Testing the sensibilities with LBW!
Praveen Sattaru is an IBM consultant from the US who made his first Telugu feature film LBW (Life before Wedding). He has not just scripted and directed the film, but also produced it, and is now fighting to get a multiplex release.
Ironically, despite being a multiplex film, LBW did not get released in multiplexes. Praveen talks about the hurdles he has faced, the hard work he has put into this film, and the happiness at the critics response to LBW. Excerpts:
Congratulations on making a good film. How do you feel about getting a good rating from critics?
It's gratifying. The ratings and reviews were bang on. I am happy. I had to make compromises as it was a small budget film. I was a first timer who had no contacts in the industry.
Image: Abhijeet in LBW (Life before Wedding). Inset: Director Praveen Sattaru
'I was let down by the distributor'
Ironically LBW is a multiplex film but it did not release in the multiplexes. Are you disheartened?
I am not disheartened. I am positive. I want to take this movie to the other audience. Apparently more time and effort was spent in the making of the film and not in planning the release. I was let down by the distributor. I showed it to big distributors and big houses, who couldn't judge the film. There was no honest film in this genre. When I asked them if they liked it, they said they did but also spoke about its lack of the commercial element.
We spent money on promotions (about Rs 30 lakhs) -- hoardings, live shows on television etc. I think people thought LBW is an English, Hindi film or an adult film. The film had a good title and poster design but it didn't connect with the Telugu audience. Not being able to get the multiplexes dampened the film. It's challenging to make a limping horse win.
Will the film get a release in multiplexes now?
We are getting an 8 pm slot from Friday onwards at Prasad's multiplex. I am trying to get it into others.
Image: Chinmayi Ghatrazu
'There's no hero or villain in LBW'
What inspired you to make LBW?
The idea for making it triggered from watching a series of dumb and nonsense films. I have been living in the United States for 10 years. When you live abroad, you love your country (homeland) and your language even more. When we friends (all nationalities and languages) gathered, the common topic was films. When it came to Telugu, I reaIised the need for sensible films even though I love masala films.
Why is it hard to write a sensible story? You can have commercial elements and a sensible story. I asked myself, do I have the goods to write a story, and then I got down to it. I wrote three scripts, and LBW is one of them. As a first time director, I needed to know my strengths and weaknesses, and pick a story that is contemporary and easy to work.
I am a realistic person and believe in realism. I am a big fan of Woody Allen. His films have strong characterisation and the conversations are engaging. You connect to them. I wanted to test if the audience sensibilities are left still from films like Shankarabharanam, Swathimuthyam and Sruthilayalu.
Why did you focus on relationships?
Both these stories happened to two of my friends. The Indian story happened 10 years ago, while the US one was about five years ago. I heard their versions from my friends (Radhika and Jai from LBW). Since I witnessed what they went through, I put it in my perspective. I had never met the others. There's no hero or villain in the film; it's circumstances which make you hero or villain.
'I wanted to finish the film in Rs 99 lakhs but the delay raised the costs by a crore'
Did you deliberately go in for new faces?
Yes, it was a deliberate choice. I wanted the liberty to explore/exploit them. Everybody has a personality, body language. As the film is character driven, I wanted the actors to become the characters. So I went through a rigorous auditioning process. After the selection, we had workshops. Slowly the actors became the characters I wanted.
How long did you take to write the script?
On a vacation to India, I was asking my cousins whether they would see a film with two stories and a a particular climax. They said, yes so I went back. On another flight to India, I wrote 70 per cent of the story on my laptop. I left it for a week and then revisited it and made changes. Again I left it for a week and then picked it up and revised it. I gave it to my friends for their views and feedback. I took whatever was apt and incorporated it and registered the script.
How long did it take you to shoot the film?
The US shoot took 18 days, while the one in Hyderabad took 15 days. The post-production delayed the release.
How did you ensure to make the film within a budget of Rs 2.2 crore?
I wanted to finish the film in Rs 99 lakhs but the delay raised the costs by a crore. It was a learning experience.
Was the film produced by you and the family?
It was produced by me, family and friends.
'I am on a year-long sabbatical from IBM to make the film'
Do you think that new filmmakers like Sekhar Kammula, I Mohankrishna, Devakatta, etc bring about the much-needed change in Telugu cinema?
Out of the 4-5 releases in the last two weeks (Gaganam, KSD Appalraju, Erra Gulabilu, LBW), most are genre-based films and not run-of-the-mill. They were shot digitally. Change is bound to happen and will happen. I love Mohankrishna and Devakatta's films. I want to make films that I can proudly tell somebody to go and watch. Digital filmmaking is easier for new filmmakers to test the waters. I urge filmmakers not to knock on the doors of producers but to make a film in whatever money they have.
Would you want to make more films?
I have five scripts. I am a practical person. I am a family man with two kids. If people and producers think I can make a film, I will do it. Or I can go back to my job at IBM where I am a SAP consultant. I am on a year-long sabbatical to make the film. I am supposed to join the job on March 1.