Director Ajay Nag: ‘Aarambham’ is a drama that discusses prison break, mystery and déjà vu

First time director Ajay Nag opens up on the Telugu film ‘Aarambham’, an adaptation of the Kannada novel ‘Neenu Ninnolage Khaidi’

Published - May 09, 2024 11:21 am IST

Telugu movie ‘Aarambham’

Telugu movie ‘Aarambham’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Telugu film Aaramabham (Beginning), releasing in theatres on May 10, marks a new chapter for some of its team members. Directed by debutant Ajay Nag, an alumnus of Hyderabad-based Annapurna College of Film and Media (ACFM), it has onboard several alumni of the same film school, including Dev Gandhi Kundu (director of photography), Aditya Tiwari and Preetham Gayatri (editors) and CS Manicka Prabhu (sound designer) — chalking out their journey into the world of feature filmmaking.

The trailer of the 134-minute film caught attention on social media for its intriguing characters and storyline. An adaptation of the Kannada novel Neenu Ninnolage Khaidi (I am a prisoner like you) by Anush A Shetty, Aarambham has a few surprise elements for the audience, says Ajay Nag, who describes the film as a “drama” that discusses prison break, mystery and déjà vu.

“There is something beautiful at the core of the story that made me want to adapt the novel into a film,” he says, adding, “The audience tends to watch a debut director’s film with no predetermined notions and, I think, will be welcoming if presented with a narrative that surprises them.” The film stars Mohan Bhagath, Ravindra Vijay and Supritha Sathyanarayan.

Aarambham took shape in 2021 when the digital space seemed welcoming of new directors and concepts. With time, the business strategy of streaming platforms shifted towards primarily acquiring films that have had theatrical releases as opposed to direct digital releases. This threw new challenges to the crew of Aarambham but Ajay is confident that the indie film has what it takes to draw people to the theatres.

“When I began working on the film, I was clear that the narrative should not be complicated. The story has a few complexities but our narration is simple. Quite often, film students tend to make their first films complex and indulgent in their eagerness to showcase their skills. I tried to avoid that.”

Director Ajay Nag

Director Ajay Nag | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Audio-visual treat

Having discussed with author Anush, Ajay says the film stays true to the book to a large extent. “We have changed only 5% to 10%. We want the audience to sit back and experience the narrative. I am sure they will appreciate the cinematography. A lot of work has also gone into the sound design. If one were to listen to the story in an audio format with the dialogues and the sounds, it would engage them.” A good part of the music composed by Sinjith Yerramilli, Ajay explains, is used to push the narrative forward. 

The team completed filming in 30 days, cautious to work within the budget. Ajay says working with fellow film students helped ensure everyone stayed on the same page. “We had constraints that any indie filmmaking team would have had while working within a limited budget. Five or six of us would stay in a room and schedule who would get ready first to reach the sets, according to our workflow. But we had no disputes and things went on smoothly. We even played cricket.”

Ajay grew up in Mysuru, completed engineering and pursued postgraduate diploma in theatre studies in Hampi before joining ACFM. In addition to being fluent in Kannada, he can speak Telugu, Tamil and Hindi and is now keen to learn Malayalam. Asked whether he initially intended to make the film in Kannada, he says that though he hails from Karnataka, he had no contacts in the Kannada film industry, while on the other hand, has worked as a cinematographer in Telugu projects. 

Theatre studies and surprises

Ravindra Vijay and Abhishek Bodepalli as detectives in ‘Aarambham’

Ravindra Vijay and Abhishek Bodepalli as detectives in ‘Aarambham’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Theatre studies helped Ajay understand different crafts since students multitasked as actors, set designers, set up the lights and arranged costumes, wrote and directed plays. He and his friends would visit the nearby villages to invite people to attend their plays. During one such visit, he recalls stepping into a house amid agricultural land.

“It was normal to see isolated houses surrounded by agricultural land. We went to a house and were scared to step in as there was a huge honeycomb. Arecanut crops and other vegetables grew on the farm. To our surprise, we learnt that the girl in the house, the farmer’s daughter, worked for Google and the house had a wi-fi connection.” Such observations found their way into his writing. 

On location while filming ‘Aarambham’

On location while filming ‘Aarambham’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

While the Kannada novel unfolds in areas near Coorg, Aarambham was filmed in Shimoga and Hyderabad and the film gives a fictional Telugu name to the hilly surroundings. Ajay explains that finding a producer took some time but does not consider the journey a struggle. “I completed engineering within ₹60,000 but film studies cost us more than a lakh and there was hesitation. When we think twice about spending so much on our studies, how can I expect a producer to easily trust and invest in a new director’s vision?”

However, he concedes that he was lucky to have crossed paths with Abhishek Thirumalesh from Bellary. “He was 24, had no experience in cinema and was looking to invest in a new business. I gave him a six-hour narration and he liked the idea, but it took us six to seven months to finalise everything and begin the film.” He considers himself fortunate since he believes that destiny brought him to the right place at the right time. “I had initially wanted to join the Film and Television Institution of India (FTII, Pune) but I wouldn’t have had the chance to work with this crew. Thanks to ACFM, I found a great crew. We do not know what is best for us but it is satisfying when things work out.”

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