Drawing Blood is an Indian-English concept movie ready to be released. It is an english film in the league of Nagesh Kukunoor’s Rockford, Hyderabad Blues, Hyderabad Blues 2, and Bollywood Calling and would be targeting the same audience. However, what sets this movie apart is the very personal level on which the movie’s story is based. The movie is about a struggle an artist goes through to create the much admired paintings he creates. Here is an interview with the Khammam-born Actor-Director Natraaj Maharshi, who goes by the screen name MaHa, about this emotional roller-coaster.
How and when were you inspired to get into movies?
I was a child artist through the age of 4. I acted in a lot in school or stage plays. And then went on to direct my own stage play being a 14 year old. I belonged to a lower middle class family, every Sunday there were regional films telecasted on Doordarshan. After having watched different genres of films, I realized how powerful Films are as a mass medium. I was intrigued to have known that film was a form of language for the people. My interest kept rising to know more, though there was no source or affordability to learn about film making, the technicians, or equipment, etc. I used to regularly visit the only nearest Cinema around my locality and found cut out pieces of film reels behind the venue that I collected and brought back home. With help of few friends, I managed to cut out a hole in the wall, fixing a mirror lens, joining all the cut pieces of film reel together to create my own entertainment stories and narrated them to our visitors. This is how I began earning my pocket money and surprisingly the audience enjoyed it more than having watched a film in a theatre in those old days. In 1996,the New York Film Academy folks came to India and auditioned for talent all over India. Late Malayalam director Bharatan sir was the india project head. I then stood out as a Gold medalist winner. In that time having watched more films of Govind Nihlani, Satyajit Ray, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Shyam Benegal, Gautam Ghosh, K. Vishwanath, Bharatan, T. Krishna, I began giving film direction a thought. But then came in Mani Ratnam films, that highly influenced me to stay firm on my decision into movies. I considered myself as Eklavya shishya of Mani Ratnam Sir on my own to stay inspired.
Why did you chose to make your first film in English?
Nowadays in villages too, children are going in convent schools. Hence English is growing more in our country and becoming the global language. We need to move out of the local block if we want to increase our target audience and in practical perspective too. Like with Hollywood films which are selling all across the globe. Their film trade is highest compared to others in the world.
What motivated you for the story of Drawing Blood? Are you a painter yourself?
Yes, I myself am a painter. As we look into life of painters/artists, they are free birds of imagination and creation and they tend to picture moments that they experience or envision onto their canvas. If unsatisfied with their paintings, they can erase them and re-make them. But they cannot design their own real life incidents nor can they erase them or dispose them as they wish just as with paintings. Though they make colourful paintings but much in real life many artists lead a pale life. Thus this thought triggered my mind and i tried understanding some artist friends’ lives and I realized that if they haven’t felt or experienced “pain”, they cannot make “paintings”. Hence i decided to create DRAWING BLOOD, a film based on a colourless life of a painter. Because I strongly believe that PAINTING itself is a message. It is a language of expression, and speaks a thousand words with one. There is a strong relation between Life and Painting. There is a quote as said: At birth your life is a plain canvas, your potential is the colours, your choices are the strokes on the canvas. At death, this canvas will either be a treasured masterpiece or an unnoticed scribbling. That would be the judgment day on how good a painter you were in painting your LIFE. This truly triggered a strong motive to do the film that would be able to relate to each individual’s life some way or the other.
What do you think are the major challenges Telugu film industry is facing now?
First of all it is Groupism and over-renumeration, as it is totally not an ordinary state where a new comer can walk in to make a geuninely good content film. Instead of having new concepts, we have the grinded pieces of various films put together and targeted again to the very audience making it seem like a new storyteller. The amount of importance given to Glam factor or the appearing physique should be given to the Quality performance, good content and storytelling. The day we stop encouraging over-exaggerated action, objectifying women as show girls, or having vulgar humour or even hyphenated duet numbers, that shall be the day our Telugu film industry can create a historical mark. Sometimes films are made over-budget without systematic planning and they have sets prepared without a bound script leading to create a clueless monotonous product. I feel really sad to say, that we are also polluting the audience and blinding them to consider such films to be the only quality films they can get. We do have a lot of talent with us, but if we let great film makers from the World Cinema era to guide us, we can have excellent films to be born in our industry. A small country like Iran makes amazing movies, there are so many film makers in the world trying to learn from Majid Majidi’s film making sense including me.
Tell us a bit about your training in film making and previous works.
