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Interview Team : Sudharshan; Jeevakaran; Ameenuddin

Sudharshan Giridhar meets director Sathya Prabhas Pinisetty for an interview


 An enviable confidence, eloquence of Mark Antony, meticulous planning and a clear-cut conviction – that’s debutante director and a proud graduate of the prestigious American Film Institute, Sathya Prabhas Pinisetty. With his project, Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka coming out this week, Sudharshan Giridhar catches up with the director for an exciting interview. Excerpts:


The first Indian…

I studied in American Film institute (AFI), which is ranked NO 1 in the world, as far as film study is concerned. Like Medicine and Engineering is in our country, Film Studies is also considered a mainstream course in America.

Every year, during the week of Oscars, eight best students from the 200 and odd film schools in the country are picked based on their works and get invited to the Oscars. During the week, there’s also a session called the Students Oscar Luncheon, where the eight shortlisted students meet all the nominees of that year’s Academy Awards and are honoured with scholarships. I’m apparently the first Indian to have had the honour of being one of the eight students during my final year of college.

It is a big deal because the eight students are also nominated by the same panel that picks the nominees for Oscars. It is a huge moment for filmmaking students to get selected by the panel and rub shoulders with the who’s who of Hollywood. 


Say no without the others knowing it’s a no …

To be honest, when I got into AFI, I was hoping to learn so much. Turns out, you don't learn anything in film schools. But, what AFI does is give you a platform to try things out. Unlike the real industry, you always have another attempt in the institutes. You work with people from various backgrounds and streams.

There are six major disciplines in AFI and for every short film that you make, you get one fellow student from each department to work with you. Each student will be from different country and cultural backgrounds and they all come together to make a film that connects with each other. Each one would want to get their ideas incorporated in the film. The biggest learning I got at AFI is to collaborate with creative people and at the same time learn to say no without the others knowing it’s a no.  


Based on a true story…

I’ll give you a gist… If I tell you the whole incident, it’s as good as telling the story of Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka (YNK)…

During the New Year’s Eve, 2000, four of my friends went out to celebrate, when an incident happened. It blew out of proportions and it kind of changed their perspectives on life.

Following that incident, the four college students had to go into hiding. One flew away to Singapore for 20 days and he had to keep changing his location every three days to avoid being tracked. He was not allowed to call his friends or family.

Another guy went into the sea for two months and returned only after the incident died down. The third guy was a son of a Police Officer and was kept on house arrest. The last guy belonged to a Muslim league and was sent to Kizhakkarai.

The magnitude of the consequences that a bunch of third year students had to experience and what caused the whole issue inspired me to come up with YNK.

I had two options – either make a parallel cinema or a commercial film that will connect well with the audiences. When this incident struck me, I thought it had all the elements for a good commercial cinema.

The story also had a strong conflict. The better the conflict, stronger will be the Drama. By nature the story had all the commercial ingredients of right proportions. 

By nature the story of Yagavarayinum Naa Kaakka had all the commercial ingredients of right proportions


A veteran director, but a new producer

My dad’s hesitation wasn’t because of any doubts he had on my directing capabilities. He has directed more than 60 movies, but hasn’t produced many. His concern was if he could do justice to the film as a producer.  

Generally, it is extremely hard for a first time director to find a producer, who’d be ready to fund without making any major creative compromises. YNK has characters that belong to a very wide range of locales. We wanted producers who’d help me make all the locales look authentic and I had few other specific requirements to make the film I wanted.

Aadhi and I agreed on how this film has to look and Aadhi was convinced that if we wanted to make this film like the way we wanted, we must produce it ourselves. He explained it to dad and brought him aboard. 

Aadhi explained it to dad and brought him aboard


As it turns out…

Dad was pretty cool about it. Money wasn’t his concern. All we wanted was a good film for Aadhi, a proper launch pad for myself and our production house in Tamil.  And I can definitely say this is by far the best work of Aadhi. People who have seen the film feel it doesn’t look like the work of a first time director. Also, all our Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, karnataka and FMS rights have been sold.

As it turns out we have made the film we wanted to make and at the same time made good business prior the release too. 

All we wanted was a good film for Aadhi, a proper launch pad for myself and our production house in Tamil


The way I work…

To be honest, I’m not the kind of director who improvises on the sets. I’d probably need more experience and a different mindset to do that.

I like to invite my actors beforehand and involve them in the preproduction process. We first have a script reading session, where the actors do the reading without me explaining the script. I let them perceive the characters in their own way. By the time we reach the fourth session of script reading, they get into their characters completely. As the actors do this, I can see the scene coming to life. This practice produces a lot of new ideas and at the same time wouldn’t let us waste time and resources during the final shoot. 

I’m not the kind of director who improvises on the sets


I’d love to stick to my style…

I went with a bunch of newcomers for the lead roles so that I can incorporate my style of working. They had the time and intention for the project. Had I gone with Soori or Santhanam, it would have still been funny, but the element of freshness would be missing.

But as far as working with senior actors in the future, I would indeed love to follow my style, but I’d have to be flexible to the general practice too. Actors like Kamal Haasan and Nasser rehearse before going to the sets. These are actors who sleep walk through any characters. When they believe rehearsals are important, there must be a reason.

