Post mortem - Mathu Vadalara by Ritesh Rana
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Ritesh Rana

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9 January 2020

Director Ritesh Rana made his much-talked-about debut with the dark comedy thriller Mathu Vadalara that released on December 25th, much to a great response from both the audience as well as the critics. In this conversation, he opens up about the film and decodes how it panned out step by step…

The timeline
Mathu Vadalara may have released by the end of 2019, but the idea was born way back in 2016. Ritesh reveals that they had gotten the appointment of producer Chiranjeevi aka Cherry in November, 2016.

“Thomas, Teja, Surya and I were the team. We had worked on some demos by then and had showed it to his team. That’s how we got an appointment with Cherry. We had gone to narrate a story that was conceptualized by Thomas. I was the writer for it. However, even though he liked it, he was looking for something that can be made in a low budget,” shares Ritesh, adding, “I had just begun writing Mathu Vadalara by then and told him the outline of the story in a half hour narration. He liked it and asked me to develop it. In December 2016, Ravi garu from Mythri Movie Makers heard it. By February 2017 we had discussed things further and I told Ravi garu that I wouldn’t want to add songs or romance this film. He concurred with me. The team asked me to begin work on the dialogue version, which I finished and narrated by July. It was then that I was asked to narrate the story to Simha. I thought that they want me to narrate it to him to see how the youth feel about the story and I gave him a narration. He said it’s good and left.”

Turns out Ritesh had no idea by then that Simha was composer Keeravani’s son. “They asked me who I was planning to cast and I mentioned that I am considering new faces. That is when they asked me what I think about Simha for one of the characters. I thought about it and said that he definitely would fit one of the roles. I was then told that he is Keeravani garu’s son. That pushed me into a dilemma because I was not sure if they’ll become involved and suggest changes, something I wasn’t ready for because I had already locked the script by then. But luckily that didn’t happen,” he says.

After this, Ritesh insisted on an audition for Simha and found him suitable for the project. He reveals, “After the audition I felt he was perfect. He started working on his look by growing the hair and beard. We started workshops with Simha and Agastya soon after, and went on for almost a year. When we ready and all set to go, the team at Mythri asked us to make a demo film. We did as told and they liked it. In July 2018 it was approved. We did a few months of pre-production and began shoot in November 2018.”

Building the story
In the end credits of the film, Ritesh revealed his inspiration for the film with a “thanks for the inspiration” card accompanied by some newspaper clippings. Talking about the same, he reveals, “That was the point of evolution. I saw the video while browsing Facebook and my co-writer Teja was with me then. We just started discussing hypothetical scenarios and in the process an entire sequence between the granny and the delivery boy developed. We discussed it in the perspective of the audience and what would generate curiosity.”

He adds, “I moved to the characterization of the hero next and thought of how it would be if we use his mind voice for around half an hour and felt it may not be interesting. That’s how we started writing the friends’ characters. Even though the film is on drugs, I didn’t want to reveal it in the beginning which is why the title Mathu Vadalara was chosen. It leaves people assuming that he is in the ‘mathu’ of sleep and all this is happening because of that. I wanted to create the shock value when the actual revelation happens. I love the whodunit genre and always wanted to have that inculcated in my film. Having a character that is the bad guy but won’t be predicted by the viewer was what I had in mind. That is how the end twist was conceptualized. I always used to be fascinated by such films that have you guessing till the end by misleading you into assuming one person is the villain while the villain is actually someone else! I think the kick to that is just something else.”

The making
Ritesh has been lauded for his rich and fresh taking of the film which is stylish and modern. He reveals that it was a lot of aspects that led to it.

“I was exposed only to Telugu films as a kid and eventually Indian cinema. My exposure to world cinema happened only when I grew up, owing to the torrents. Over the years, as I kept watching films, I was floored by Guy Ritchie’s style of making films. I don’t know if I should say I watched the films on torrents but that’s what helped widen the kind of films that I watched because I first moved to English films and then world cinema too. If I didn’t get this exposure, I wouldn’t have known that there were so many ways and styles of making films,” he explains.

Also citing the inspiration of Edgar Wright, he says he loves the scene transitions. “I did a course in editing and used to edit all our short films. I felt that this style of editing wasn’t used in Telugu films and that would be new for the audience.”

The TV connect
In the film, Ritesh uses Chiranjeevi on TV to give the audience the opening, interval break and end card. Turns out, the young filmmaker used television as a character itself while writing the film. “I am a Chiranjeevi fan and I always had a dream that my first film should have him in the first frame. That’s why he is there in the opening. However, I needed to end the first half on a high note and that’s when I thought it would be nice to end the first half with him. And then, towards the end of the film is when my name credit rolls on the screen. The high of having my name alongside him was worth the kick and so I had three TV scenes in that format,” he reveals.

