Hyderabad: Film maker Ram Gopal Varma completed the shooting of his latest movie, the Telugu-language Dongala Mutha (Gang of Thieves), in just five days with a cast of eight and a technical crew of seven. Post-production work on what he calls a “no-budget” movie, made at a time when multi-crore budgets are the norm, took a week. Five novice cinematographers using hired Canon 5D cameras shot the film, which cost Rs 6-7 lakh, in natural light. Everyone associated with the film, including stars Ravi Teja and Prakash Raj, received no payment before the release on Friday; the remuneration they receive eventually will be proportional to ticket sales. Dongala Mutha, which released on Friday, is expected to recover its cost in a single show, said Varma, who explained the economics of making movies in the digital era in an interview at Hyderabad.
On the making of a low-budget film:
Actually, it’s not a low-budget film; it’s a no-budget film. A film’s cost depends on what the producer pays the actors, technicians, for equipment supplies and these kinds of things. The sum total of these expenses is what we call the cost of production. The sheer effort which goes into a film is common knowledge — we use about 150-200 crew members and expensive equipment. Technically, even when we pay all the people, if we don’t take the actors’ fees into consideration, the actual cost is less than Rs 10 lakh. We shot with Canon cameras which were on hire for about Rs 1, 000 to Rs1, 500 per day, along with the operator. Dongala Mutha must be the first film which has been shot without a DOP (director of photography). A DOP normally does the lighting, he composes the frame and he probably designs a visual mood for the scene. Here, we didn’t use any lights at all. And the composing was done individually by the still cameramen. These people are actually still photographers; they have not even shot a video before. Their still camera had a video attachment. And each of the five (camera) operators were taking their own compositions without any of the other four knowing what this guy is doing. But all of them were shooting the same subject. I decided (which shots to use) on the editing table. We only had seven members in the unit including me. Me, my assistant and five camera operators. Otherwise there was no unit at all.
On how the idea originated:
When I was making Company, we were shooting a scene with (actor) Vivek (Oberoi) talking to some people in a (train) compartment in the night, my cameraman came up with this idea — what if we don’t use lights at all? (He said) I will shoot in the existing light in the train; in the coach these little blue lights will be there...So I said let’s try, if at all it doesn’t work, we can always reshoot. And then we four people went inside the coach; him and his assistant, me and my assistant. And the 200-strong unit —, they were just standing, sitting, sleeping in the station, waiting for us to return. That’s when it first occurred to me: if a film is just a photographic image which is moving, to create that, what do all these people do actually? So I think a series of those kind of thoughts (came to mind), and then when I saw the work of the Canon camera, I was quite zapped to see the quality, especially in low- light conditions.
On his choice of the Canon 5D camera:
I worked with the RED digital camera in Raktha Charitra. After that I came to Canon for two reasons: one is because of the speed at which you can maneuver the camera, because of the size of it, and its extremely low cost, and the resolution, the output it gives on screen when projected outwards, it looks to an average eye, I am not talking about the technicians, it looks as good as a Super 35 to me. The cost of a Super 35 would be more than a crore. The cost of the camera for hiring would be around Rs 40, 000 a day. And this would cost a lakh, the Canon camera.
On the risk of using novice cinematographers who had never been on a film set before:
I always believe in the sensibilities of people. If they say they can do it, I believe that they can do it. That’s something I have been following in my entire career. Whenever I give a so-called break to new cameramen...I believe in their sensibility, and intelligence. I would like to believe that you don’t claim that you can do something that you can’t on taking the concept to Bollywood: First of all, this is not my idea. The world over, a revolution is taking place on Canon. My next film I am shooting differently with Canon. This is called Trishank (starring Amitabh Bachhan, Ajay Devgn, Sanjay Dutt and Abhishek Bachhan. It should come out in September-October.
On the receptiveness of distributors to the idea:
There is no buyer. A buyer is the guy who will buy a film for an area. Here the intention is not to sell. Because the moment I sell it, I am putting a cost to it. The whole idea was not to have a cost to the film. Whatever money is coming is straight from the theatres (the film’s revenue). Nobody is taking any risk, that’s the whole idea.
On the impact of the low-budget concept on technicians:
This is a model which is available — that is the whole point (of this film). But each film will be different in its nature, each film will have its own parameters; they have to adapt in terms of production values, and unit members are a result of that. But if you want to do a film at a rock-bottom cost, without anybody, (that’s) also is possible; that is what actually the proof of Dongala Mutha is. All it takes is passion to do a film.
On his message for young film makers:
I feel that with the present-day technology, the biggest advantage is (that) anyone can make a film without any money. They can just shoot a film — a short film or whatever — and come and show it to the industry people like producers, distributors or actors, and they might get a chance of it getting released or an actor giving them dates.