Kadaseela Biriyani is a path-breaking, brilliantly shot indie film. The experience of watching a spine-chilling dark thriller like this is indescribable. The film made its own mark in almost all the aspects of filmmaking. The film has a well-written script, amazing editing, extraordinary cinematography and mind-blowing sound design. What a terrific movie! The story grips slowly and steadily while keeping us engaged throughout. We have got an exclusive interview with Kadaseela Biriyani director Nishanth Kalidindi. He opens up a lot about the filmmaking process of Kadaseela Biriyani and gives us some important updates about his upcoming projects. Let's see what the director says!
What made you pursue filmmaking?
From my childhood days, Cinema was my fantasy. I love watching films and discussing about it with my friends. But, always, undergoing the process of filmmaking was more interesting and exciting for me. When I was studying my 10th standard, I began planning to make a film. I directed a short film during my 11th standard. Then I slowly started learning and repeating the process of filmmaking. I didn't assist anyone in the cinema industry and I never thought of pitching my ideas to a production house. I had a strong team of technicians with me, and we always work together for any idea that excites us, to this day. After completing a project, we explored the possibilities and initiated the process of showcasing it to industry people. That's how our film Kadaseela Biriyani was born.
How did you come up with the idea for your film Kadaseela Biriyani?
I heard about a true incident and placed it as the midpoint of the film. We built the story around the particular incident with Periya Pandi as the lead character. What will an antagonist do if the protagonist dies at the mid-point of the film? This was the crux of our story.
How did you choose your actors?
We mainly approached theatre actors, for their training. We didn't have enough money to pay the actors upfront. So, we were looking for like-minded, passionate artists. Almost all my actors are from the theatre background. If we take Vijay Ram as an example, more than just being an actor, he really understands cinema. He appreciates cinema in his own way, and he has his own tastes. He is exposed to a lot of good cinema. Considering that aspect to him, I'm waiting to see him coming out as a writer and an even more interesting actor someday. He is very picky with his films. After committing with Kadaseela Biriyani, he got the opportunity to play an important character in Super Deluxe. Even before he was offered the role, Vijay Ram was extremely keen on knowing about the themes and the goals of our film. He was already looking for something he could explore within the film. Just look at the confidence that he has! That's an amazing quality, and I would always love to work with such actors.
Can you please tell us more about Actor Vasanth Selvam?
Vasanth is a brilliant and well-established theatre actor. He has been at it for many years, even before I met him. In Pondicherry, there is a famous theatre company called Indianostrum. I didn't work with any directors, but I did get to observe the working of theatre director Mr. Koumarane Valavane during his rehearsals with actors. Gratefully, Koumarane and Indianostrum gave me the space. I had been to Indianostrum in search of actors for my short film Beyond Paradise and that is where I found my actor Cordis Paldano. Similarly, when I went there again to get an actor for a friend's film, I felt so overwhelmed by witnessing the performance of actor Vasanth Selvam in a rehearsal. It was unbelievable. It stirred up a sensation and made me feel that he is one of the best actors I have ever seen. I approached him and told him that I wanted to work with him in a film. He said OKAY immediately and asked me to bring a story for him.
Simultaneously, while I had started working on exciting ideas, one of my friends was looking for producers with multiple scripts in hand for various budget scales from 5 lakhs to 2 crores. We advised him to do a film on his own rather than wait for a producer, since we felt raising 5 lakhs was not a big deal. That's when we realized that even we ourselves were in the same place. So, we picked up an idea that we have always wanted to do as a film, and that was Mei. We designed it exclusively for Vasanth and another actor, Mr. Hari Narayanan. As the scale of the film grew beyond our capabilities at that time, we switched tracks to the idea of Kadaseela Biriyani, with Vasanth as Periya Pandi.
As an individual, Vasanth is so down to earth. I started working like a fanboy with him, and the way he behaved with humility despite being way more experienced than I, made me disproportionately feel like I was a great artist. He is always supportive, friendly and open to suggestions. It cannot be understated how extremely humble he is, and such an interesting personality. The training from theatre gave him his strong foundations in acting. He is a very popular theatre actor who travels across the continents for acting in theatre plays. He is a tremendous actor already, and I feel proud introducing him to the cinema industry. We even created some portions of Kadaseela Biriyani just because of our admiration towards his brilliant performance.
Do you follow any particular format for writing?
We followed the regular mainstream writing process, but we intentionally avoided the most cliché elements in film. We did not pursue songs or regular fight sequences. We just tried to give a realistic treatment through our filmmaking. Even so, I still feel some characters and scenes in the film came out too cinematic. Anyway, we are so happy with all the appreciation we have received for our film.
How long did it take you for the pre-production, production and post-production processes of Kadaseela Biriyani?
