Anish Kuruvilla, the director and screenplay writer of the ‘Gods of Dharmapuri’ series chatted with Yo! Vizag and spoke about his future projects and why Vizag holds a special place in his heart.
An impressive amount of content is now being dished out, especially on online streaming platforms. One such Telugu web series that has caught the eye is G.O.D or Gods of Dharmapuri. We get chatting with its director and screenplay writer Anish Kuruvilla.
How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t watched it yet?
This is a family gangster saga, about the journey of an immigrant family whose past is not entirely revealed. They experience conflicts in the little town of Dharmapuri. It’s a story about power, greed and how an ordinary man who started as a labourer becomes a gangster.
Set on the border of Karnataka and Rayalaseema, how did you work on getting the local dialect right?
We felt that our cinema hasn’t done justice to the vast range of dialects we have just in the two Telugu states. I credit the writing team for realism. Our dialogue writer, Bharghav Karthik, grew up in a region close to the Karnataka – Rayalaseema area. My team and I also interacted with the locals and decided to recreate the local culture as authentically as possible.
You shot the series in a UNESCO protected heritage site, how was the experience?
I’d visited the UNESCO protected heritage site of Anegundi near Hampi, a year ago and found it an ideal place to shoot. The place offers vegetation and beautiful rock formations that have not been tampered with. We could set the story back in the ’70s and ’80s, since we didn’t have to change much. I’d like to credit my producer Radhika Lavu for permitting us to shoot there. Being an outdoor location, the production costs go up but a green signal from her made it possible.
How did you recreate vintage rural India for Gods of Dharmapuri? What went into making the 70s and 80s come alive?
A lot of credit for creating specific rural vintage décor goes to my production designer Srikanth Ramisetti. We travelled to the interior parts of Karnataka to find a suitable mining slum for Pratap’s early journey. Likewise, for B.N.Reddy’s house, one had to depict an aristocrat from a royal lineage. We spruced up an old British-era bungalow for this. The wheelchair that B.N.Reddy sits on was custom made. It’s important to have an eye for detail especially in a period-piece because one wants to recreate that era and one relies on the décor to come alive for that. It’s also a combination of lighting, composition, production design and costume designing.
People have already started picking their favourite character, and the narrative helps us do that. Can you take us through the storytelling style?
I think that people picking their favourite characters, is the hallmark of a good, well-written show. For a saga like this one, the storytelling must be a good old-fashioned and straight forward. It was a conscious effort since a web show involves getting the audiences to invest in the characters and their journey right from the beginning.
The actors play their parts perfectly. How did Anish Kuruvilla and his team come together?
Besides identifying an actor for a role, a lot of work goes into making them fit the bill. Fine-tuning a performance, working on the diction and styling are vital. While I take credit for identifying people well, it’s the actors who put in their heart and soul into their craft.
Satyadev is a perfect combination of what a filmmaker looks for, in a lead. He shaved his moustache off and picked nerdy glasses to create his nerdy look. Even his clothes weren’t the trendiest, but were true to the period in which the show was set in.
Chandni Chowdary reminded me of how an actress in the ’80s looked like. As Telugu actresses have not been represented in the mainstream in our movies. I’m proud of her accolades and excited to see what she does next.
We got lucky casting for Saroja’s role in Gods of Dharmapuri, which was extremely important, given that the soul of the show revolves around her character feeling a lot of anguish. Shruti Jayan is a naturally talented actor and Bharatnatyam dancer who fit the bill perfectly.
I saw Karthik Ratnam in C/O Kancherapalem and knew that he had the look for his character and only needed to work on his body language.
All the characters including John Kottoly who played Ranga Rao and Jagadeesh Bandari as Chalapathi really devoted a lot of time to work on their characters.
You grew up in Hyderabad, and the story is set in rural India. How hard is it to recreate something that one is not familiar with?
Every story draws one in a different direction. This one drew me to the Rayalaseema region. I also believed G.O.D had to be told in a rural backdrop. For me, a story must be in fantasy-land, a place where I customise and recreate a universe. . Creating a universe is integral to how I tell a story. I want to create a bubble, where my stories exist only in this bubble.
Filmmakers are increasingly taking to Over The Top (OTT) Platforms to make content. Do you see this conflicting with the traditional cinema?
Cinema will always have its space, because watching a movie is a communal experience. For me, both are just mediums. OTT lets us tell bolder, deeper stories, the kind that would be a little difficult to find distribution for a cinema. This is a renaissance period in the film industry with storytellers becoming more ambitious and telling stories across various genres. I feel that both the mediums will coexist.
Is there a Season 2 of Gods of Dharmapuri on the cards?
Yes, definitely. It would be in 2020 for sure. I already have a mind map of what the season will be like.
What is Anish Kuruvilla working on next?
I’m putting together a few projects for cinema and new shows are in the scripting stage. I want to do mainstream cinema and OTT without restricting myself in one medium.
Anish Kuruvilla and his connection with Vizag
I have a very strong connection with Vizag. My very first project an assistant director was shot here. I worked on a music video featuring Lucky Ali called ‘Anjaani Raahon Mein’. Portions of the music video were shot in various parts of Visakhapatnam like Kailasagiri, Bheemili Beach. That was my first project ever, back in 1997. I was just twenty-one. It will always a very special place for me, since I started my journey as a filmmaker, here. I love the laid-back quality of Vizag – the chill vibe that comes with the city. The people too are extremely sweet and warm.