I cast 40 visually impaired children because the story is about them
Filmmaker and producer Ayodhyakumar Krishnamsetty’s Telegu film Minugurulu is selected as a contender for the 87th Oscars and is among 323 other films that are competing for the prestigious award this year. Ayodhyakumar speaks to Pandolin about his film.
How was it to work with 40 visually impaired children?
I think it was the first time that something like this was tried in India. The reason I cast them was because it was their story after all. The story is about the state of visually impaired children staying in hostels and schools in India. It is about their obstacles, daily problems and day-to-day life in the hostels or schools. And the plot is about how they overcome it themselves. The moment we mention visually impaired everybody expects it to be melodrama, especially in our country. But Minugurulu is attempted like an international film such as Slumdog Millionaire. That’s the reason I didn’t want to cast normal people and make them act visually impaired. I went to each and every blind school in Andhra Pradesh and auditioned them. I got 40 members from all the schools and had to rehearse some scenes. There were times when we had shortlisted someone and eventually they would say that their parent’s didn’t agree to feature in the film. We had to then go through the process once again. Summing it up the film is primarily based on the life of 40 visually impaired children in an orphanage run by a corrupt warden, the obstacles and challenges they face and the way they overcome the challenges thereby gaining their rights back.
What drew you towards making a film on them?
While I was initially writing in 2010, it was not about the visually impaired. I was more interested in state education. While I was doing my research on state education, I happened to visit some blind schools and a few things struck me; especially how they are taken for granted. Then I thought that it is important to address it immediately and that’s how I wrote the script. This movie mirrors their day-to-day life. I did extensive research on the lives of the visually impaired and that resulted in the creation of this film. .
This movie can be an eye-opener to other visually impaired people as well as the society. We need to realize that they don’t need our sympathy instead all they want from us is an opportunity to prove themselves. This movie makes an attempt to convey this message to society.
How did you go about rehearsing and making them understand how to act? What was your brief to them?
I don’t do workshops usually. During auditions I take best actors. Even the main actors that are part of the film like Ashish Vidhyarthi and Raghuvir Yadav are among the best actors in India. So once you select good actors, you don’t need to train them or give directions. I’d gone to film school – Northwest Film Centre in Portland, Oregon followed by working in a TV Channel and later directed couple of films in USA. We usually don’t train actors over there. We give direction and try to get the best out of them. That’s what I did with the kids as well.
You are also the producer of the film and though an interesting idea, it was also a bit risky. Was it a deliberate choice to fund the film yourself?
I really didn’t approach anyone because I know that here nobody wants to produce such films. After approaching one or two producers I realized that I’m just wasting my time. Initially I thought that the budget would be one crore but eventually it doubled and went on to two crores. I was actually planning to make it bilingual – in Hindi and Telugu. That’s why I cast Ashish Vidhyarthi and Raghuvir Yadav. Ashish is a known name in Telugu films and this would be Raghuvir’s Telugu debut. But due to financial constraints I couldn’t make it in Hindi and ended up making it only in Telugu. Producing a film was absolutely new for me as I’ve largely been writing and directing. But now I want to get into production as well.
Did you work towards getting into the Oscar race?
Not really! This is just a subject matter and the way we made it was according to international standards.
Tell us a bit about the brief that you gave to the various Heads of Departments who worked on the film?
That was also done very differently. I hired experts for every department. For example, for the sound design I was not satisfied with people from Hyderabad. So I came to Mumbai and recorded all the sound in Resul Pookutty’s studio. Amrit Pritam, who got the National award for Omkara is my sound designer. The two cinematographers are from Portland and are friends from when I was working in Hollywood. Even the production designer is from Hollywood. Vivek Phillip who did the score for films like Bas Ek Pal, My Brother Nikhil did the background score for us. My art director is from Chennai and has worked on some great films. So we had an ensemble cast and crew from different parts of the world and everybody agreed because of the subject.
Where did you shoot and what did you shoot on?
We used cameras like 5D, Sony F5 or F3, Go Pro. The cinematographers brought a 16 ft crane from the US. But the production lighting was from here. The movie is shot in Vishakhapatnam, which is also my hometown. We have shot at a lot of beautiful cities of Andhra and the rest of the shooting happened in Hyderabad. The main location is the hostel which is an abandoned government guest house near the river bank. We took permission to shoot there and the art director and production designer enhanced it like a real hostel.
The story revolves around the kids who are stuck in a hostel. So I wanted an isolated location that is surrounded by nature.I didn’t want any colors inside but the greenery outside signifies hope.
We scouted a lot for this location as I initially wanted a place near the ocean. But ultimately we had to settle for a place near a river bank. My production designer and art director worked for almost six months to build my set.
-Transcribed by Navleen Kaur Lakhi