The co-writer of hits like Waltair Veerayya, Jai Lava Kusa and the director of Gopichand's Pantham makes his OTT debut with ZEE5's web show Puli Meka
Last Updated: 03.18 PM, Feb 26, 2023
K Chakravarthy Reddy, the director of ZEE5’s Puli Meka, has worked at various levels in the industry. Besides directing a feature film (and now a web show), he’s been an apprentice, assistant director, screenwriter and has taken up several roles in a career spanning over 15 years. He has a practical understanding of how the industry functions and has moulded in each of his roles accordingly.
For someone with a good command over mainstream cinema sensibilities, Chakravarthy’s first web series presented a newer challenge - keeping audiences invested in an episodic format and more so, in a thriller, staying one step ahead of them. Moreover, he experimented with candid styles of filmmaking, extracting subdued, realistic performances from his cast.
Provided audiences get to the first episode, he tells us that they will complete binge-watching it at a stretch. He talks to OTTplay.com about his latest endeavour.
Life before foraying into the industry
I was always crazy about movies since childhood. There was an undeniable adrenaline rush whenever I watched a good film in a theatre. While I studied reasonably well, I had the desire to enter the industry though I was scared to take the big step. I went to the UK to finish my Masters and that’s when I made up my mind about turning a director and enrolled in a filmmaking course too. I finished my graduation and returned to India to work as an apprentice for Bommarillu.
Handling reality blues in the industry after studying in a film school
I faced many dilemmas when I entered the industry. I did every odd job on set, from carrying suitcases to sounding the clapboard to making edit reports and ensuring continuity. It wasn’t easy to cope with day-to-day realities. However, when you watch the rushes of your film in the edit room, the end product later and experience the love of audiences, you forget all the difficulties. Regardless of how much one studies, this is how the industry works; you need to adapt to its ways to survive.
On how the frequent collaborations with Kona Venkat materialised...
When I was working on Dil Raju’s Mr Perfect, I met Gopichand Malineni on the sets of the film, who said that his first film (Don Seenu) was set to go on floors. Having observed my sensibilities and understanding of scripts, he wanted me to assist him to write the script. Kona Venkat was a regular to the sets of Don Seenu and noticed me. We teamed up on Balupu, Power, Jai Lava Kusa and Waltair Veerayya (in different capacities).
Writing and direction - my only priorities
I was focused on making a career in writing and direction from day one. Though most of the directors I worked with, had asked me to do brief cameos in their films, I never ventured into acting. I was good at essay writing in my childhood and remember receiving praise, winning many prizes for writing across many topics. Most directors and producers appreciated my inputs on sets and it boosted my confidence to make it big here. I felt I was in the right direction.
What goes into writing a fan-pleasing commercial entertainer?
It’s always important to keep the star’s image in consideration while writing a script. What do the star’s fans expect from him and what are his strengths? What has he done in the past and what are we trying to do differently? Finding those answers and taking care of the basic ingredients - humour, emotions, drama, we develop the script.
The challenge of writing Waltair Veerayya presenting Chiranjeevi in a vintage avatar and offering something new to audiences
About Waltair Veerayya, we felt audiences were craving for Chiranjeevi in a vintage avatar. We sensed their need to watch Chiranjeevi in an avatar they grew up watching; we felt they were missing his mass entertainers. I was certainly one among them and I wanted to experience his 90s magic in a film again. When we were watching the Abbani Tiyyani glimpse from Waltair.. in the edit room, we wished it could’ve been a full-length song.
Handling the mixed reception for his directorial debut Pantham
Pantham, contrary to public belief, broke even in most areas and even registered profits in a few regions. The reviews were fairly decent and my producer was satisfied too. It’s a story that I wanted to tell and it’s relevant even today; I’ve come across reports that the Hyderabad blast victims are yet to receive ex gratia a decade after the incident. Whenever the election season commences, the court monologue from the film has gone viral. It was an honest attempt.
Retaining focus on the creative process amidst market pressures, overload of stats
When you start writing a film, it’s only the initial stages of production and somehow the finances don’t interfere with the creative process. The focus, as I’ve told before, is to understand the image of the actor and get the basics right. We take up multiple narrations, rework the script from time to time and see how a listener reacts to the changes. We’re somehow tuned to not let the monetary aspect tinker with our ideas. The intent is to do justice to the script and the star.
Tryst with candid filmmaking for ZEE5’s Puli Meka
Kona Venkat (garu) narrated this story during the lockdown and asked if I’d be interested to direct it. I read the bound script, took episode notes from him and did my homework on how would I present it for the web form. Given it was OTT, it provided an opportunity to try out a candid style of filmmaking that may not be workable for theatrical releases. If you notice the teaser, we placed a Go Pro on the dog’s head. We could afford to experiment.
The difficulty with getting audiences to watch your show on OTT, keeping them invested
I felt that if the promos were appealing, it would be enough to get them to watch the first episode. From there, I and Kona Venkat had to take care of keeping the audience glued to the screens. Just because it’s a web show, you can’t go on and on, in the garb of detailing. Audiences mustn’t get distracted.
As writer-director, we got that aspect that right. Audiences are way smarter today. While showing the rushes to the editor, he’s the first viewer and we attempted to stay ahead of his guessing game and outsmart him. I think we’ve managed that well with Puli Meka.
What makes his combo with Kona Venkat work?
I and Kona Venkat think alike and are in sync with each other’s thoughts. Whenever we discuss a story, we’re on the same page and can afford to wrap up our scripts quickly. There’s no ego and we respect our creative differences. The script-writing and the narrations happen without much delay. We are working together again now; I’d be co-writing a screenplay and directing scripts for a major studio.