Interview with Deepak Reddy, the director of Manasanamaha
By: Darida Rose
Deepak Reddy is a young and emerging director coming out of India. His short film Manasanamaha (2020) has gotten rave reviews and won several awards in International festivals across the globe.
Manasanamaha is a Telugu language 16-minute short, depicting a young hopeless romantic’s perspective throughout his three intimate relationships. The romantic comedy shot mostly in reverse stars Viraj Ashwin, Drishkika Chander, SriValli Raghavender, and Prithvi Sharma.
Darida Rose, Phoenix Journal (PJ): Deepak, how much of a role does the modern day structure of story-telling on social media platforms played in the visual snippets within your film?
Deepak Reddy (DR): Newer and shorter forms of narratives on social media have changed the way stories are told, and I'm sure some of those visual techniques have found their way into my film. The story required a take that was new and fresh and at the same time pleasing to the eyes, so the use of illustrations and POV shots made sense. At the same time, I have to say that one of my main inspirations was a song I saw in my early childhood in a film of Mr. Kamal Haasan's which was shot/edited in backwards. That fascinated me, and stayed with me, and eventually found its way to the making of Manasanamaha.
(PJ): What are the plans for the film's large scale production? In other words, when can we see the female perspectives?
(DR): Manasanamaha the short was always envisioned as a kind of pilot for a large scale feature production. Thanks to the reception it has had, I have been given the chance to flesh it out into a feature with the backing of a reputed Production house. The feature will have a full story comprising both the perspectives and it will go to production sometime next year.
(PJ): What were some of the distribution difficulties you faced considering Covid-19? How did they play out and affect the film's path continuing forward?
(DR): It was so unfortunate, I had the film finished, but didn't have many options to take it forward for distribution, the same problem all independent filmmakers face. Marketing and distributing independent content is extremely difficult, but I decided to take the plunge and distribute it on YouTube, given its accessibility. I hadn't seriously thought about entering the film in festivals, but some of the reception encouraged me to. Since then it has done extremely well on the festival circuit across the world, and I've been getting some really good distribution offers.
(PJ): The performances were really all wonderful. What led this effort from a director's point of view?
(DR): It was really hard casting for this film and I'm really grateful to my casting director Sulochana Surapu for helping me out with that. The whole film was planned in long takes and most of the action part was acting without dialogue (shown on song and voice over). Making the cast understand how it was going to be shot was the first step, and how the body language and actions look in reverse was the next one. Based on that, we worked a lot in rehearsals to make the backwards actions look just right without losing any of the emotion needed. Directing them based on these constraints was little difficult, but both Ashwin and Drishika were already brilliant actors that made it very easy for me. Srivalli did a great job with the monologue as well. I was blessed with an amazing cast overall.
(PJ): How much of your editing was based on pre-visualisation prior to production?
(DR): The entire film was planned in long shots as I didn't want to use conventional methods to tell the story. The shots were planned in a way with slots to incorporate VFX and the transitions between each shot were already mapped out in advance. So yes, the film was heavily pre-visualized through storyboarding and I would say 95% of the editing was based on that.
(PJ): What are some cultural inspirations that we may see in the film, unfamiliar to Western audiences?
(DR): The title "Manasanamaha" means "Salutations to the mind" and is a palindrome in my native language Telugu, ":మనసానమ:".
It has its own influences from our tradition. For instance, the guy's name is "Surya", which means the Sun and the movie can be seen as a metaphor where he goes through different seasons in different time periods, with each of the women named after various seasons as well. Their character's nature has been drawn from those respective seasons, down to their costumes, the locations and the core emotions on display. So yes, the film does have an essence that is very indian.
(PJ): Would it be correct to say that in some ways this continues the tradition of comedic Indian rom-coms? If so, could you please elaborate on that?
(DR): I believe romantic comedies have become very stereotyped, not only in lndia but everywhere. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, they breakup, or they live together. As someone still excited by that genre, I asked myself if I could come up with a technique or a narrative pattern to make them look new, and this is what came out. We all need familiarity but unpredictability excites me, and this is my attempt to tell a story that is very familiar in an unpredictable pattern.
India's romantic comedy tradition has continued to deliver some absolute gems through the years and I'm proud to have become a part of it through this. I want to continue the tradition, but also remodel it in my own way.
(PJ): Are any of the poetic lines depicted in the script based on cultural texts unfamiliar to Western audiences or are they inspired by them?
(DR): Yeah, a lot of the writing was done based on the vernacular young people use in Telugu, so there are cultural contexts that would be missed on outsiders. There are a lot of common proverbs that have found their way into it. For example, the line, "thegipoye thaadu chinna vaanakaina theguddi, pedda varadakaina teguddi" roughly translates to "A weak thread will eventually break, in a drizzle or a flood".
The script's authenticity is rooted in its cultural context, and we've tried our best to make it accessible to Western audiences through the subtitles.