From Marredpally to Cannes

Anukokunda means ‘Unexpectedly’ in Telugu. The rewards that the film is getting us are also quite unexpected for us. When we made Anukokunda, it was out of sheer drive to win the Hyderabad edition of the 48 Hour Film Festival and that was about it. But it has taken us much further than we ever thought and needless to say, we are over the moon. The accolades and awards seem to be rolling in as time goes by and it has been huge motivation for us to keep making films.

For us, going to Cannes is a dream, a dream which we thought would be fulfilled somewhere down the line, years from now. So when we heard that Anukokunda was going to Cannes, we were overjoyed. While we realized that getting our short film into Cannes was only the first step of a long journey ahead of us, this was a validation that we were on the right track. We eagerly look forward to the day when our feature film goes to Cannes in the competition category.
While we are very proud of Anukokunda, we are aware that it is not our best work. The value of Anukokunda comes from the fact that it was written, shot and edited in under 48 hours.

The journey of Anukokunda starts not from 48 HFP Hyderabad, but from 48 HFP Mumbai. We had made a sci-fi film for Mumbai, but we were two minutes late in submitting the film, so we were disqualified. Also, even though we uploaded a trailer for the film on YouTube, we did not upload the final film because we were not satisfied with it. Overall, it was a frustrating experience. So when 48 HFP came to Hyderabad, we were very determined to make up for the bad performance in Mumbai. We wanted the top prize, period.

On the day of the kick-off, we all gathered at Tharun’s house (we didn’t have an office those days, so Tharun’s house doubled up as one). We were mentally and logistically preparing ourselves. We went through the list of genres and determined what we were comfortable with and what we were not. Musical and romance were on the top of the uncomfortable list. We also called up our contacts for actors, crew, equipment and locations and asked them to be on standby.

As the clock ticked closer, we packed ourselves into a couple of cars and went down to Annapurna Studios, where the kick-off was being held. Tharun went inside an auditorium, while the rest of us waited outside. He came out after quite some time, with a long face. The reason for it being: he had picked ‘Romance’ as the genre. The organizers arranged a lottery system through which the participants had to pick up a random chit and ours had ‘Romance’ on it. The moment he told us that, all of us had a moment of doubt. This was one thing we were hoping wouldn’t happen. None of us watched romantic films, so we didn’t know how to make one. The other option was to go for a wild card. But there were some pretty scary genres in the wild card arena too. So we decided to go ahead with romance.

We racked our brains for some time right there. None of us got any good ideas. But Tharun remembered an old idea of his, which he wanted to make into a 30 minute short film. It was inspired from a real life incident and Mani Ratnam’s films (Tharun is a big fan). He narrated the idea to us. We liked it, but we were skeptical about whether it can become a 7 minute film. After some more brain racking, we decided it’s the best idea we can have, so let’s try our best to tell it in 7 minutes. We drove back to Tharun’s house.

What happened next was a mad rush, at least that’s how we remember it now. It is a great example of the magic that happens when a team works in perfect synchrony. Tharun locked himself in a room for a couple of hours and wrote a rough draft of the script. Pranith then took it and started refining it. Meanwhile, the production team, consisting of Ranjith, Upendra and Tanvi, had already started to look out for resources needed for the film. Locations were shortlisted, equipment was booked and actors were being finalized. Our male lead, Kireeti, was flying down from Bengaluru the next morning. Now, our biggest hurdle was to find the female lead.

For some reason, finding good actresses is very hard in Hyderabad. Our story was heroine centric, so a good actress was imperative for the film to work. We had known Ritu for quite some time through a mutual friend. We thought she would be perfect for the role, but she had never acted before, so she was a little apprehensive about it. She was afraid that her inexperience would make the film making process hard for us. We dispelled her fears by expressing confidence in her ability and reiterating that we will all be supportive throughout.

The shoot began quite early the next morning. We started with locations closest to us, i.e in, around and above Tharun’s house. The only location we needed to search for was the club, but thankfully, we got it quite easily through our contacts.
Overall, the shoot went quite smoothly. The best strategy we implemented during the shoot was parallel editing. Once a scene was shot at a location, the footage would go to Harikanth, who would cut it, even as the next scene was being shot somewhere else. This saved us a lot of time.

The next morning, all of us were in a zombie state. We had worked quite late into the night shooting and editing, and now we had to dub the film as early as possible if we were not to miss the deadline. All the actors did it quite professionally.  The sound effects and mixing were done quite quickly by Harikanth. The only thing left was music.

We had listened to a very good song a few days ago, and we called up one of the composers a day before the kick-off to see if he was interested in composing music for the film. As luck would turn out, he didn’t have to compose anything. The song we had listened to was romantic, and it fit perfectly into our film. So we just asked him if we could use it, and he readily agreed.

The final cut of the film came out to 10 minutes, if edited exactly the way it was written. But the time limit was only 7 minutes. So we had to cut out some parts of the film to adhere to the time limit. It was a little painful to do that, since it compromised the story to some extent. Guess that’s part of the whole 48 HFP game. After doing the cuts, and watching the final film, we all felt relieved and happy. We finally went through a 48 HFP without any major heartaches and with a reasonably good film in our hands. Tharun showed the film to his parents, and they almost had tears in their eyes, not due to the content of the film, but because they finally saw proof that the havoc Tharun and company were wreaking around the house was resulting in some good and it was worth it, sort of.

Now it was only a matter of exporting the final film from the timeline. Just when you think everything has worked out fine, something happens. That’s an unavoidable fact of film-making, at least at Vinoothna Geetha . Dark clouds gathered over Hyderabad, and of course the power was shut down. It made way for some tense moments. We started to think of solutions like taking the CPU to some place where there was electricity to export the film. Gratefully, the film gods showed mercy on us. The clouds cleared, power came back and we rendered the film.

We rushed to the drop off point well ahead of time so as not to repeat the mistake we made in Mumbai. We were hoping to be among the first teams to submit the film, but we turned out to be the first team to do it. After submission, all we could do was wait for the results. It was nerve wracking because we knew we had a good film on our hands, but couldn’t quite tell if it was a winning film. Throughout the next few days, we tried to act cool but all we could do was think of the results.

Results for 48 HFP are not just announced. A screening is organised where all the films submitted are shown. It starts in the morning and goes on till the evening. As we watched the films one by one, we realised that our film had a very good chance of winning some awards, if not the top one. Ritu won the Best Actress award, the music was deemed the best, and we won the Popular Choice in our group. It was time for the big ones. When the Best Director award was announced, Tharun had a frown on his face. It was not because he had not won it, it was because he thought it was the last award for the day. Somehow, he had forgotten that the Best Film was yet to be announced. So when Anukokunda adjudjed the best, it was even sweeter for him, and more entertaining for us because of the change of expression on his face. We all rushed down to the stage and happily posed for photographs. The whole experience could not have ended better.

The excitement did not end there. We had decided that if we won, we would all go to Goa with the prize money, and that’s what we did. In Goa, we…………oh wait, we can’t tell you about it. What happens in Goa stays in Goa. It should suffice to say the trip was one of the most memorable times of our lives.

As we move forward with our lives and goals, the experience of making Anukokunda will always serve as a model for our endeavours. It’s like the first time you ride a bicycle without the supporting wheels or someone holding you. It’s a lesson which will serve us for the rest of our lives.