But TV does play a very key character in the film with the protagonist’s friends watching TV serials on different platforms. “I used them as a way to establish their characters because I am telling their story that pans over three days and there’s no other way to explain their characters. Satya watched Ori Na Koduka and it kind of shows that he is attracted to it. I used it to take the story forward. There are a few things that the audience might feel as soon as the dialogue is said or something happens on screen, I used the TV to express that!,” Ritesh explains.

He shares that since Abhi and Satya’s characters have been explained in the first half via their TV habits, and people know them now, it makes it easy for them and their actions in the second half to be understood.

Similarities with other films
When you point out that Mathu Vadalara has key aspects from films like Aithe and Anukokunda Okaroju, Ritesh smiles as he shares, “Frankly, I never had these films in mind while writing the story but now that you say, I feel I might have subconsciously picked them up because director Chandrasekhar Yeleti is a favourite and an inspiration. It wasn’t deliberate.”

He further reflects on other similarities that he himself spotted, “In my film, the character sings Every Night In My Dreams. After the shoot was done, I casually watched Aithe and saw that the flight episode has the same song! What’s more, even the amount in Aithe is 50 lakh! It’s the same in my film as well. I don’t know how and I wonder if it got fixed so strongly in my subconscious mind.”

Ritesh got the chance to narrate the script of Mathu Vadalara to Chandrasekhar Yeleti since he is the cousin of the film’s producer Cherry. In fact, he worked out of a room in the director’s office through the length of the film. “So I did meet him and have had discussions but it wasn’t deliberate for sure!”

Indie style
Even though backed by well-known names, Mathu Vadalara has the vibe of an indie film. Apparently, that was how the team wanted to do it from the beginning. So much so, they even did the DI and graphics themselves.
“It was decided in the beginning itself. In our presentation, we told them that since it is a new concept, this would be an ideal way to do it so that not much money was spent and we would give the output we had in mind, since we were allowed to go ahead with our story and no changes were suggested,” he shares, adding, “It was a big deal that we got an opportunity and we didn’t want to screw it up especially because we didn’t want to become an example of why not to give opportunities to new talent. We wanted everything to be perfect!”

Music and Camera
“I told Bhairava from the beginning that our music should be unconventional. He kept that in mind and that’s how we worked on the whole film. I had a few things in mind and he had a lot of inputs to give! In fact, I wanted a violin BGM in the second half. But what he finally created was just perfect,” says Ritesh.

Even the quirky sounds you hear through the film at strategic points were apparently Bhairava’s idea and worked well with the audiences! “When I heard it for the first time, I was surprised but really loved it! Eventually, we places it across the film and I think the result was fantastic.”

Cinematographer Suresh and Ritesh have known each other for a while and collaborating was apparently easy. Choosing a colour palette, blue, grey and red and other colours were kept in mind while imagining the visuals.

Surprise elements
What worked out best while writing was the two characters the lead character imagines. However, Ritesh says he didn’t feel that excited about them while editing. “I was doubtful whether the fun will work. Watching it multiple times, gave me a sense of fear and I was in a dilemma. We sent the first half to Bhairavaa. By then only the editor and I had seen it! He told us that it has turned out excellent. Overall, as a director I enjoyed the second half. However, the fun episode was really enjoyed by the audience and I didn’t expect that!” he tells us.

On the end note, he adds, “We changed the climax a little and I often keep wondering if it would have turned out better if the original idea was kept intact.”

Other aspects
We did the budgeting and scheduling on our own. We took 35 days to shoot the talkie part and a total of 50 days to finish the film.

The film has no emotions and almost every character has shades of gray. Everyone’s negative aspects are justified because of the scenario they are in. The lack of emotions in the character was a very conscious choice because I didn’t want people to feel too much about them.

I like the humour surrounding serious situations and I made the whole film like that.

Idlebrain nostalgia
I was an avid participant of the Idlebrain discussion forums. While most groups had people fighting about their favourite heroes, there was one group called ‘Mana Autograph Sweet Memories’ where the discussions used to be healthy. For instance they would give a line and say ‘write a story to suit this line’. My ID was ‘achiever’ and Idlebrain did have an impact on my movie making life.
I used to read the postmortem of all films and it’s so exciting that my film’s postmortem is going to be published!

- Jeevi

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