Karthik Gattamneni: I tapped into the lesser-known traits of Ravi Teja for Eagle
The cinematographer-turned-director talks about his upcoming film Eagle
After a career spanning more than a decade as a cinematographer, with brief credits in editing and one directorial debut, Karthik Gattamneni is back in the director's chair, with Eagle. He has co-written the film (with Manibabu Karanam) and co-edited it (with Uthara), in addition to serving as one of its three cinematographers, alongside Karm Chawla and Polish national Kamil Plocki. Karthik chats to CE about the inspirations behind Eagle, his take on planning vs improvising, the specific merits and demerits of being a technician-director and more
Where did the idea of Eagle come from?
The idea of Eagle came from an article I once read while I was shooting in Austria. There was a man, residing in a remote area in a far-off country, like Peru or Cambodia. People around him thought of him as this calm, gentle person but it turns out he was a kingpin of some drug cartel. This is what the particular journalist unearthed through the course of her investigation. It was a shock for those people who knew him. Eagle is not about drugs, but it made me wonder, why can't we have such a personality closer home? That is where the idea came from, about a journalist on a search for a story about this mysterious man.
Ravi Teja is primarily known for his energetic onscreen persona. How did you reimagine an otherwise hyperactive star in a role of this nature and specific treatment?
I was a huge fan of films like Rambo and The Terminator series. Those films did not have heroes with an active persona, yet they made for such satisfying theatrical experiences. Heroes of these films, more often than not, aligned themselves with a larger cause. I adopted a similar approach for Eagle. It is a very commercial format. Ravi Teja sir is a brilliant actor. Some of his traits, like being sarcastic, active, etc are highlighted more than the others. I decided to bring his other, lesser-displayed traits to the fore with Eagle. He is going to be cool and intense in this film.
Eagle, in terms of its format and treatment, is reminiscent of new-age actioners like KGF and Vikram. All these films rely on mythmaking as a way of bolstering heroism. Does having films similar to yours work in your favour or against it? Do you believe these comparisons might affect the film?
Precedents will only affect you if you don't have a big star. If I am making a Naa Autograph (2004) with Ravi Teja, issues like timing and marketing might have been a problem. But I don’t think this would be a problem for us. Action films are widely patronised and enjoyed by the masses. It is a combination of the right star and the right genre. And we have done our best to set certain expectations right, with our teaser and trailer.
You are returning to the director’s chair after Surya vs Surya (2015), which came out nine years ago. What made you resume direction after a long gap?
The idea of direction comes from a place of certainty, of telling something strongly. I got a lot of ideas over the last nine years, but I could not finish them. I am a very slow writer, it takes me more than a year to finish a script. And since I was working on a lot of other films, as a DoP and an editor, I did not get the time to finish working on my script. Then, Covid happened. Things fell together then. I could finish a bound script with the help of my co-writer (Manibabu Karanam). To answer your question, a fully materialised idea is what made me return to direction.
You are a cinematographer and an editor. How does your experience as a technician come into play while working with fellow technicians?
Being deeply familiar with a craft may sometimes result in problems as well. For example, when I was writing Eagle, I was constantly thinking and functioning like an editor with my story. I had to stop, reassess my methods and let my story flow organically. This is why it is great to have collaborators onboard, to help you think more precisely about each craft. The advantage of being a technician-director however, is, that there is less wastage on the sets. Action films take upwards of 100 days, and at least 200 days to finish shooting. But we wrapped Eagle in 90 days. That happened because we could figure out what to shoot and what to omit.
What do you prefer more — extensive planning or improvising on the go?
I am used to improvisation. In a lot of films I worked on, I used to get the scripts at the last minute. But for Eagle, we shot parts of the film in Poland, with a huge Polish crew. They were not used to improvising, like us. They prep extensively before going on sets. So, we also storyboarded our film and followed that with lengthy discussions. It was a good learning experience for us.
You have mentioned shooting the film in Poland. How was that experience like? Is Poland a crucial part of Eagle’s story?
No, no, the country does not play a specific role. We have also shot the film in the UK. I always wanted to collaborate with crews of different countries. Poland is especially known for very good cinematographers but a lot of problems we did not anticipate came our way in Poland. The Ukraine war was happening when we were shooting. Due to the war, fuel rates have almost doubled. There were refugees everywhere when we were shooting, including hotels. It was very saddening.
How was it like, to have an Indian crew work alongside a Polish one?
70% of the crew was Polish, 30% is Indian. We tried different things to maintain peace and harmony. We organised foosball matches in the evening post-shoot and distributed drinks. After a few days, it was all smooth sailing. Those people speak Polish, and some of our crew members could only speak Telugu and yet we somehow managed. It was very interesting to watch. Filmmaking gives you great memories.
What is your next film about?
I will be working next with Teja Sajja on a mythological fantasy film. It is too early to talk about it. Me and Teju have been travelling with that idea for around five years now. We have to see, how things pan out, post the release of Eagle.