We started shooting in the year 2016, and we completed the film by 2018. Then we were finding means of connecting with people. We had to wait for months together for a single contact to showcase our film. Then, the Pandemic happened. That helped us to speed things up by a bit, since everyone was at home. We finally managed to release the film by 2021. All my technicians are my friends. In all these years, we learned the craft together and built solid friendships. We have already been a team for so many years by now. We just tried to play our parts.
I was supposed to be the one to crack the idea. We were just bouncing ideas and I had to be the one to fix on one particular idea. Then I worked on it and wrote it with my co-writer Vivek Kalaivanan, another friend of mine. It took around 45 days for us to complete the writing process. We didn't actually have enough time for a proper pre-production process for the film, since the script demanded a specific weather condition which was just a month away. We fixed the locations and casting immediately. Only after going to the location, we purchased the costumes, from some local textile shop. Even after the start of the production, we were searching for good artists for few of the important characters. Since we don't have a producer, all of us had to be accountable about our expenditure. At the same time, we were always aware of our ambition towards the quality of the film.
We couldn't raise enough funds in one go. So, we had some downtime to edit the portions that were shot. We then went back for the next filming schedule, after getting the funds we needed. Meanwhile we tried different versions of the film on the editing table, and we experimented with sound. Initially we thought of doing the film without music. But later, we figured out there was a need for music in certain portions of the film. But I did not want it to sound very musical. I just wanted the rhythm itself to be with the palette of the film, and we then derived it. So, music was the quickest and final addition to the project.
Can you tell us more about your upcoming projects?
Currently I'm working on a Web Series. And I have been filming for my next feature film. All I can reveal at the moment is that it's a drama about a bunch of artists. Hakkim Shah, who played the villain in Kadaseela Biriyani, plays one of the leads in this film. Apart from him, there are a bunch of amazing actors in it. Mani Bharathi is playing the other lead, and he is also from Indianostrum. I have known him for a long time, like I have Vasanth Selvam. We have some French actors as well! Just as Kadaseela Biriyani had a mix of Tamil and Malayalam, this film will have many other languages involved in it. I'm very excited about this project. We didn't actually plan to do a film with this concept. We were just trying to explore something else and luckily ended up doing this film. It is not treated like a mainstream film but has a much more experimental style. We would like to take it to film festivals and would love to have a world premiere. Other than these two, there are also a bunch of other ideas that I'm working on. I plan to start another feature film after completing this Web series.
Can you tell us about the greatest moment in your film career?
We experience a lot of freedom. It is there because we haven't needed to particularly pursue films that are solely about bringing us the money. Instead, we have worked on things that we like, and that has fulfilled both: our artistic and material needs. We are highly ambitious in terms of the kind of cinema we make, and that kind of free and dedicated filmmaking experience, fueled by passion, also happens to reward our careers with big fat paychecks. In that way, every moment is nothing but excitement for us.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers out there?
Every filmmaker should build a good team first, to be able to experience the freedom that we have. I will always go with my team to any important meeting. My work is just fifty percent. The other fifty percent comes from my team. It is teamwork only when with proper synergy and like-minded people. And if the team is ready, they will automatically start making films, just like what has happened with us. All I had wished for was to do a film with Vasanth Selvam, and the rest came together within a year. In terms of funding, you should just have the guts to start the work. You should mount practical projects by knowing your own team's strength and weakness. The money will then follow your dedication.
Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
Not really. It depends on each individual. Being a director, I went and studied cinematography in Mindscreen Film Institute, just to understand about that particular craft. I went for it purely out of curiosity. So, it's not actually essential that you should only go to a film school. But going to a film school might give you a team. I discovered my team at Mindscreen Film Institute. In that way, and to understand how others think about films, a film school will definitely help you. But not in the way you'd think. A group of filmmakers coming together for having their conversations, debates and arguments for a few years... that is everything a film school really gives you. And if you cannot afford that, it doesn't matter at all. Many filmmakers that we are taught about didn't go to any film school. They just made their films. Just make films.
Which film and filmmaker has inspired you the most?
I don't even keep track of the films that I've watched. I watch a lot of films, contemporary or otherwise. The way I watch cinema is quite erratic. I sometimes have the tendency of saving a bunch of films for watching later. I will watch a part of a film, and then will start constructing my own work towards the film, which is very internal. For example, there is a film called White God by Kornél Mundruczó. Once upon a time, I used to refer to it a lot. Paul Thomas Anderson, K Viswanath, Mani Ratnam and Mahendran are few of the names that I can never forget. But I like the films that are made by a lot of other filmmakers as well.
Tell about your earlier projects apart from Kadaseela Biriyani?
My First Movie was my first feature-length movie. We complete it during our college days, and I absolutely do not want to show it to people. Mei was actually the project we planned next. But our ambition towards it grew manyfold and it demanded us to grow steeply in terms of skills. It's a character study of two individuals. In order to handle it, there is certain artistic quality that I require. And at some point, we decided to do something else and return to Mei in the future. And that is how, we have arrived at Kadaseela Biriyani.