Every film from Vikram K Kumar has a pinch of magic in its story; something that goes beyond the mundanity of life. His first success came in the form of 13B (2009), an eerie supernatural thriller in which a daily soap foretells the morbid events taking place in a normal household. His 24 (2016) was about a scientist who invents a watch that lets him travel through time and the madness that ensues when his evil twin brother tries to procure it. Even a love story like Hello (2017) had destiny puppeteering its main characters. Now, in Dhootha, he uses a newspaper to foretell his protagonist’s future. Speaking about this fascination with the supernatural, Vikram says, “I’m really excited by the question, ‘What if?’. What if this happens? What if that happens in the story? That’s a huge driving force in my story. Those elements in my film come from this fascination.”
But he adds that this ‘What if?’ is not necessarily the starting point of the story. “It starts from somewhere else, but once I’m 10 or 20% into the story, I bring that element in. I have to bring in something. That’s what I’m excited for in a story.”
While Vikram might have grown comfortable with the writing structure of a feature film, long-form storytelling is a beast of its own. Writing an 8-episode series is not the same as writing a lot of material and splitting it into different chunks. Every episode needs its own start, buildup and of course, a cliffhanger to ensure the viewer keeps watching. With Dhootha being his first tryst with a limited series, how did he crack the writing process? Vikram has a very simple answer. “Honestly, I had this idea in my mind for a while now and my biggest fear was whether we could elaborate it into 8 episodes. It could have gone either as a feature or as a series when I discussed it with Naga Chaitanya but by the time Amazon Prime Video came in touch with us, I was thinking about a show. So I picked this idea but I was afraid this might stretch for eight episodes. But this story just wrote itself. It happens with some stories, I strongly believe it. And the speed at which I wrote Dhootha was shocking to me since I’m a lazy writer.”
How long did he take to write the show? “The first draft was finished in six days. Eight episodes in six days. There’s some great vaasthu in that room, let me tell you. It did some wonder. I keep telling everyone about that room,” Vikram laughs.
One of my favourite moments from Vikram’s entire filmography is the final reveal that Sravani from Gang Leader (2019) is actually a dog that was murdered by the bad guys early in the film, and the film’s protagonist and the dog owner, Pencil Pardharasdhy, avenged her death unknowingly. “Not a lot of people noticed it. That is a tragedy too, but it makes me happy when someone gets it,” the filmmaker says with a smile when asked about how he approaches setups and payoffs while writing. “It has to come organically from the narrative, but I make an effort to set it up and pull it off later. I really enjoy the process. It makes me very happy when someone comes to me and says they liked something like that.”