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Interview Marathi

5 years of Sairat: Shooting the climax was tricky, remembers cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti

As Nagraj Popatrao Manjule's iconic film completes five years, Sudhakar Reddy speaks about the experience of working on the project and the challenges he faced.

Keyur Seta

There have been instances of Marathi films being released outside Maharashtra, mostly for the benefit of Marathi speakers settled there, particularly after the new wave that began with the release of Shwaas (2004). But to see a Marathi movie not only achieve popularity outside Maharashtra with a non-Marathi audience but also generate good box-office collections was unheard of, until Nagraj Popatrao Manjule came up with Sairat (2016).

The film became a rage in Maharashtra when it was released on 29 April 2016 and slowly started creating a buzz across India. Despite starring the untested lead pair of Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar, the film’s handling and the shocking climax were enough for it to be celebrated pan-India.

Sairat tells the story of Archi (Rajguru) and Parshya (Thosar), teenagers from different caste and class groups who fall in love. Faced with severe opposition from their families, they elope to Hyderabad to start a new life.

Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti

While Manjule and Rajguru became stars with Sairat, cinematographer Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti was also one of those whose work on the film was appreciated. “Sairat showed that certain films can be viable commercially if you have a good subject without big stars," Sudhakar Reddy said. "It was accepted not just in Maharashtra but also every other part of the country. It is also important to tell these socially relevant stories.

“For the Marathi industry it was a revelation to have such a big market opening up. People [generally] think Marathi is a small industry and there is not much money [to be made in it]. But Sairat showed that if you make a good film, then there is an audience [countrywide].”

Reddy's challenge as director of photography was to capture two different worlds within the same film. “One is the realistic world and the other is a romantic, dreamy kind of world,” he said. “In the first part, they fall in love. This is a dreamy and romantic idea of thinking how great life will be.”

Akash Thosar and Rinku Rajguru in a still from Sairat

About the other world, he said, “It is [also] realistic but we have to make it in a very dreamy way so that it goes smoothly into the space of two characters going through hardships and realizations in the second half. To balance the zones of reality and dream was a big challenge.”

Reddy said it is always a challenge for the cinematographer when the artistes involved are new, but in Sairat that was not much of a problem. “Both are very talented," he said. "They were young, so they were ready to learn and work hard.”

The final scene of the film literally shocked audiences in theatres as few expected Archi and Parshya to be killed, that too in such a gruesome manner, while the child is shocked. Reddy said it was a challenge to shoot the scene, but for a different reason.

“That scene was very tricky because it involved a small kid,” he said. “Kids don’t act. We have to capture their mood. To get it right from him was a challenge. You can’t guide small kids. We had to postpone the shoot thrice because the kid wasn’t feeling well. Every time we planned the shoot, he fell sick. We had to wait for almost a month and a half to shoot that scene.”

Sairat evoked different emotions in the public at different points. The start has a humorous cricket match played in the village in which Manjule himself is giving commentary. 

“It is challenging to shoot a sports sequence because you have to get the continuity of the play,” said Reddy. “Then you need multiple cameras to capture the same action at the same time so that it will match. Like, once a ball is bowled, it has to be followed by the bat hitting it. If you take them separately, it won’t match. So we had to maintain that flow of action.”

But it wasn’t like a hard-core sports scene. “That scene was more of a character introduction," he said. "So we were keen to get the story aspect of the game and not focus too much on the game itself. There is a lot of fun and character build-up of Akash.”

Nagraj Popatrao Manjule

About the experience of working with Manjule, he said, “Nagraj is a very good director, not only in terms of scripting, but he is also clear about what kind of performances he needs from the actors. He guides them very well. It’s very good to have a director who tries to experiment with something new.”

Majule has often said that his stories are inspired from his own life. “You have to understand the person well to get these kinds of nuances," Reddy agreed. "All his stories are based on life around him. So we used to interact a lot. He would tell us the incidents that had happened in his life. That way, I got to know him personally also and we became very good friends. I know where he comes from. The film was shot around his village. We met his friends and roamed around before shooting.”

Following Sairat, Sudhakar Reddy has teamed up with Manjule for his Hindi directorial debut Jhund, starring Amitabh Bachchan. “By then, we had already made two films, Sairat and Naal (2018) [which the former directed]. It was a smooth experience, except that the production took a long time. We had made a set in Pune but that had to be scrapped. We then went to Nagpur.”

About Jhund, he said, “It’s a very interesting subject, very relevant to these times.”

Sudhakar Reddy’s own directorial debut Naal received wide acclaim and also box-office success. Asked when he would direct again, he said, “I have to do the cinematography, writing and direction. It is a bit difficult to take time out for each thing. It’s three times the work. It will take time. Whenever it will happen, it will happen. But I will definitely direct again.”