine. Before marriage, my wife and I were driving across the woods once. It was snowing and gloomy and we were speaking about something not very pleasant. That night, the snow, the woods and past memories came together into an idea for a psychological thriller.
So, this was the prime idea behind Gatham….
There are a couple of factors, actually. The major reason is that I like the psychological thriller genre a lot. Having said that, I wanted to present it differently to the Telugu audience. The concept of 'memory loss' has been explored a lot in Indian films in various genres, but this time it's part of a psychological thriller.
Why did you choose a gritty, suspense-thriller for your debut?
I consider the thriller genre my forte. Most of my short films were in this genre too. I felt this would allow a first-time filmmaker a lot of creative freedom. Also, as a new director, I would be working with a limited budget. The thriller genre exhibits a filmmaker's skills in sound design and cinematography, and there is scope for intense performance too. I could not have asked for a better genre and better subject than this for my debut.
In the trailer we see two characters with shades of dark in Rishi and Arjun. How did you write them?
I wanted strong characters in the story. When it's being written, a story moulds characters into the shades they will go on to possess. My journey with these two characters is not an overnight thing; I worked on them and their traits for over six months.
If there are no shades to characters, the audience will have very little to invest in them. There is very little guessing happening.
The film deals with memories. Going beyond the film, how do you think the past impacts the future?
Our past definitely shapes our future. We learn from our past. We make a lot of mistakes and learn from them. Even in the movie, there are some mistakes… there are some dark secrets from the past that even Rishi (played by Rakesh Galebhe) isn't aware of; these may have shaped someone's future. I took those and explored their darker side.
In the thriller genre, why choose psychological over the supernatural?
The thought never crossed my mind. Maybe, next time. My interest was always to debut with a psychological thriller.
The visuals are striking. It is obvious the shoot was held outdoors in tough weather conditions. What was the most difficult part of the shoot?
It was a gruelling shoot — 80 per cent of it was filmed in the winter, in the US. That season suits the vision of the film. It sets the background and mood for something dark. Executing the film in such a backdrop was challenging. We had to shoot straight for 17 days in that weather.
The cast and crew totalled 15 people, and we stretched ourselves to execute things perfectly. We worked even 18, 22 or 24 hours. Imagine working an outdoors shoot for so many days in hip-deep snow. We were numb from the cold, and kept checking our hands and feet to see if they were intact. But, the end product is worth it.
How did you decide to cast Bhargava Poludasu, Rakesh Galebhe and Poojitha Kuraparthi?
It was not an overnight decision, though all of them are newcomers. I know Bhargava and Rakesh, and their strengths very well. You don't ever feel they are newcomers. Poojitha was a surprise. We were doing a lot of auditions and could not find who we were looking for. One week before the shoot, she magically came in for an audition, and we liked it. These three characters are really important, and these actors breathed life into them.
How long did the actors travel with you and the script to get the tone and mood of the film?
We finished scripting by mid-2018 and had four months to prepare. We all are working professionals, so coordination was tough. We did three workshops with the cast and crew. We figured out how the characters would behave on screen even in pre-production. When we went to the sets, all we had to deal with were some logistical challenges.
How was it to balance work and your passion?
It was initially challenging to sail on two boats, but thanks to short films, I managed. It was difficult to manage my personal life, though, despite the support of my wife, family and friends.
How did you discover the craft of filmmaking?
Short films, and watching the interviews of experts. There is a lot of digital knowledge at our disposal. I spent at least an hour or two a day watching interviews, basically what successful filmmakers do and what they don't. I tried to pick up a few things from each of those filmmakers and then worked passionately on short films for practical experience.
The film was shot for a theatrical release. Do you think it will have better viewership on Amazon Prime Video?
Hands down, better viewership. Maybe, 200 theatres might have shown our film. Today, it is going to 200 countries. I could not have asked for a better launch.