It took the ad-person, photographer-turned-filmmaker Srividya Basawa nearly 9 years to fulfil her dream of becoming a film director – a journey that has only strengthened her resolve but nearly left her bankrupt. Thankfully, her creative juices kept flowing all the while. She was also helped by the firm conviction she had in her talent and the determination to tell her story to a wide audience. Her first film Madha, a psychological thriller finally made it to the big screen on March 13, but her joy was once again shortlived with the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Ahead of the film’s digital release on Amazon Prime Video on April 8, she reminisces the pains and the joys associated with its making.
With Madha being a niche subject that didn’t find many takers for long, did you ever yield to the temptation of releasing it as a web original?
We were open to releasing it as a web original, while we always knew it would have great value as a theatrical experience too. With its one-of-a-kind visual treatment and a new cast, it was becoming increasingly difficult for us to get a distributor on board. That’s when we had approached both Prime and Netflix, but both platforms weren’t keen on regional original content (back then). They were open with the option of me breaking the film into a series and even gave an option of them buying the digital rights of the film once it has a theatrical release. So, we had settled for the latter option.
Madha being a multi-layered story with several parallel threads may have made for an interesting series too. Don’t you think so?
Madha would have worked well as a series yes, but the episodical format wasn’t something I visualised while writing or even shooting it. It wasn’t very feasible for me to break into a series because the screenplay was already on my mind for long – I structured it like a feature film and wanted it to remain that way. Had I planned it as a webisode during the writing stage, Madha would have made for a wonderful web show.
Madha was strikingly original in terms of its treatment and tapped into the darker side of the human psyche like no other Telugu film...
There were two ways to approach the story of Madha – it could have been a proper mainstream film or an experimental film with a layered screenplay. Several distributors and even actor Navdeep had told me that Madha has all the trappings of being a kickass commercial film. The dark tone of the film was a reflection of whatever I had gone through in my life – everything that I have achieved from a good grade in my tenth to making my first ever video during my television stint came after immense pain and suffering. Madha’s protagonist Nisha (who’s a proofreader and is later shifted to a mental asylum) too goes through a lot of suffering to fulfil her aim. Many wondered why I chose to depict the psychological turmoil in the character in the second half – it was inevitable that I had to show her struggle because it portrays the lengths to which one could go to achieve what they want.
The colour-play in the film was so novel in terms of a viewing experience...
We had used various tones of reds and blues for various situations surrounding the male lead – the colours were subtle metaphors to indicate the sudden change and shift in the characters. For instance, red can represent violence and romance at the same time – we chose colours that could aptly represent the duality of the on-screen character. The lighting and art properties were visual tools to enhance the mood.
Would you consider a re-release of Madha in theatres post the COVID-19 era?
We had spent heavily for the promotions and all the technicalities associated with the theatrical release on March 13– the payments were more or less to ensure its theatrical run for a week at least. Unfortunately, the theatres were shut since March 15. There was nothing I could get out of the theatrical release or the efforts from the promotions. Aiming for a theatrical release again would mean that I would have to go through this payment cycle again. I am not sure if I would want to go through that.
Was it heartbreaking that the theatrical run was cut short so abruptly? How do you look at it now?
Madha had already taken a lot of time to get to the theatres (nearly three years since it was announced) and I could foresee (not Corona) that the theatrical run of my film would be curtailed. Many big films were scheduled to release from March 20 and a heavy lineup of films was to release till the end of July. March was an exam-heavy time and many had already advised me to push the release date to July. However, if the film wouldn’t release theatrically, I couldn’t have got any money from digital rights. So despite the risks, I went ahead and the response (even though the film lasted for two days) was certainly unexpected. The shows were full and several distributors were extremely thrilled for a rarely attempted genre (in Telugu) like a psychological thriller.
On a positive note, you would be getting a great audience for the film once it has a digital release. Practically, audiences across the world are restricted to their homes...
It’s flattering to hear the reach the film (in over 190 countries) would get once it releases digitally. Several filmmaker friends of mine felt the film was universal in its appeal and would work even if it’s dubbed in Korean or Tamil or Hindi. I never took that acclaim to my head but their words rang true once I began sending the film to most noteworthy film festivals across the world. Except for four festivals, Madha won awards and was received extremely well at every event it was screened. Now that it’s coming on Prime and the film would be getting its biggest audience, I can’t wait to hear the responses.
Is the lockdown phase proving to be conducive enough for you to come up with newer story ideas?
The only positive thing is the ample time you have in your life now. Madha has been on my mind for over 9 years already. Even a day before its theatrical release, I had to pinch myself to believe that the D-Day had finally arrived – so long has been the struggle. Since I had invested so much of my time and money into Madha, ‘what next?’ was a thought that didn’t strike me for many years. And finally, I am free now. Many production houses had begun calling me on the very first day of Madha’s release, expressing keenness to produce my next project. It was a relief to know that my work was received well by the industry. The response was so welcoming, especially after going through a long phase of rejection from distributors. I see this lockdown phase as a break.
We’re certainly glad that film producers are lining up to make projects with you. However, is OTT on your mind?
Yes, I am very keen to do OTT content! I have teamed up with a young writer for a new story that could last at least three seasons. We have already completed the dialogue version of the first season. I am pitching to a couple of platforms as of now – it’s a raw, cult story set in the 1950s. This will mark a firm departure from Madha and certainly widen my horizons as a director. I hope I get to prove my versatility through this project.