Karthik Gattamneni interview: ‘Eagle’ is in the ‘Rashomon’-meets-‘Vikram’ narrative style

Director Karthik Gattamneni talks about the Ravi Teja starrer ‘Eagle’ and his journey as a writer, cinematographer, editor and director

February 03, 2024 02:49 pm | Updated 04:41 pm IST

Director Karthik Ghattamneni; Ravi Teja in ‘Eagle’

Director Karthik Ghattamneni; Ravi Teja in ‘Eagle’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The portfolios of writing, direction, cinematography and editing sit easily in on the shoulders of Karthik Gattamneni. For his new Telugu film Eagle, which he has directed, he has also handled all these portfolios along with collaborators. “I have a good team; my associates and assistants are intuitive and know what I require, which eases the workflow,” he says. Days before the release of the Ravi Teja starrer, which is scheduled for February 9, he is a picture of calm at his office in Manikonda, Hyderabad, as the postproduction has reached the finish line.

Eagle was initially poised to release during Sankranti and later postponed on the request of the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce and Telugu Film Producers Council. “The good part is that we got more time to enhance the sound and visual effects. However, I got more anxious since I have been working on the same footage for six to seven months,” says the director.

Points of view

Karthik Gattamneni with Ravi Teja on the sets of ‘Eagle’

Karthik Gattamneni with Ravi Teja on the sets of ‘Eagle’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Karthik describes Eagle as a point-of-view film in which different characters present their views about the central character played by Ravi Teja. While the larger inspiration for this style of narration comes from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Karthik points out a key difference: “In Rashomon, the audience has to decipher the situation after being presented with different viewpoints. In our film, Anupama Parameswaran plays a reporter who listens to all the views and pieces together the puzzle. She meets all kinds of people — the ignorant, the intellectual, the tech savvy, etc. In addition, I would say Eagle is in the zone of Rashomon style of narrative meeting Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Vikram.”

Karthik says it is fascinating how different people tell the same story. “The soul of a story remains the same, but imagine a grandmother narrating it versus a child narrating it. I find that interesting.”

In Eagle, Ravi Teja plays a middle-aged man whose character has an air of intrigue. He has gone through certain experiences, which dictates his approach to a global issue. “This issue will be a key point in the story.” The film gets its title from the protagonist’s sharp vision. Karthik stumbled upon a real story of a man living in a remote location in South America. Later it turned out that he was a drug lord,” laughs Karthik, adding that Eagle does not follow such a trajectory. “Sometimes we make assumptions about people and they turn out to be completely different.” 

Karthik wrote the story and screenplay along with Manibabu Karanam during the pandemic, when film shootings were paused for months. Then, he was the cinematographer for Karthikeya and Dhamaka. “At the time neither me nor Mani knew who would star in the film.” Two drafts were written and Karthik was open to suggestions and improvisations from his team. “Writing is a continuous evolution. Even now, I wonder how it would have been had we written certain portions differently.”

Karthik’s filmography
Key films as cinematographer: Prema Ishq Kaadhal, Karthikeya 1 and 2, Surya Vs Surya, Express Raja, Awe, Disco Raja, Ninnu Kori, Premam, Dhamaka and Eagle.
Director: Surya Vs Surya, Eagle

Talking about the changes that happened on set, he explains that there were occasions when he realised that lengthy dialogues were not required since the actors conveyed more than expected through their body language. “The reverse also happens. After watching a few scenes my co-editor (Uthura) would ask what I was trying to convey. In such situations, we would look at the rest of the footage to see if the intent comes through and decide what to cut.”

His ability to think as a film editor came in handy while writing. “I would know when I am elaborating more than necessary. While writing for cinema, we have to understand that we can also convey a lot through visuals and sound.” 

Karthik says handling multiple portfolios for Eagle was not intentional. There were gaps in the shooting schedules since Ravi Teja was also working on Tiger Nageswara Rao, and Karthik didn’t want to be idle during that time. So he began editing the footage. Can he objectively evaluate what he has filmed? “When I see it for the first time, I can. Later it gets tricky. So I take breaks and return to look at things fresh.”

Multiple collaborations

For Eagle, the cinematography credits are shared by him, Kamil Plocki from Poland and Karm Chawla. Given the gaps in schedules, the Polish cinematography team was unable to proceed further since there were other projects. Karthik roped in Karm Chawla and later had to step in himself when there was another change in schedule.

Ravi Teja in ‘Eagle’, written and directed by Karthik Gattamneni

Ravi Teja in ‘Eagle’, written and directed by Karthik Gattamneni | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Prior to filming, he had script reading sessions with actors such as Vinay Rai and Anupama as they were keen to know the character motives and backstories. Ravi Teja preferred a spontaneous approach and Karthik says he surprised the team with his intensity in a key scene in the latter half of the film. When asked how he managed to pull it off, Ravi Teja had exclaimed that he didn’t know! The film also stars Navdeep, Srinivas Avasarala, Kavya Thapar and Madhoo.

Karthik describes Eagle as an action drama with the action sequences choreographed by Tomasz Lewandowski from Poland , Ram Laxman and Real Satish. “Music composer DavZand was also part of the planning process and we knew what mood had to reflect for the different action sequences; we used songs for the action pieces. There are plenty of gun sequences and it can get irritating after a point. So we had to decide where to tone down and where to scale up.”

Karthik is an engineer who later studied cinematography at the Chennai-based Mindscreen Film Institute founded by Rajiv Menon. He debuted as a cinematographer with the 2013 film Prema Ishq Kaadhal. “It doesn’t feel like a decade,” he muses, “Every day is a new experience with different lighting, costumes, settings... If you get into a comfort zone for a long time, you will get repetitive. I choose different genres to keep learning.” He also stays abreast of cinematography and storytelling by observing the work of his peers and other films. He cites his recent learning from 12th Fail, “I was amazed by how they used simple music and sound, sometimes just a sitar, and it was so impactful.”

Lessons from Rajiv Menon
Karthik recalls a memorable lesson from cinematographer Rajiv Menon, during his days at Mindscreen Film Institute. “Rajiv sir would take special classes on Sundays. I skipped one of his classes since I found it too technical and was hanging out at a juice shop that evening. Later he spotted me and asked me to attend his class. In class, I told him that I found the technicalities boring and would prefer the tech class interspersed with storytelling, etc. He asked me to close my eyes and name the light sources I can recollect from the juice shop till the class. I remembered the street light and another light source. Then he closed his eyes and began listing the light sources he remembered. He named several — warm light coming from a corner of a building that lit up a portion of the street, a blue light from a shop reflecting on a puddle and many more. I learnt the importance of keen observation and using light to tell stories.”

Karthik made his directorial debut with the 2015 film Surya Vs Surya (SvS), starring Nikhil Siddhartha. Ask him what took this long to direct his second film and he says that soon after SvS, the industry was reluctant to ask him to be a cinematographer for other projects, unsure if he would limit himself to one craft any longer. “But I was always open to collaborations. I learnt a lot by working with other directors. For example I wouldn’t have thought of a story and narrative style like Merlapaka Gandhi for Express Raja. A few years ago, I think my style of filmmaking was far removed from what the audience wanted. Now I think I can connect better with the audience, thanks to all the experience.”

In the pipeline is a mythological fantasy drama with Teja Sajja, which Karthik conceptualised six years ago, and plans to direct soon. Meanwhile, he is game to be a cinematographer for other films. He also plans to revive Pondfreaks Entertainment, a banner which he founded with his friends and made several short films under. He says, “We learnt a lot by making short films. We had small budgets and would see how far we could go to execute our ideas.”

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