How Telugu short film ‘Saagu’ went on to win awards and appreciation

Meet Vinay Ratnam, director of the Telugu long short film ‘Saagu’, which narrates the story of endurance in rural Andhra Pradesh

April 22, 2024 04:02 pm | Updated 04:02 pm IST

Vamsi Tummala in the Telugu long short film ‘Saagu’

Vamsi Tummala in the Telugu long short film ‘Saagu’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

A little more than a year ago, Vinay Ratnam, a 25-year-old aspiring feature film director from Rajahmundry, set out to make a short film titled Saagu with the help of his friends. Having worked on nearly 15 short films earlier, he hoped that his new venture would work as a demo film to showcase his potential and pave the way for his directorial dreams. What he did not anticipate is Saagu making its way to a few film festivals, winning awards and being available for viewing on digital platforms. 

“I grew up watching Telugu films and am a huge fan of Chiranjeevi garu. Receiving the best film award from him for the South Indian Film Festival felt as though my love for cinema had come full circle,” says Vinay, during a brief visit to Hyderabad.

Director Vinay Ratnam

Director Vinay Ratnam | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In its 51-minute duration, Saagu narrates a story of the tenacity of a small-time farmer in Andhra Pradesh who tries to make a living after being almost isolated for marrying a girl from an upper caste. Saagu was the winner of Top 100 Films at the Dadasaheb Phalke International Film Festival, won awards for best cinematography and best costume design awards at the Indian Independent Film festival and bagged awards for best debut director and best film at the Polish International Film Festival.

Vinay had seen some of his extended family members go through the rigours of agriculture and was also privy to information they shared pertaining to farmer suicides. The protagonist of Saagu, Hari Babu (Vamsi Tummala), hails from a ‘lower caste’, and marries Subbalakshmi (Harika Balla), the daughter of the head of the village. The couple defies social norms and embarks on a tough journey. The undercurrent of caste, says Vinay, was his way of testing himself to see how well he could narrate a sensitive issue. 

Saagu began as a crowdfunded project, before help came in from US-based Yasaswi Vanga who offered to produce it. Made with a budget of approximately ₹16 lakh, the film was shot in four days in May 2023 in Peravaram village in Atreyapuram, Andhra Pradesh. Vinay’s friends took on the responsibilities of assistant direction, production design and other tasks. Since Saagu was filmed in sync sound, workshops were also conducted for the actors to finetune the rustic dialect.

Once the film was completed, with the help of his friends, Vinay organised a screening at Ramanaidu Preview Theatre, Hyderabad. “I did not know people in the film industry, except actor Ankith Koyya. I invited him to the screening.” 

Vamsi Tummala and Harika Balla in ‘Saagu’

Vamsi Tummala and Harika Balla in ‘Saagu’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Vinay was excited when Ankith informed him that producer and actor Niharika Konidela would attend the screening. “She liked our film and posted a note of appreciation on social media. That itself was a big win for us. I was surprised when she offered to help by presenting our film and sending it to film festivals.”

Looking back, Vinay recounts how the germ of an idea sprung from a monologue that appears towards the end of the film. He had written something similar for an audition video of his friend, about the spirit of human endurance. “I thought it could be developed into a story idea. So Saagu is a process of reverse engineering.” He adds that he was particular to have a female character that did not buckle under pressure, having seen the resilience in his mother and aunts. 

Encouraged by the response to Saagu, Vinay is working on a script for his feature film that he hopes to direct soon.

(Saagu is streaming on Aha Telugu, Amazon Prime US and UK, Airtel Xtreme, Tata Sky Binge, Hungama and MX Player and a few more platforms)

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