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"The internet saved my film"

Writer – director Phanindra Narasetti makes his theatrical debut with Manu. In conversation with Padma Iyer, he shares the journey of the film from crowd funding to its release by Nirvana Cinemas

Phanindra Narasetti is not an unknown name to those who follow the world of short films. His films, Backspace and Madhuram, paved the way in some way for Manu, his first feature film.

Asked about his entry into the world of films, he says, “I don’t have an organic answer to this question because a true artiste doesn’t know how it happens. But if we have to break it down chronologically, it happened in 2004-05, maybe. It was more like a calling. I was a good student, academically, but I never really enjoyed what I was doing.  On the other hand, cinema completely consumed me. The interest in cinema was initially very regional and local. To put it in a holistic way, cinema was where I used to draw my absolute happiness. Time never was a dimension when I was talking about films or when I was narrating my stories. So even after my pharmacy degree, I was inclined towards these things.”

For someone who made a conscious decision to enter into films, however subconscious the process might have been, Phani had ample inspiration that motivated him. “We draw inspiration from each and every filmmaker but if I have to name the people who have inspired me, I would it say it is more their off-ground work, their approach to cinema, rather than the movies they have made, that is my inspiration.

“David Fincher has a relentless and undying approach towards one particular shot or scene. As a director, holding your ground and staying as strong as a rock is something I have learnt from him. No matter what, stick to your guns as much as possible because it reflects in your cinema. When it comes to writing, Christopher Nolan inspires me. Nowadays, people think it is cool to say you are a Nolan fan without understanding the reality behind his writing. When he was 29, he ran about the streets of London with a handheld camera. From him, I learnt the rugged, indie spirit. His screenplays have an original touch and approach. The third director is Jean-Pierre Jeunet. He is someone whom I love for the visual play,” reveals Phani.

The journey for Manu has been an arduous one but Phani’s passion and excitement for film resonates in his words. “Initially, I faced many challenges for Manu. I went to a couple of producers and they had their reasons to not be a part of the film. I totally accepted and respected that. But I felt as if I had ended up in a quagmire. At that time, one of my friends made me see reason. He interacts with many people in cinema and said that my work had a lot of credibility and that I should crowd-fund the film. His name is Karthik and he is also the line producer of Manu.

“I finally posted my plan on Facebook and within four days we got a verbal commitment for one crore rupees. I was initially worried whether the verbal commitment would translate into actual money. But we still went into pre-production and three to four months after that, when we were ready to shoot, the entire sum came through in a week’s time,” says the filmmaker.

Manu is an ambitious project for Phani, who shares the process of the film. “The story plays out in a very retro surrealistic world. We knew the best actors in our domain, so it was easy to get in touch with them. As you see in the trailer, there are just four to five characters in the film. We auditioned for a few of the characters and we approached the others directly. We shot far away from the city. There were a lot of mosquitoes and almost every month someone from the team fell ill. But they all persevered. Every person on this film shares immense passion, probably greater than mine.”

With the film made under trying circumstances over 89 days, it was purely providence that Nirvana Cinemas came on board to release it. Nirvana has films like Arjun Reddy and Mahanati in their kitty and having them on their side was a huge boost for Manu.

Phani says it was not a planned association and it was a chance visit to the sets by Srujan Yarabolu from Nirvana that set the ball rolling.  “Srujan wanted to meet me. I spoke with him for a couple of minutes. Before leaving, he said they wanted to be a part of the film. From that day onwards, Srujan used to call Karthik every day and say that they were interested in the film. It was an association that was meant to be.”

Manu hits the screens on September 7 and Phani is confident about his film. On a parting note, he says, “Manu will stay with you. Imagine a rock, and the only thing that can touch it is water. This film is something like that. Give a bunch of dreamers one crore and this is what they come up with.”

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