Praveen Kandregula: Cinema Bandi is our love letter to filmmakers
Praveen Kandregula talks about his aspirations as a storyteller, the experience of directing his first feature film, and more
A sense of mysticism surrounds Fridays among film aspirations eager to establish their foothold in the entertainment industry. A Friday stands between them and overnight stardom, between a dream and its realisation. This Friday will see the debut of Praveen Kandregula, whose Cinema Bandi, produced by Raj & DK, is set for a Netflix release.
Having directed several short films over the past decade, Praveen says that the experience helped him hone his craft. “The acting and direction were amateurish in the short films, but I learned the importance of casting. Half of the director’s job is done when the casting is spot-on,” says Praveen. Interestingly, barring the lead actor Vikas Vashisht, Cinema Bandi’s cast predominantly features first-timers. Praveen shares that the actors, despite being newcomers, were acquainted with filmmaking, and that this made his job easier. “Everyone in the primary cast of the film has made a short film. So, they all come with an understanding of cinema and how it functions. Moreover, when I pitched the idea to Raj with the pilot version of the film, he asked me to retain the same cast for the feature. The initial idea was to go with popular names, but after Raj’s suggestion, there was no second thought about the cast. I believe that the script has benefitted from these unknown faces.”
Praveen shares that he will always remember that moment when the film got commissioned. “When Vasanth (the film’s screenwriter) and I showed the pilot to Raj, he wasn’t expecting much. However, after seeing it, he hugged me and assured me that he would be funding the film. Someone with an as impressive body of work as Raj and DK associating themselves with our tiny film comes across as a huge boost and validation.”
As someone who grew up consuming popular Telugu entertainment, Praveen says that exposure to world cinema has played an equal role in forging his artistic sensibilities. “My rendezvous with international cinema at film school, undoubtedly, hit me hard. But I hold the cinema I grew up with equally high. When I switch on TV, I end up rewatching Telugu films. When I’m not in the right frame of mind to digest a heavy art film, sometimes, I even fall asleep. So, I realise the value of mainstream cinema Telugu is popular for, and how difficult it is to make it,” adds Praveen, who aspires to make films that cater to both devoted world cinema buffs and the average viewer who seeks entertainment after a long day at work. “I want to bridge these two supposedly opposite ends of the spectrum. Cinema Bandi is a step in that direction."
Praveen notes that Chandra Sekhar Yeleti’s Aithe, Shekhar Kammula’s Anand, and Deva Katta’s Prasthanam are films that have played a major role in shaping modern-day Telugu cinema, but he differs with the widely believed notion that the industry has been through a renaissance only during the last few years. “I think this has always been the case. Telugu cinema has always been producing great films parallelly.”
Praveen feels that the advent of OTT is a double-edged sword for independent filmmakers without major financial backing. “Although small films with unknown faces have always struggled to pull the audience to theatres, they got at least a two-week theatrical run. For instance, a film like Anand needed a few weeks before the word of mouth converted into footfalls. These days though, with films dropping on OTT platforms soon after their release, small-scale films are getting suffocated.” On the bright side, Praveen expresses optimism that a direct-to-streaming release relieves filmmakers like him of box-office burden. He adds, “Had the film released on Youtube sans the two major brands — Netflix and Raj & DK — this might have been perceived as yet another indie project. These brands have now fuelled the film’s visibility.”
Set in a village near the Andhra-Karnataka border, Praveen adds that the film’s geographical setting was integral to the film’s narrative as well as its production. “As we shot the film with sync sound, it mandated a location with a controllable soundscape. We found this perfect village near Mulbagal that houses around 20 families, and the people ensured that we had a comfortable shooting experience. We even cast an elderly resident of the village in the role.”
What does he want the viewers to take away from Cinema Bandi? “The idea of the film emanated from our boundless love for cinema. The fascination for cinema is ingrained in all of us in varying proportions. If we ever randomly come across a film’s shooting, we never look past it. Cinema Bandi is a genuine attempt to explore this love and fascination for cinema,” he adds. “The film’s tagline reads ‘Everybody is a filmmaker at heart’, and I strongly feel that anyone with the slightest curiosity about cinema will empathise with the story and characters. It’s a love letter to filmmakers,” signs off Praveen.