Just a few weeks ago, a small, independent Telugu film called ‘Paathshala’ released in cinemas by defying shackles of the industry. Not only was it appreciated by film buffs and critics alike, it also reintroduced independent style filmmaking amidst commercial cinema.
‘Paathshala’, according to its director Mahi V. Raghav, “is the journey of a few youngsters beyond college campus”. “It’s a coming-of-age story that explores friendship beyond the walls of a campus,” Raghav told IANS.
The director says he decided to make an independent film because “you can tell the story you want to without any compromises. Nobody is going to ask you to change anything”.
Raghav co-produced the film with a few friends. The reason he didn’t find a producer is because it’s a road film.
“Nobody even expressed interest to read my script. A few of us chipped in an equal amount to produce ‘Paathshala’. Like every other independent film, this also got made by the contribution of a few people,” said Raghav, who used to work in New Zealand before shifting base to Hyderabad to make films few years ago.
“I think road films are very new to even Indian cinema. It’s time to tell different stories and use different narrative styles. People are travelling to several places, so why won’t they like to watch a film in which the characters are travelling,” he asked.
But road films don’t come cheap.
“Road films cost a lot more than any independent film in terms of effort and logistics as well. To find a location, carry equipment to shoot and then move the entire cast will definitely cost a lot. In an average film, there will be about 30 to 40 locations, but a road film features easily about 100,” he said.
“More than 90 percent of the film is shot outdoors, so there’s always the risk of rain playing a spoilsport or public being a nuisance and there are several other factors too,” he added.
‘Paathshala’ mostly featured newcomers. And the decision was made purely based on economics.
“If I want better actors, I knew it would cost me more and with what we can afford, we roped in newcomers. We also wanted actors to work on long schedules for about four to five months. With popular stars, it’s highly impossible and since the film is a multi-starrer, we would’ve had issues with screen time had we cast stars,” said Raghav.
Newcomers Nandu, Sirisha, Anu Priya, Sai Kiran and Shiva essayed the lead roles. “We spent about six months to finalise the cast. They were enrolled into an acting workshop. For a 70-day shoot, we had spent about eight months on pre-production,” he said.
Raghav is “creatively satisfied” that the film “was not just appreciated by critics alone but even by common audiences”.
“But there were other factor such as the limited theatrical release of the film. We could only manage to get one or two shows in the multiplexes and the timing of these shows were again the distributor’s call,” he said.
“Unless you know how you’re going to distribute a film, there’s no point making it,” he stated.
Raghav desperately hopes for a miracle to happen in the Telugu film industry.
“I did my education in Chennai. In Tamil cinema, both commercial films as well as independent cinema co-exist. People there watch ‘Singam’ and also films like ‘Soodhu Kavvum’ and ‘Goli Soda’. There seems to be a system being followed as most stars only release their films during festivals and that gives smaller films a window to get released,” he said.
“In Telugu, we’ve had diverse films working over the years. In the recent past, entertainment has become comedy. It’s become a norm for even exhibitors to buy a film. I think this mentality should change,” he added.