In 2018, filmmakers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, popularly known as Raj & DK, were at Film Bazaar where they were part of a panel - Horror Platter - to talk about the success of films like Stree and Go Goa Gone. It was here that Raj first met director Praveen Kandregula, who pitched him the idea behind Cinema Bandi, where an autorickshaw driver chances upon an expensive camera and wants to make a feature film. Recalling their first interaction, Raj Nidimoru says, "We had no clue who these people were prior to that interaction. Praveen, and his colleagues Vasanth and Krishna Pratyusha, were kind of stalking me at Film Bazaar wanting to talk to me (laughs). When we eventually met, they pitched the idea of Cinema Bandi and they had made a booklet, which was filled with pictures and illustrations about what they wanted to do and the world they wanted to create. I was impressed with the effort they had put into making it and had a feeling that they were quite serious about what they wanted to do. But then, the story seemed quite wafer-thin and I was clear that this film should not have any known faces. Only then, it has a USP and an excitement factor because it would feel really raw and fresh."
At the end of their first conversation, Raj & DK asked Praveen Kandregula to make a 5-min short film based on the same subject to get a sense of the characters, the dialect, and the world it's set in. Much to their surprise, Praveen ended up making a 40-min short film, which impressed Raj & DK so much that they ended up producing the indie film under D2R Indie, a division of their production house, D2R films. "My next step was to convince my partner Krishna DK to invest our own money on the film and it was kind of a jolt to him," Raj laughs, adding, "It's the first time we were signing cheques for our film since Flavors, which we directed back in 2003."
There's no denying that Cinema Bandi taps into an obsession with cinema in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, and even the film's tagline - "Everyone is a filmmaker at heart" - reflects this. Praveen says the film is partly inspired by his own experiences as a kid. "Almost two decades ago, when I was in class 7, my father bought a camera. We wanted to do something with it, but we had no clue about editing, music among other things. The whole process was quite raw, but my friends and I never gave up. The essence of Cinema Bandi came from my life experiences. Of course, Supermen of Malegaon is another major inspiration behind our film," Praveen Kandregula reveals.
The principal shooting of the film was done in 2019 in Gollahalli, a village in Mulbagal taluk near Kolar. Praveen adds that it was an ideal location for their story because the characters speak a unique slang of Telugu that's rarely been explored in Telugu cinema. "The story is about how people who are clueless about filmmaking get an expensive camera and the characters that you see in the film are unique in their own way. We wanted to explore the milieu of a place that falls quite distinct compared to what we see in our commercial films, and Gollahalli is a place with barely 20 houses. It was ideal for us since we were also shooting in sync sound," the director adds.
The film's shoot in itself was no less than an adventure. Sometimes the actors weren't told that the camera was rolling because Praveen wanted to capture all the action in the most natural way possible. And other times, they improvised a lot, including using the auto as a track & trolley and punching holes in water bottles to get a rain effect, that was in sync with the kind of story they were telling. "The most adventurous scene to shoot is the one near a railway track. We were told that a train would pass by only twice a day, once at 6 am and another at 10 am. So, we would wait for the right moment for the train to come closer, but if we miss that moment, we would have to wait another day. Time is something that you can't afford to lose for an indie film. So, we had five cameras rolling simultaneously to get that scene. It was crazy!" Praveen recalls. "Raj & DK wanted to keep it as raw as possible because that's what reflects the true nature of the story we were trying to narrate. That's what makes it original, I suppose."
In the past, Raj & DK have produced films like Amar Kaushik's Stree, and under D2R Indie banner, they have backed A Viral Wedding, a micro-series directed by Shreya Dhanwanthary, and Praveen Kandregula's Cinema Bandi. "We have been doing all this informally in the past, but now there's a process in place. We do not have targets to produce a certain number of films every year. If we see merit in a story and a director, we would like to collaborate with them. For Cinema Bandi, we were clear that we didn't want to get a studio on board because that would completely change the dynamics of what we were making. It was a risk for us in the sense that we don't have a big surplus to spare even though we have been working for a while, but then, it wasn't something that would be a big burden for us either. We don't operate like a studio set-up and we aren't conventional producers either. Most of the time, when other directors approach us, it's more on the lines of 'how can we fine-tune this script and make it better?' and so, we end up writing it and make a solid product. DK and I collaborate with each other to direct feature films and series, and even when we produce films of other young and upcoming directors, we are quite hands-on with the project right from the script to the edit. But we make sure that our involvement doesn't come across as interfering with their vision. It was the same case with Cinema Bandi too."
It's been almost 18 years since they made their foray into filmmaking, and Raj acknowledges that the industry itself has changed by leaps and bounds. "Back when we were starting out, we had to read books to learn filmmaking. But today, the awareness about filmmaking has increased by leaps and bounds. Moreover, opportunities have increased manifold. In the past, three films would release on a Friday. But now, you are competing with 20 others, including films, web shows, YouTube shows among many others. It's really a golden age for filmmakers. If you are good, then you can shine," Raj says. In lots of ways, Cinema Bandi is an ode to all those filmmakers who would surpass all odds to make their voice heard. And Praveen Kandregula puts it in perspective saying, "Cinema Bandi is not only a fun film, but also quite an emotional one. It's very genuine at heart."