Meet Vidyadhar Kagita, director of the Telugu film ‘Gaami’

A video of the making of the Telugu film ‘Gaami’, starring Vishwak Sen as an Aghori venturing to the Himalayas, has raised curiosity. Debut director Vidyadhar Kagita opens up on his journey and the film

February 14, 2024 04:12 pm | Updated 04:12 pm IST

Vidyadhar Kagita, on location for his debut Telugu film ‘Gaami’

Vidyadhar Kagita, on location for his debut Telugu film ‘Gaami’ | Photo Credit: Ravikanth Kurma/Special Arrangement

A video offering glimpses into the making of the Telugu film Gaami, released a few days ago, took movie buffs by surprise. Since 2018, the team led by debut director Vidyadhar Kagita and producer Karthik Sabareesh, has been at work, filming in locations ranging from sub-zero temperatures on snow-capped Himalayas to a sweltering village in South India. The Vishwak Sen-starrer, scheduled to release on March 8, began as a crowdfunding venture and later, production house UV Creations stepped in. 

While working on the post-production at Sarathi Studios, Hyderabad, Vidyadhar takes time out for this interview on a balmy afternoon. While movie lovers who are curious about Gaami commend him for the courage to try and push the boundaries of Telugu mainstream cinema, Vidyadhar states with a smile that this ambitious film is the result of his “innocence, madness and stupidity” to take a leap of faith into the unknown. “I don’t know if I will ever be this innocent.”

To the Himalayas

Vishwak Sen and Chandini Chowdary in a scene from ‘Gaami’

Vishwak Sen and Chandini Chowdary in a scene from ‘Gaami’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A few real incidents, which Vidyadhar chooses not to disclose at the moment, sparked Gaami. “I reinterpreted the real events and began writing, incorporating my fascination for the mountains.” Vidyadhar reveals that the film will have three parallel stories. Vishwak plays Shankar, an Aghori who cannot feel human touch. He has to venture to the Himalayas from Haridwar for a cure. “This search for a cure for his physical issue also leads to an internal journey,” says the director. Chandini Chowdary, MG Abhinaya, Mohammad Samad and Harika Pedada are cast in other crucial parts.

A mechanical engineering graduate from Malla Reddy Engineering College, Vidyadhar has written and directed the short films Vara and Vaitarani. Karthik, who produced Vara, saw the potential in Vidyadhar’s story and encouraged him to make a feature-length film.

It began with the idea of making a feature film within a budget of ₹25 to 40 lakh and soon grew much bigger. Karthik, who was on the production team of the 2018 crowdfunded film Manu, suggested taking the crowdfunding route for Gaami as well. Vidyadhar went on a location recce, the team shot some footage and made a pitch video for crowdfunding, announcing the budget as ₹85 lakh. There were further changes in the budget as the film progressed. Though Vidyadhar refrains from disclosing the amount raised through crowdfunding, he says they were able to raise about 30 to 40% of the amount they had intended to and the remaining came through a loan and UV Creations. “The film also grew bigger than we anticipated, so we could not rely only on crowdfunding.”

The process of researching and writing the film took Vidyadhar to the Himalayas, Haridwar and Varanasi. Initially, he wanted to veer away from mainstream Telugu cinema. “As I worked on the script, I realised the importance of catering to a larger audience. I wanted to do something new within the format of mainstream cinema.” He roped in his friend Pratyush Vatyam to write the dialogues and “since his contribution was much more, I decided to share the writing credits with him.”

Cinematic language

Vidyadhar Kagita, cinematographer Vishwanath Reddy and Vishwak Sen while filming ‘Gaami’ in Varanasi

Vidyadhar Kagita, cinematographer Vishwanath Reddy and Vishwak Sen while filming ‘Gaami’ in Varanasi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The writing process that began in mid-2017 was completed by mid-2018. Vidyadhar describes the film as an adventure drama but adds that the diktats of the genre have been tweaked so as to avoid predictability.

Actor Vishwak Sen, who was working on Falaknuma Das at the time, came on board following an audition. “He read the script and expressed interest. In the years that it took to make the film, he has grown in popularity,” says Vidyadhar. 

At the planning stage, Vidyadhar also realised that he had underestimated the technical and logistic challenges such as taking the crew to the snow-capped mountains. “Every winter we would go to the Himalayas and shoot; the first schedule was for Vishwak’s portions, then the others.” 

The process of editing the footage, Vidyadhar says, took nearly a year. “I thought I knew the soul of the film but at the editing table, I had to reassess the film.” Working with a 180-page script, making the film was a learning curve for Vidyadhar and his core team. “I was figuring out my cinematic language and learning to communicate our vision to the audience. You can keep certain aspects abstract, subtle and other things clear. Figuring out what needs to be subtle and what needs to be clearly spelt out took time.”

Behind the scenes

Vishwak Sen in a poster of ‘Gaami’

Vishwak Sen in a poster of ‘Gaami’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Working with a close-knit team that includes cinematographer Vishwanath Reddy, editor Raghavendra Thirun, music composer Naresh Kumaran and others, Vidyadhar reckons that the film is nearing its finish line thanks to friends who could bear his pickiness and shared the same hunger for cinema.

Gaami also has its share of visual effects, supervised by Gianluca Fratellini (who was a senior animator for The Lion King (2019), Beauty and the Beast and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2) and Yahor Palishchuk (Star Trek: Discovery and The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes). A key scene in Gaami involves an animated lion, Vidyadhar reveals.

Stepping back from discussing the film, it is imperative to want to know more about the debut director and what has shaped his interest and understanding of cinema. Reminiscing his childhood, Vidyadhar says his interest in cinema perhaps began from class IV and his earliest memories of cinema include accompanying his grandmother to watch matinee shows of Kodi Ramakrishna’s Devi, the Rajinikanth starrer Narasimha (Padaiyappa), and being blown away by director Gunasekhar’s Bala Ramayanam. “Back then I didn’t know anything about the director or NTR Jr. I liked the spectacle and empathised with the kids.” 

By the time he reached high school, Vidyadhar was mad about movies but never admitted it, lest those around him ridicule him. He studied engineering and says the advice of getting a stable job and then pursuing a passion did not work for him. “I realised that the raging passion is big enough to consume my life and can never be just a hobby.” He completed B.Tech in 2014 and set out to make short films. 

Discovering cinema

Vidyadhar Kagita

Vidyadhar Kagita | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

He applied to the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, and was rejected. “I then looked up online resources to learn about cinema.” Having grown up consuming mainstream Telugu cinema, he then warmed up to Hindi and Hollywood films. Films such as Forrest Gump and Castaway opened up his idea of cinema and he went on to discover films of Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, James Cameron, David Fincher and Gaspar Noe, among several others. At different stages he was enamoured by different filmmakers. “At one stage I loved mainstream cinema, then hated it, and later respected those who pushed the limits of mainstream cinema. Telugu mainstream cinema is a different realm altogether and as a teen, I loved films of VV Vinayak and SS Rajamouli.”

When he told his parents about his decision to venture into cinema, they were concerned. “Ours is a middle class family, so naturally they were apprehensive. They relented when they saw my hunger and obsession for cinema. I asked them for two years to make my first film, which became five and then seven…”

As the postproduction moves to the final stages, Vidyadhar admits he would feel a sense of relief when the film is finally done. “I am more excited than apprehensive about the final output and how people will receive it. I have lived and breathed Gaami for the last few years and haven’t thought of what I want to take up next.”

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