I have received a Diploma in Method Acting (Gold Medalist) and Film Direction. After my college days, I filmed a lot of videos in Khammam District to experiment and experience. I struggled and tried my best to gain a place in the film industry but never received a chance. I am very keen on my skills and ideas, I am not aiming at making formula films. I always aimed at making a mark in the World Cinema. I met Shyam Benegal, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghosh and Adoor Gopalkrishnan and learnt a lot more about World Cinema and it’s ideology. In the middle of the phase I worked as a journalist to get closer to know people as humans and observe society as a whole in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.
The Tsunami disaster of the coasts changed my entire way of thinking. I had been to Cuddalore and Nagapattanam to cover the disaster, and there began a certain kind of realisation over looking at the pain, the intensity of loss and heartache of the victims and their families. I took upon my first film project on real life of a Tsunami victim named “For You” directed in Hindi. Along with awards, accolades I also gained a good name and identity. Following were shorts like “Shabd” (2007)- a Hindi short film giving out meaningful morale on a missing link between children and parents that was an initiative under an organization to create awareness on the communication gap in today’s time. And last (but not the least), “Godse loves Gandhism”(2010)- a short film in Telugu on the negative image embarked upon the name Godse, that prevents from accepting the person’s spirit of Gandhism, had a nationwide release and was widely talked about. In that moment, again I met Buddhadeb Dasgupta, he encouraged me a lot and taught me a lot of practicality about World Cinema. Officially I can say he is my Guru.
Tell us something about your debut movie ‘Drawing Blood’.
When I began to plan on directing my debut feature film “Drawing Blood – Colourless life of an artist”, for the lead female role, I had been to Kolkatta, Mumbai and auditioned a lot of women, but later decided to give a chance to a Chennai based Telugu girl Subhiksha Saadhna. She has really tried to give her best and done a great job. For the male lead character called “Yogi”, I saw a lot of actors for the same, but yet I did not want imitators or pretending models as I hunted for someone who can be a versatile experimental actor. Failing to find that protagonist I decided to take it up myself as a challenge.
Arranging the monetary source through support of my friends and family I attempted my first feature film. In 11 call sheets, we successfully completed shooting the film. But it took us the longest time during the post production process including the DI to get the final product. Our DOP- Bheema, DI colourist- Karthik, Editor- Murugan and Sound Engineer- Ramkey have given their best on this project. Sound mixing and Digital Intermediate had to be done thrice and that took away a lot of our time but I feel glad with the output. The background score of the film was done by me and my friend Ramsey. A well known lyricist, Shiv Ganesh who has worked for Shankar and AR Rahman films, made his debut as an actor on a key role of our film and has done a wonderful job. To complete this film, we faced a lot of hurdles concerning financial issues to give a best output. Now we are aiming at International Film festivals, a thought which was encouraged due to the support and inputs of various people on Social Media who came across our website or Facebook page. We received numerous LIKEs from random countries which I never expected in the beginning. I learnt one thing through this movie and kept that belief that ‘Hard work will always pay off one day’. I am confident about the idea that my film shall create new wave in Independent Cinema. Especially, I am very thankful to the dialogue writer, VaayuDhwani (Mass Media Graduate from SIES College, Sion-West of Mumbai) who has given life to the film and my concept.
Here is the trailer of the movie ‘Drawing Blood’ -
Are there any specific subjects, themes that attract you to base your stories?
Being a very practical human being, our society or even as a country has enough of burning social issues and problems that come into notice where we need to do our bit in highlighting or trying to give a positive approach to deal with them. We are forgetting our roots, where people give more importance to gadgets as smartphones, laptops, or even TV more than what we should give to human bonds, emotions and humanity. We are not robots, we are human beings and I believe films should not pollute or ruin the system. They should try to awaken the minds of people with a revolutionary thinking in doing good.
There seems to be lots of aspirant filmmakers doing short films with handy-cams these days. What is your advice to them?
The idea, the right concept, technology and visuals if all do not go hand in hand, then it would be a waste or just another amateur student film. They need proper planning. Also because short films will have to tell crisp stories stating every point within minimal time, it’s even tougher.
With ‘Drawing Blood’, I would also like to send an educating experience over the camera 5d Mark III about which usually professionals create a rumor or scare saying it does not be liable for commercial shoot output. It gave us an amazing visual and great output for younger generation film makers. A lot of them hold DSLRs but they just need to have the skill to put it to right use.
Telangana Talkies wishes MaHa and his crew the best of luck for their unique attempt ‘Drawing Blood’.