Vidyadhar Kagita: The idea with Gaami was to make something small yet radical

Twelve weeks after the release of his ambitious adventure drama Gaami, filmmaker Vidyadhar Kagita talks about the production process of his film and why it should not be perceived as a ‘big film’
Director Vidyadhar Kagita; A still from Gaami
Director Vidyadhar Kagita; A still from Gaami

There has been a surge in the production of big-scale films in the last couple of years in Telugu cinema. Even amidst a market for such spectacles, including RRR and Salaar: Part 1 – Ceasefire, filmmaker Vidyadhar Kagita came up with the Vishwak Sen starrer Gaami, a film built on a relatively smaller scale. While the film received largely positive reviews from critics and audiences and did fairly well at the box office, speculation persisted about its budget. Now, nearly three months after the film’s release, director Vidyadhar Kagita sets the record straight on everything it took to make it.

Talking about how Gaami first took off as a crowdfunding project, Vidyadhar Kagita candidly recalls his optimism when they had envisaged a small budget for the Vishwak Sen starrer. Vidyadhar states, “My producer, Karthik Sabareesh, and I decided to first keep a budget of 25 lakhs for the film. I had made a few films in the budget of fifty thousand to one lakh, so I thought in my naivety that a feature film would not need more than 25 lakhs.” The Gaami director recalls how their budget slowly kept increasing and eventually ballooned to Rs 85 lakh. He adds, “Deep down, I knew that we would cross that figure too, but not by this much.”

By the time UV Creations came on board, which was in December 2019, the Gaami team had already finished most of their shooting work, Vidyadhar recalls. The director adds, “There was nearly 10 percent of work left. And since we now had a bigger budget, we shot those portions in a slightly better way.” Vidyadhar reinstates that through all its crowdfunding hassles, they never stopped working. He says, “We took a few loans. Whatever money we earned, we put into this. Whomever I could, I asked them to work for free, on the promise that I would pay them later, but the work never stopped.”

Gaami really stood out for its expansive visual scale, with the landscapes ranging from a small rural place in Andhra Pradesh to the Himalayas to Varanasi ghats. The sequences set in the Himalaya mountains, in particular, where Shankar (Vishwak Sen) and his companion Jahnavi (Chandini Chowdary) set off on a quest to find the cure for Shankar, had an immersive quality to their visuals. Vidyadhar states, “Initially, I thought not to use VFX at all. However, when I kept writing the script, the images coming to me were strong.”

Vidyadhar further talks about how he and his team achieved most of these effects without keeping a big, separate budget for the VFX department. He explains, “For a shot where Shankar sees a lion through a small hole and gets scared, we got stock footage of a roaring lion, made a wax hole, and shot it through a laptop.” Similarly, for a sequence set around a glacier, the director used the 2.5D technique, which involved using 2D to make it look like 3D. “But then you have to make sure the nuances are right, including the light,” he adds. Vidyadhar reflects on his learning curve through this entire process. He states, “I thought I knew VFX, but while making this film, I realised that I did not know enough. I underestimated the work required with green screen shots. So I was constantly making mistakes and learning. It was a constant process of self-discovery.”

The Gaami director also talks about how he largely managed to achieve the big-scale feel despite limited resources. He reflects, “It all comes down to the wide shot, when we say scale. We had shots of the Himalayas. Once that is in place, we have an idea of the space. We then went into close-ups, which are cheaper to produce. However, your mind continues to perceive that big scale even in those close shots.” Vidyadhar recollects how they shot those close-up shots for the mountain scenes on the terrace of their production office, building a cardboard set for the same. “That array of shots gives you a sense of scale and world creation. While 80 percent of it is small, it is the 10 percent that gives you a feeling of epicness. That is how storytelling works.”

Despite being a small-budget film, Gaami managed to create a lot of buzz among filmgoers by the time the makers set a release date. Vidyadhar attributes the buzz partly to the minute-and-a-half-long teaser he made for Gaami while the team was pitching their film for crowdfunding. “It did not make too much sense. It had visuals of the Himalayas, Varanasi, and Shankar, our protagonist. But it gave a sense of the vibe of the film. That worked for us.” Vidyadhar also recalls the impact of the making video, which the team released in February 2024 to a lot of hype and helped the film find distributors in the US. “The US distributors bought the rights just on the basis of that video. They hadn’t even watched the trailer.”

However, as Vidyadhar recalls, the turning point for Gaami, in terms of creating abuzz, was their participation at the Comic-Con festival in January 2024, where the makers decided to reveal Shankar’s look. He adds, “The team was very low on energy when a member brought up this idea and arranged for everything. It cost us merely 2 lakhs but gave a strange boost to the team. Soon, it was all happening.” Within days, the makers of Gaami set March 8 as a release date.

The final production cost for Gaami came to 6 crores, Vidyadhar states, as opposed to many speculations about the budget being over 15 crores, as he talks about why there needed to be more transparency about the film’s budget, in particular. He says, “The idea behind Gaami was to do something radical yet small enough so that it makes its money back even if fewer people watch it.” He adds, “Gaami should not be confused for a big film. After making Gaami, I strongly believe that we can do stuff like this even with less money. In the Telugu film industry, there is much discourse about what we can or cannot do. It is important that we change that and create space for new stories.”

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