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Exclusive! Director Pavan Sadineni: Senapathi is my attempt to cater to the tastes of a new film-watching generation

Senapathi, the director's next release on aha, stars Rajendra Prasad and Naresh Agastya in the lead roles 

Srivathsan Nadadhur
Dec 30, 2021
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Pavan Sadineni

Director Pavan Sadineni needs no introduction in the digital space, but his next release, a web original film Senapathi on aha, is coming five years after he directed Savithri, a theatrical release. He has dabbled with a lot of digital projects during this phase, from pill-A to Ee Office Lo to Commitmental, but even he would agree with the fact that Senapathi is his biggest test to date. 

Marking the digital debut of Rajendra Prasad, Senapathi is a see-saw between a cop and a host of characters revolving around a lost service pistol. Pavan is venturing into hard-core drama for the first time in his career, a shift that he's quite happy about. He tells us that Senapathi almost feels like his debut, catering to a new generation of audiences. All that and more in this exclusive chat with OTTplay.com

The idea to name your two most pivotal characters in Senapathi after the same name, Krishna - how did that set in?

I felt they were similar people, the cop and the criminal, be it the characters or their arcs or the interpersonal relationships. It was about two similar people choosing two different paths. Your life changes its course depending upon the path you choose. What if two people are affected by a similar problem? How differently do they react to it? The journeys of both the characters have many parallels. I thought with all the similarities, why can't they have the same name?

After noticing the reception for the oggu katha in the trailer, were you tempted to include it in the film as well?

Unfortunately, there are no songs in the film at all. Even if we had ideas to incorporate it into the narrative, there's hardly any space where it can fit in. The entire oggu katha idea was born out of our interest to depict the mythological parallels within the script. An earlier draft of our script had those dialogues and references but we feared they would go unnoticed by audiences. We removed that layer in the script completely and felt that the trailer was possibly the best avenue to showcase them through the oggu katha tradition quite unique to Telangana.

Your earlier project, Commitmental, was shot amid tense circumstances, right from the schedules to the COVID-19 situation. Were you able to plan things better with Senapathi?

A lot of time, nearly five months, went into the pre-production of Senapathi, where we took care of every detail that was to be portrayed visually. From the way the characters look to their costumes and locations to the shot break-downs with the cinematographer, we were very clear about what we wanted for the film. The shoot was so methodical and went as per plan this time.

In an earlier interview, you had called Senapathi a 'semi-remake' of the Tamil film 8 Thottakal...

I would call this an adaptation more than a remake. We've approached it like a new film altogether, even the director of the original film (Sri Ganesh) had felt so while he watched the trailer. I interacted with Sri Ganesh at length, be it the story or the aspects which he felt could've been improvised. His inputs helped the film big time. Not everything that we write necessarily translates onto the big screen and I wanted to understand it from his perspective, utilise it as a second chance to tell the story. We just borrowed the ambience of 8 Thottakal and enriched it with new characters. 

Was it a little irritating to be branded a relationship-drama specialist?

As an audience, I like watching films of all genres. Right from my first film, I was somehow confident that people can't bracket me under a particular category. It took me time to realise that it's tough to move out of an image that some of your films can create. Luckily for me, I am returning after a long break and it has helped me break the shackles to try something new. My last film had released almost five years ago and Commitmental only reached out to a certain section of the audience. The film-watching generation has changed and Senapathi is my attempt to cater to the sensibilities of a different viewer base.

Did anyone express their apprehensions about your ability to direct big, mainstream actors like Rajendra Prasad?

There was no worry about the execution aspect. With big actors, the issue comes in when a lot of people have too many things to say about their quirks, eccentricities that mess up with your head. One can't judge someone or come to a conclusion about them without even meeting them. Even if people told me that Rajendra Prasad (garu) was full of pride, I thought it was quite alright for someone of his talent and stature to be that way. I approached him cautiously but the kind of warmth and reception I got from him was something else. He treated me like one among his kin and kith. He has a lot of passion for cinema and I'm sure Senapathi will open many doors for writers to cast him in a variety of roles. When we have an Amitabh Bachchan for Bollywood, a Robert De Niro for Hollywood, why can't we exploit the strengths of Rajendra Prasad too? 

A lot of people who associate with you tell me that your editing knowledge gives you an edge over your counterparts...

We evolve as filmmakers with time. When I was doing Prema Ishq Kaadhal, my worry was about beautifying the frames, checking if the actors were telling their lines well and getting the tone of their performances right. With Savithri, I committed a lot of blunders, from the script to the planning and the final result, and it pushed me into limbo. Coming out of that phase and pulling off Senapathi was very difficult. I realised it was important to have a clear picture of the film before getting into the shoot. I edited many aspects of the story during the scripting stage. 

I went to a lot of editing workshops just to be more aware of the technical side of the filmmaking process. I didn't want to waste time on the sets and communicate clearly with the actors. Most of what I shoot makes it into the film. I explain the film's gist to my music director and imagine the script directly with the background score. It's all about clarity.

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