‘Masooda’s fear factor comes from eeriness, not jumpscares’

Producer Rahul Yadav and debut writer-director Sai Kiran exude confidence as their Telugu movie ‘Masooda’ gears up for release

Updated - November 17, 2022 05:30 pm IST

Published - November 17, 2022 02:55 pm IST

Sangitha and newcomer Bandhavi Sridhar in the Telugu horror drama ‘Masooda’

Sangitha and newcomer Bandhavi Sridhar in the Telugu horror drama ‘Masooda’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Arabic word Masooda denotes a happy, fortunate or good woman. Writer and first-time director Sai Kiran thought this word would be an apt title for his Telugu film. “Masooda is the name of an intriguing character in our film,” he says. Starring Sangitha, newcomer Bandhavi Sridhar and Thiruveer, Masooda is positioned as a horror drama. Sai Kiran and producer Rahul Yadav, speaking to The Hindu at their office in Manikonda, Hyderabad, term Masooda as a slow burn horror drama where the fear comes from the uneasy, eerie happenings rather than jumpscares. 

The broad storyline, says Sai Kiran, is a familiar one of a family trying to help one of its members who is supposedly possessed. “Sangitha plays a single mother who lives with her daughter and Thiruveer is their neighbour, a bachelor who tries to help them, and is caught in the turn of events.”

The origin of Masooda goes back a few years when Sai was an assistant director. “One of my friends, Gopikrishna, told me about an unusual behaviour he noticed in a girl who lived near his residence. The incidents surrounding this and other reports I had read made me write a fictional drama.”

Producer Rahul Yadav

Producer Rahul Yadav | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Rahul Yadav’s earlier productions were the romance drama Malli Raava directed by Gautam Tinnanuri and comic spy thriller Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya directed by RSJ Swaroop. When Rahul was on the lookout for a story for his third film, Sai, who had assisted Gautam during the making of Jersey, pitched the idea of Masooda. The project was finalised in December 2019.

Masooda was filmed in various locations across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh during the pandemic, intermittently over 90 days, more than 50 of which involved all-night shoots. Pre-production and storyboarding ensured that the cast and crew wasted little time on the sets. Extensive discussions also took place with cinematographer Nagesh Banell and music composer Prashanth Vihari. For this film, the team wanted the background score to allow enough room for silence, rather than underlining every motion with music.

Sai and Rahul chanced upon one of Thiruveer’s interviews which they felt reflected his down-to-earth personality as opposed to the rough, grey characters he has often portrayed on screen. They finalised him as the neighbour’s character named after Sai’s real-life friend Gopikrishna. “Sangitha came on board saying she trusted our vision and gave us bulk dates,” says Rahul. 

It has been a while since Telugu cinema witnessed horror dramas; the pre-pandemic years witnessed an overkill of horror comedies. Rahul rates Ram Gopal Varma’s Raat (Raatri in Telugu) as one of the finest horror dramas. Sai recalls a statement by director Martin Scorsese that even if the horror element in the story is removed, the drama should invoke empathy and fear. 

Director Sai Kiran

Director Sai Kiran | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Both Rahul and Sai have had different journeys before they found their calling in cinema. Rahul is an engineering graduate and hails from a family that is into real estate business. He was keen to carve a different path. He attempted civil service examinations and then assisted a friend for a railway project in Odisha, before deciding to produce films. “All that experience helped me evolve and gave me the courage to try something new. My father was reluctant when I said I wanted to produce films, but I requested to give me one last chance. He pitched in with the finances of Malli Raava,” he recalls. 

Malli Raava was a breakthrough project that won hearts and Rahul did not look back. He is keen to take it one step at a time, backing interesting stories. Insiders in the Telugu film industry reckon Rahul as a producer to watch out for. “My only condition to directors is that I want a written script. That is where the writer-director’s personality comes through. I like to work with actors who have trained in theatre. Both Naveen Polishetty (who headlined Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya) and Thiruveer have theatre background.”

Thiruveer, Bandhavi Sridhar and Sangitha in ‘Masooda’

Thiruveer, Bandhavi Sridhar and Sangitha in ‘Masooda’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sai is a B.Com graduate who was always interested in cinema and dreamt of going to New York Film Academy. “I never raised this topic at home since I knew it would not be viable for my parents. So I took up corporate jobs in Hyderabad and later in the UK with a friend’s help. I was directionless until I learnt that a colleague who was passionate about playing the cello stayed up several hours at night to learn music. She was doing this beyond the demanding office hours. I thought it was time for me to return to India and try my luck in cinema.”

He worked as an assistant director for a few films and wrote and directed 14 short films, but did not put them up in the public domain: “I was not sure if I had done a good enough job. I was keen to finetune my skills.”

Masooda will be Sai’s big test. As he nervously waits for the audience verdict, he remembers a line from Little Miss Sunshine — ‘A real loser is someone who is so afraid of not winning that he doesn’t even try’. He says, “I have tried my best and I am waiting to see if people will accept my work.”

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