On the other hand, the scenario is different in our industry. It’s not easy to get the dates of actors. That considered, time for rehearsals seems a bit farfetched. 

Had I gone with Soori or Santhanam, it would have still been funny, but the element of freshness would be missing


“Why come all the way to take a NO?” 

First time I called Mithun Chakraborty to ask if he’d take the role, he straightaway said NO. Then I went all the way to Mumbai to meet him. He asked me why I had come all the way to take a no.

I asked 10 minutes of his time but he asked “why me?” I said I’ll tell him that after I narrate the script. I had sketches of the looks he’d carry in the film (the pencil sketches amazingly look exactly like Mithun Chakraborty) while narrating the script, but I didn’t show them to him until I was done with the story.

Once I was done, he said he was floored by the story and his character. He used the word ‘floating’ to express his feeling after listening to the script. “I’ve got enough money and I’ve won three National Awards. There should be something to motivate me to do a film,” he said, after agreeing to do the project.

He also felt that I had the capability to make it big in the industry. After calling me to say he doesn't want to do my project, he wouldn’t have to say such a thing unless he meant it. There’s no reason for him to sweet talk me.  

Mithun Chakraborty asked, "why me?”


Homework for Mithun Chakraborty

The best thing about Mithun Dha is that after agreeing to do the part, he gave me more dates to do the film the way I narrated it to him. He offered his complete support. Two days later, he called me and asked, “Sathya, give me some homework”. I asked him what he was looking for. He wanted to know what kind of a person Mudhaliyar was, how does he talk, does he have any specific body language, how does he sit, and what does he eat.

For an actor of his stature, he doesn’t have to do that. I’m not paying him half of what he is paid in Bollywood. But apart from signing a beginner, he is giving me more dates and he is asking for home works. What more can I ask for? It’s been an absolute pleasure.

On the last day of the shoot, I asked him what he was taking away from the project. He said that he came in with a lot of expectations and leaving with a lot of respect for me. 

I’m not paying Mithun Dha half of what he is paid in Bollywood


“I’m not giving that shot”

There’s one particular shot in the trailer where Mithun Dha plays with his ring. Before taking that shot we took a few close-ups of him. He then asked me what next and I said it was going to be a close up of his hand and his ring. “I’m not giving that shot”, he said. I asked him why and he said it was bad direction. I said, I want it. I also said that I’d show him the footages after editing and that if he still doesn’t find it good, I’d remove.

There was another beautiful shot in the film where he comes down the stairs delivering a very long dialogue. He had three pages of Tamil dialogues in that shot and he nailed it in one go.

We discussed the scene before going for the shoot and he said he was going to go with the flow, in terms of expressions. I said okay but I asked him one thing - to bend down to the ears of another person at one particular point and whisper the dialogue. He said, “I’m not going to do that. It doesn’t feel right”.  I said fine. It was the first take after all and I told him if I feel like taking that shot, I’ll ask him.

He was nailing every bit of that scene and I didn’t want another shot, but was hoping for him to go down during that part. And he did. After the shot, he walked out of the sets with tears welling up in his eyes. Everyone applauded; I followed him and hugged him.

That night he called my dad and recollected the incident. He had said that he was living the part and he went down during the dialogue without realizing it. He was apparently praising the way I asked him to perform specifically. 

Mithun Dha walked out of the sets with tears welling up in his eyes


My team:

Nikki Galrani – She’s infectious. As of today, she has got a couple of big projects in her hand and she is already 10 or 12 films old. When we met first, she was a newcomer. But she is the same girl. She is also very dedicated. For a non-Tamilian, she has dubbed for herself in the film beautifully.

Kumaresan (Dialogues writer) – The film you are going to watch is actually the 22nd draft (each book is the size of a Bhagavad Gita hardcover). I finish the first draft in Tanglish and give it to Kumaresan, who does the arduous job of writing everything in Tamil. Then we sit again and brainstorm until we arrive at the final version. I like working with him because, he has a way of saying black is black and white is white.

Shanmuga Sundaram (Cinematographer) – People have been appreciating the second trailer for its rich visuals; all credits to Shanmuga Sundaram. Being a fresher, I didn’t think of the limitations in terms of making the film much. Despite all that he’d give us his 100%.

Sabu Joseph (Editor) – His involvement is very inspiring. We used to have a lot of arguments and each argument has only made the film better.

Prasan, Praveen, Shyam (Composers) – The songs are topping the charts. But, wait for their background scores. I think it is one of the best works in the recent times.


I’m a beginner

Me being able to come to terms with the fact that I’m a beginner and that there’s so much to learn, is my biggest strength. In terms of genres, I really don't know what my strength is, but I’d like to believe I’m flexible. When I was in AFI, I used to explore a lot of genres. I did that to find my strengths and I found all genres convincing.

Scripting is the toughest part and it is instinctive. If one nails that part, technical aspects can always be mastered. I like to take up challenging topics. In fact, I have a script like Bahubali. Let’s see…


Wish you all the luck Mr. Sathya!

In fact, I have a script like Bahubali



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