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Exclusive! Director Sharan Koppisetty: Gaalivaana is a gripping show with strong performances backed by technical brilliance

The Thimmarusu filmmaker shares what went behind ZEE5's Gaalivaana and the challenge of adapting BBC's UK show One of Us for a Telugu audience

  • Srivathsan Nadadhur

Last Updated: 01.12 PM, Apr 13, 2022

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Exclusive! Director Sharan Koppisetty: Gaalivaana is a gripping show with strong performances backed by technical brilliance
Sharan Koppisetty

It's not every day that a filmmaker manages to bag a plum project to be made on a good budget with a reputed banner for his very first film. Sharan Koppisetty had that initial luxury with his debut, Kirrak Party, the Telugu remake of the Kannada musical Kirrik Party, headlined by Nikhil Siddhartha, Simran Pareenja and Samyuktha Hegde. The good word of mouth surrounding the film didn't translate into box-office collections. 

Before someone could write off Sharan, he made a mark with his OTT debut The Grill for Viu, a campus comedy and followed it up with another commercial success, Thimmarusu with Satyadev Kancharana. Now, he returns to his home base, the digital medium, for ZEE5's Gaalivaana, the Telugu adaptation of the European show One of Us, starring heavyweights like Radhika Sarathkumar, Sai Kumar in addition to promising talents like Nandini Rai, Chandini Chowdary and Chaitanya Krishna. The director, in a chat with OTTplay.com, talks about Gaalivaana and taking charge of his career after a jerky start.

The 'Kirrak' debut and handling the initial setback

 also didn't foresee the failure of Kirrak Party. I genuinely believed it was a good film. It was released at the wrong time around early March, during the exam season and there was little chance that the target audience, students, would watch it. We received reasonably favourable reviews and the opening collections were quite decent for the first two days. Yet, later, the result of the film didn't work in our favour. Being a first-time director, I didn't know how to handle the result. I was confused and thought of distancing myself from work for a month at least. 

The accidental entry into the OTT bandwagon with The Grill

I ended up taking a six-month break after my first film. This phase coincided with the evolution of the OTT space in India. When producer Sharrath Marar asked me to direct a web show, I thought it would be a good opportunity before I go on to bag another feature film. I had great fun working on The Grill (for Viu) with the cast and crew and the show came out well. A lot of my college experiences came in handy for The Grill. Some of those sequences were to be a part of Kirrak Party too but couldn't make it into the film. 

There was a lot of time for good humour in The Grill, unlike feature films that go by a particular formula and conventions. The web-show format gives us the scope to explore a wide variety of emotions. The show couldn't get its due because the OTT medium was still in its nascent stages and later Viu shut its operations within India. Even during the lockdown, I and my team felt that it would've struck a chord with audiences if it were on the right platform. 

Moving onto Thimmarusu and returning to the digital space

I took the response to The Grill in my stride and began working on other scripts, after which I got the opportunity to make Thimmarusu. The film performed decently at the box office and I received a lot of compliments for its making. I had committed to another film with Satyadev immediately (Full Bottle) and we had a three-four month gap before he could wrap up his prior commitments. 

Yet again, Sharrath Marar (garu) came with another chance to work on a web series during the four-month gap and they gave me a readied script to execute. I managed to shoot the web show within 46 working days in over four months. Gaalivaana was a potpourri of emotions and handling big actors like Radhika, Sai Kumar was going to be a challenge. Moreover, all my previous projects, The Grill, Thimmarusu and Kirrak Party were urban-centric and executing a show like Gaalivaana amidst a village backdrop was an exciting prospect. For a long time, we haven't watched village-based thrillers in Telugu, more so revolving around a joint family. Gaalivaana is an intriguing mix of family drama and thrills. 

The key to getting adaptations right - Kirrak Party, Thimmarusu and Gaalivaana

In the case of Kirrak Party and Thimmarusu, I watched the originals and came prepared with my own set of ideas to adapt them for a Telugu audience. With Gaalivaana, I didn't watch One of Us and came on board when the writing work was more or less finished. Web shows are a writer's medium and there are different teams for writing and direction. I made a few changes to the script and went ahead with the shoot. Being an adaptation of a British show, I know that the sentiments of both the target audiences would be different and I had to execute it accordingly.

The challenge of establishing an array of characters in Gaalivaana without losing out on the narrative grip

I had a similar worry while working on the show, the challenge of showcasing the crime and introducing the characters one after the other. That's the reason I alternated the killer episodes between the character introductions to create curiosity. I know it's the last half-an-hour of the first episode where the audiences are drawn into the show completely. Moreover, audiences give some time for web shows for characters to evolve.

On his association with Sharrath Marar

It's a coincidence that I keep working on a web show with him after every feature film. I and Sharrath Marar are extremely close and I treat Northstar Entertainment like my own banner. It works the other way round too and I get a lot of freehand in terms of creative choices. I don't listen to 'no' for an answer regardless of whatever I ask, both Sharrath Marar and his wife trust me well with their projects. I can share, and discuss anything and everything with them.

Why only Radhika Sarathkumar and Sai Kumar for Gaalivaana?

I remember watching Radhika garu's Palnati Pourusham (1994) back in my childhood and she had a very interesting character in it. When I came across the character of Saraswathi in Gaalivaana, I could see some similarities between both roles. I saw Saraswathi as an extension of her role in Palnati Pourusham. Radhika can blend in any kind of role; such is her personality. 

I am very aware of the lifestyle of landlords in the East Godavari region, their body language, the dialogue delivery, the sarcasm and the behaviour and felt Sai Kumar garu could pull off Komarraju's part. Luckily, it was the first web show in their careers. I was initially unsure if Sai Kumar and Radhika would give their nod. I gave them only a brief narration and the success of Thimmarusu came at the right time, convincing them to say yes quickly.

Finding the balance between family drama and thrills in Gaalivaana

I am not particularly fond of drama-overdose. We always know, as a viewer, when it's right to cut it short and get restless if the drama stretches beyond necessity. When you are aware of those limits, the job is done. In this show, there are a few crucial emotional sequences that had to shape up well for audiences to invest their time in the later episodes. I made sure the emotional foundation for it was strong enough.

The reason behind making the cop a woman, as opposed to the initial plan

When we were imagining that role as a male cop who had a child, I kept feeling that the mother-daughter relationship would be more compelling. Moreover, there are a lot of interrogation scenes in the show where the cop has to interact with the female characters (played by Chandini Chowdary, Ashrita Vemuganti and Radhika). I thought the drama would work out better when the female characters interact with the cop of their same gender and have an additional reason to open up to them.

If the Thimmarusu experience groomed him well to handle the thriller genre for Gaalivaana

The experience of handling a thriller like Thimmarusu was an added advantage before Gaalivaana. I am always fond of thrillers and that's the reason I had said yes to Thimmarusu too where I enjoyed keeping audiences hooked with different twists and turns. This show was a family thriller too and I couldn't have asked for anything more. Unlike The Grill, Gaalivaana is coming at a time when the OTT medium has come a long way and I hope audiences like it. Gaalivaana will be a gripping show with wonderful performances and is technically strong. We've been positive about it from day one and we're confident that our conviction will pay off.

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