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From NRI engineer to filmmaker

Last updated on: December 14, 2010 15:17 IST

From NRI engineer to filmmaker

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Radhika Rajamani in Hyderabad
Devakatta first made his presence felt with Vennela, which was shot in the United States. After almost a four-year gap, this mechanical engineer settled in the US came back with an impactful Prasthanam (Journey) - the only Telugu film screened at the India International Film Festival (IFFI) in Goa. 

Devakatta discusses his Goa experience, the Hindi remake of Prasthanam, his next project, relocating to Hyderabad and more in an exclusive chat with
Radhika Rajamani. 

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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'I never expected Prasthanam would get this kind of attention'

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It must have been satisfying to see Prasthanam selected for IFFI

I never expected that Prasthanam would get this kind of attention at the national and international level. I had to be honest with my story telling. It was an uplifting and humbling experience. Maintaining the core character as filmmaker is what is important besides the honesty and sincerity. I didn't realise the responsibility on me while making the film.

How many times was Prasthanam screened at IFFI?

There were two screenings planned originally. But later we heard there were five screenings. The cast and I attended the first one on November 27 After the screening, there was a brief question and answer session. The questions were interesting; most of them were related to my background - how a mechanical engineer made a film like Prasthanam

How did you feel after reaching this milestone?

I was very excited. I knew this had to stand at the national level. But it was unexpected to see the film chosen for IFFI and I was surprised.

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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'Sharwanand is an artist by soul'

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How did the idea of Prasthanam come up?

All stories, be it Vennela, Prasthanam or any other, start with a fight, a question, a compulsion to express something. In Vennela, I chose a friend's love story and used a canvas I was familiar with (the US) and added life to it.

Hamlet (Laurence Olivier's version) was a triggering point for Prasthanam. After watching epic films like Godfather, Apocalypse Now and Citizen Kane, I started travelling. Started to think how misconceived heroism is in a person. I took the basic plot element about the kingdom from Hamlet though I am not a fan of tragedy, and built it up with what I believed in.

On the one hand it seems to be a political film, on the other an emotional drama about relationships. How did you build this?

By being honest with the characters It should be like you are travelling with them. That is how I saw Mithra (Sharwanand) Integrity was the key element of the hero. I defined the elements of each character and one could see the density. The supporting characters are not there just for the scenes; I thought of their backgrounds and extensions and then logically wrote them.

Sharwanand has been in both the films you directed

Yes. He's an artist by soul, mind and sensibilities. He is pure and extremely honest and a fantastic human being.

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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'Shooting Prasthanam was fun'

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How much of shooting Prasthanam was fun and how much of it was tough?

It was fun while shooting. The pains started after shoot. Post-production issues delayed things.

How did Shamdut become the director of photgraphy?

Sham coming on board was the best thing to have happened to Prasthanam. We had a DOP from Mumbai initially and due to differences of opinion, we had to part ways. Chandu Yeleti recommended Sham, but he was hesitant to do a Telugu film. However, he was blown away by the script. Sham has a reasonable, sensible and uncontaminated vision. He is a DOP for life unless he discards me (laughs).

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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Prasthanam in Hindi and Tamil

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Is Prasthanam being made in Hindi?

Yes, Mahesh Manjrekar is doing it.

Are you involved with the Hindi remake in any way?

I have given all the rights and the screenplay. I have also given some suggestions. Mahesh is more experienced. I don't know where it stands now.

Is it being remade in any other languages?

Prakash Raj bought the rights for Tamil and 'Dil' Raju is the executive producer. It may be made with a separate cast.

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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'In Telugu cinema, everybody makes films from Korean and Japanese DVDs'

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Why are we seeing mostly run-of-the-mill stories in Telugu cinema?

In Telugu the quality of literature has gone down in the last 30 years. The last writer who I found irresistible was Yendamuri Veerendranath. There is nobody like that now. In languages like Tamil and Malayalam there are even debates now regarding the language. When there is disconnect with literature, the story won't be there.

In Telugu, everybody makes films from Korean and Japanese DVDs. There is no organic method of filmmaking - from an idea to a short story to a screenplay; therefore, (we have) fallen into potpourri culture People choose a hero and then weave a story when they should be doing the reverse.

Quality answers things. Few films may be there, but we must breed an audience. If we have enough creators, we can see a change.

Were you always a writer? How did you get interested in films?

I was interested in writing from class VIII and used to put some thoughts down on paper, but I was not a successful writer. I was a bright student and a sincere engineer. I had plenty of time in the US, so I did a job and took classes in films. With a Panasonic Mini DV I did a docu feature. I was excited about the content... I realised this could grow into a profession. Friends encouraged me.

With the help of 32 investors, I made Vennela. Then I had to carry on with the job as my wife (who was pursuing dentistry) had to complete her education. I am now relocating to India (Hyderabad) and turning to full-fledged filmmaking.


Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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'The real journey starts now'

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First you made a love story (Vennela), then a film with a political backdrop (Prasthanam). What next?

I am making my third film, which is set in Bezwada (Vijayawada) of the 1980s-90s. That was the time when the trade unions were controlling things, lot of transport stuff was happening. It is an exciting canvas and fresh. The script is over and pre-production is on. The film is about how a value-based person struggles for upward mobility.

How has your prasthanam (journey) as a filmmaker been?

I just crawled in. The real journey starts now.

Image: A scene from Prasthanam

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