Nagesh Banell on Telugu horror movie ‘Masooda’: Every horror need not be dark and brooding

Cinematographer Nagesh Banell discusses the visual palette of the recent Telugu horror movie ‘Masooda’

November 30, 2022 04:31 pm | Updated December 01, 2022 05:08 pm IST

Thiruveer and Sangitha in Telugu horror movie ‘Masooda’.

Thiruveer and Sangitha in Telugu horror movie ‘Masooda’. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nagesh Banell, cinematographer of the recent Telugu horror drama Masooda, recalls the after-effects of watching Darren Aranofsky’s psychological drama Requiem for a Dream. “I watched it during the day, at home, and soon after I stepped out to the balcony to take in some sunlight,” he says while explaining how the screenplay, the characters and the moody setting made it a disturbing watch. He mentions this while explaining how he wanted Masooda’s visual palette to stand out. He, debut director Sai Kiran and producer Rahul Yadav wanted to dispel the notion that horror dramas are best filmed during the dark and instead, used the daytime setting to gradually build fear.

Slow-burn horror drama

It has been more than a week since Masooda hit theatres and word-of-mouth publicity has worked to the advantage of the slow-burn horror drama. Nagesh picks the 1980s Telugu horror movieKashmora as one of his favourites. However, he did not revisit any of his favourite horror movies, in Telugu as well as in other languages, while working on Masooda, to avoid any influences.

Director Sai Kiran and cinematographer Nagesh Banell during the making of ‘Masooda’

Director Sai Kiran and cinematographer Nagesh Banell during the making of ‘Masooda’

“Nine out of 10 horror films are shot in a particular style. Occasionally a film like It (a 2017 American supernatural horror film) comes with a distinctive style. We wanted Masooda to look midway between a regular Telugu drama and a dark, moody horror film. I spent more than two and a half months working on the digital intermediate during post-production to get the desired visual textures,” says Nagesh.

In the initial portions, the colour palette remains muted barring occasional bursts of red — cardigans worn by actors Sangitha, Bandhavi or the colour of a refrigerator door — to hint at the subsequent gory turn of events. Nagesh says it was intentional.

Nagesh, the director and the production design team worked out the finer details during pre-production. “During our first meeting, Sai Kiran gave me the script that had a detailed plan for the opening sequence that happens in the sugarcane fields, which establishes the mood of fear. This was the first sequence we filmed. I got to work with a team that was driven by a passion for filmmaking and that helped in the quality of the output.”

Keep it natural

When Nagesh entered the industry more than a decade ago, he looked up the work of cinematographer-directors Balu Mahendra and P C Sreeram to understand how they used natural and additional lighting. “In the 1980s, there was the tendency to use hot artificial light sources; it would overpower the frames. When I worked as an assistant cinematographer, I would listen to my seniors discussing how, back then, Balu Mahendra sir used ambient and additional lights to arrive at a natural look. His Nireekshana (1986) is my favourite. I also liked how V. S. R. Swami made the frames stand out even in mainstream mass movies like Samarasimha Reddy.”

Thiruveer and Subhalekha Sudhakar in ‘Masooda’

Thiruveer and Subhalekha Sudhakar in ‘Masooda’

Reverting to Masooda, he says it was a case of different aspects of filmmaking coming together into a cohesive whole. In the later portions, when the story of the character Masooda is revealed, Nagesh wanted a gradual transition from a happy family in the village to gloomy and moody lighting. Masooda is depicted as evil and the story does not make excuses for her behaviour. When Thiruveer and Sangitha’s characters are desperately taking up remedial measures in the forest, the events unfold on a moonlit night. Nagesh says he tried to make the lighting appear as natural as possible. The sequences that happen in a dilapidated building, he reveals, were filmed in three locations, “We found an old building in Karimnagar and shot the exteriors; the corridor and the hall belong to other buildings. The shot divisions and lighting were planned such that the visuals appear seamless.” 

Similarly, the forest portions were filmed in different locations, including Maredumilli and the outskirts of Hyderabad, and made to appear like a single location. “We did not have permission to show the characters digging a huge pit for a crucial sequence, in the Maredumalli forest. So that portion was filmed at a farm in Hyderabad.”

Since the story unfolds between two timelines, piecing together the dark happenings of the past, Nagesh used different cameras and lenses to distinguish the periods — a RED digital for the present and an older ARRI for the past. He also kept the camera movements unhurried.

Kurnool to Hyderabad

Before Masooda, Nagesh Banell’s most significant work was director Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu. He also collaborated with the director for his popular short film Sainma. A few other projects such as Jayammu Nischayammu Raa, Anubhavinchu Raja and the recent web series Aha Naa Pellanta followed. “I also filmed nearly 50% of Arjun Reddy and then parted ways due to creative differences,” he adds.

Ritu Varma in ‘Pelli Choopulu’.

Ritu Varma in ‘Pelli Choopulu’. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Nagesh hails from Kurnool and watched his father, a farmer, have the knack of fixing any machine that gave trouble. “Maybe that is why I took to electronics and machines easily.” He studied rural engineering and moved to Hyderabad with the help of his older brother who worked as an associate director for a few films.

Nagesh did not attend film school but an opportunity to work in Rana Daggubati’s post-production studio Spirit Media became his learning ground. As a core team member, he learned the basics of editing and colour gradation. “The knowledge I gained at Spirit Media helped me in the initial days.”

Next, a Hindi remake of Masooda is on the cards and Nagesh is in talks for a few more films. “I feel more responsible after Masooda and want to take up only interesting projects.”

Top News Today


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.