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Exclusive! Meet Pratheek Shetty, the hidden creative force behind Kantara and Gandhada Gudi

The young editor/cinematographer has been part of three of the most talked-about films of the year and in this exclusive chat with OTTplay, he talks about his approach to each of those projects, the idea of embracing nativity, and much more

Exclusive! Meet Pratheek Shetty, the hidden creative force behind Kantara and Gandhada Gudi
Pratheek Shetty has had a breakthrough 2022 as an artist
  • Swaroop Kodur

Last Updated: 04.49 AM, Nov 07, 2022

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If you were to pull out the cast and crew records of some of the most popular Kannada films of this year, you are likely to find the name Pratheek Shetty crop up at least a couple of times. Be it Kantara, 777 Charlie, or Gandhada Gudi, 28-year-old Pratheek Shetty has been an instrumental creative force behind three of 2022's best films and to prove that he is one of the more discerning talents on the horizon, his filmography boasts of films of a varied kind. Pratheek has been able to make his mark as both a cinematographer and an editor in Kannada Cinema and in a wide-ranging conversation with OTTplay, he talks about his distinct approach to both crafts.

"When it comes to cinematography, I enjoy working on travel-based films so that I can visually explore new territories. As an editor, though, I prefer to be part of some kind of story-telling," says Pratheek Shetty in all modesty. Interestingly, both his vocations have yielded superb results with his work on Gandhada Gudi as the Director of Photography drawing high praise from everywhere and his skilful building of the narrative as the editor of Kantara lending a unique edge to the film. On Gandhada Gudi, especially, Pratheek had one of the most important roles to play as he took care not only of the entire visual scope of the film but also the logistics of production with the help of a very small crew.

"It was only a bunch of us behind the camera and we had decided on shooting the entire film in natural light. So that meant waking up at 2 a.m. and prepping for the day to come but the catch was to be ready for crucial moments like the golden hour and the twilight and for this, sometimes we have to trek long distances to reach the spot in time. Since nothing is scripted beforehand, and considering that we were dealing with a lot of wildlife in Gandhada Gudi, one couldn't expect what was to come our way. My camera team and I would park ourselves in these different forests and terrains a week before the shoot and understand the places through the flora and fauna and gather as much B-Roll footage as possible. And once Appu sir and Amogh joined us, the task was to place them in the same setting and capture their explorations as realistically as possible (the film is made with sync sound). It's a tricky ask, sure, but to be honest, having someone like Appu sir lead the way through his enthusiasm was a major boost and we were all able to push ourselves," shares Pratheek Shetty.

"More like a road trip, less like work"

And speaking of Appu or Puneeth Rajkumar, Gandhada Gudi also lent Pratheek Shetty the opportunity to work closely with his teen idol and the whole experience of spending many rivetting hours with the late superstar means the world to him today. "Watching his movies as a kid is what made me want to become a dancer one day!" says the Kundapura boy, revealing another of his passions inadvertently. 

"And coming from a place like that to eventually point the camera at him means that something has come full circle for me. I was worried in the beginning, won't lie, and even had some jitters the day before I was going meet him for the first time but his aura and energy are such that they sweep over everyone. There is no starry air about him and he had voluntarily built rapport with each person on the crew. It was a gamble, of sorts, for him because we were all initially experimenting with the form to see where it takes us and whether, or not, a film emerges out of it. And yet, knowing that nothing may come out of it, after all, Appu sir gave it his all and perhaps that's why Gandhada Gudi, the film, is what it is today. For me, personally, the whole experience was almost like a long road trip because the vibe was such: once we were done shooting in the mornings till about 9 or 10 a.m., we had the next 6-7 hours to ourselves so some of us would jump into the water for a swim, the others would relax, and stuff. I will always cherish the memory of travelling with Appu sir during the making," he adds.

Pratheek Shetty in the thick of it
Pratheek Shetty in the thick of it

Through Gandhada Gudi, the entire team led by filmmaker and wildlife conservationist Amoghavarsha was able to traverse the rich natural heritage of Karnataka and present it in a rather striking manner for the new-age audiences. It was also an explorative journey for Puneeth Rajkumar himself who, as seen in the film, encounters myriad emotions within and manages to shed his superstar image with very little coaxing and effort. One such tender moment occurs when he takes Amoghavarsha to his ancestral home in the village of Gajanur and recounts some of his growing-up tales which also include his late father and the matinee idol, Dr. Rajkumar. "Visiting the place where Dr. Rajkumar's journey began and soaking up its legacy and charm was truly inspiring to all of us. And the fact that we had Appu sir showing us around only added to the excitement," says Pratheek who has also served as one of the editors of Gandhada Gudi.

The State of Trance

If Gandhada Gudi saw Pratheek Shetty make the hard yards as the director of photography, Rishab Shetty's latest blockbuster had him employ his wits behind the action as an editor. Kantara is Pratheek's only fourth major feature project in the capacity of an editor (after Sarkari Hiriya Prathamika Shaale Kasargodu, Hero, and 777 Charlie) but it is apparent already that he has a decisive grasp of the energy that a film carries. And hailing from the heart of the Tuluvanadu, working on Kantara meant a great deal for him because it provided him with an opportunity to highlight his culture and present it to a global audience.

"Growing up in and around Mangaluru, my parents would take to witness Daiva Bhootha Kola every single year and I am aware of the alluring energy it carries. So, when I got access to the Kantara footage, all I wanted to make sure was that the audience felt the same vibe and energy that I did as a kid. If they could experience the inherent divinity of those sequences, my job was done there."

And unlike most other projects, editing Kantara was a one-of-a-kind gig for Pratheek. He uses the term 'trance' to describe what he experienced during the task, stating that he was unwilling to break the spell that the visuals had cast on him.

"I was in awe of what Rishab sir had pulled off in the film. And while editing those climax portions, sometimes I found myself completely mesmerized by his performance. It was a trance-like state, to be honest. I sat on the edit for 15-20 days at a stretch and it was like clockwork for me - I would step away from the task for say 3-4 hours a day but I had the constant urge to get back to it and be part of that world. Since I share a really good rapport with Rishab sir, we were able to keep things fun and engaging throughout, feeding off one another's energy. He also gave me the freedom to bring out the authenticity of the cultural elements in the film because I have grown up amid them. When your director allows you to operate with such liberty, you do end up giving your best" he says.

But did Pratheek know all along that Kantara would become a magnum success? "Well, we all knew that we are working on something special here. As I said, be it the folklore we are exploring or Rishab sir's performance, the film had a unique charm to it throughout. But I do believe that once a film is released in cinema halls, then its fate is really out of your hands. I am guessing the audience was able to connect with it on some superior level that Kantara is such a big success today," adds Pratheek Shetty.

As of today (November 6), Kantara has grossed more than Rs. 330 crores globally with the Hindi version, in particular, still going great guns in theatres.

Pratheek Shetty, following a rather gruelling-but-rewarding stint at work, plans on taking a short break before resuming his duties. He looks forward to a line-up of exciting projects, including Rakshit Shetty's much-anticipated Richard Anthony on which he will be serving as the editor.