An alumni from the batch of 2019, Akhil Reddy, or “akhillena” on Instagram was just a young boy when he was first introduced to the world of stories. As he grew up, extra curriculars like music, dance and other arts enthralled him. From being an intern on movie sets, to doing BTS for the film, to just editing a snippet and finally being the Associate Editor, Akhil has achieved what most of dream of- multiple promotions within a year! With the release of Jathi Ratnalu, he also accomplished a new milestone in his career- that of being an associate editor of a commercial film for the first time.
Having known Akhil as a friendly super-senior in my first year, it was great to have the opportunity to interview him post the massive success of Jathi Ratnalu, a Telugu film produced by Vyjayanthi Films that journeys the story of 3 boys unravelling life as adults. As for you reader, if you haven’t watched it yet, it’s high time you do!
Here’s an excerpt from the interview.
Q: Starting off Akhil, when and how did you first know that films, camera, and movies are something you want to do full time?
Akhil: “Firstly, I didn’t know if I wanted to do this at all. When I was a kid, I was into arts – I used to learn dance, I used to learn music and the whole concept of telling stories fascinated me. To be honest, it wasn’t a euphoric moment when I realised what I wanted to do. It was a gradual process, I kept liking stories, I liked the idea and understood the purpose of the arts. I used to take my handy-cam and shoot random videos of people around me, mostly of my friends. And then, in my 11th and 12th grade, camera and doing anything related to films became an obsession. So, when the time came, I decided that I’d rather pursue my passion than do something unrelated to my interests and regret it in the future.”
Q. Congrats again on your film Jathi Ratnalu. While the literal translation is “Community Gems”, this is quite a new genre in the Indian film industry. What was the seeding thought for the makers and what is they message being conveyed in the film?
Akhil: “Essentially, it’s a satire on a lot of things. If you see a lot of Tamil or English films, there are a lot of films that have no rational plot-driven stories. Similarly, if you watch this film, the second half makes absolutely no sense. The plot of Jathi Ratnalu is not driven by logic, it’s essentially driven by humour. So, that’s probably the guiding principle for the entire film. Apart from that, the film tries to say that smaller things can be more comforting for people than bigger things that may seem lucrative from afar. But the title is very interesting. In colloquial Telugu, the title is actually used to insult someone. But, in the literal sense of it, it is supposed to mean something great. So, when we released the title, a lot of people assumed it was about someone big. This happened unintentionally, but when the film came out, the fact that is was about smaller people surprised the audience. I think that was something that we did not expect or plan but worked in our favour.”
Q. How did you land this role? What was the experience like?
Akhil: “SCMC was actually how I landed this job. When I was in the fifth semester, I wanted to intern at Vyjayanthi Films and college made it happen. When I was done with my internship, the people I worked with said they liked my work. So once I graduated, they called me back and asked me to be a part of their team. With this film, however I was initially pitching to producers and after that I was an intern doing behind-the-scenes. Eventually, I was approached by a producer and asked if I knew how to edit and was given the job to put together a rough edit to check out the flow of the scenes. That’s how I went into editing and I started liking it. Luckily, the producers also liked what I did and so I stuck to editing. The funny thing is that the editor of the film came on board 2 months after I started editing the footage. We weren’t given a script, so editing was basis our own logical understanding of the film. It was a very different experience, and I am glad I got this opportunity to discover my interest in editing.”
Q. So, as we all know, you have worked on various projects as a student. How different was work for you on Jathi Ratnalu, as compared to all the work you have worked on independently?
Akhil: “The basic difference is that there’s more money with a job, so there’s more food. There’s ample amount of food and we don’t have to live on Vada-Pav’s because production costs are tight, haha! But significantly, with money also there is a lot of responsibility. When you’re being paid to do something, you give your 100% to it, and you have to be completely focussed. But with college films, that’s not the case. We could always decide to postpone shoot by a day or two or shifts schedules as we liked. Also, in terms of the content you produce, at least with my experience in the Telugu film industry, there is a lot more creative freedom, and you aren’t bound by the producers. There is not much structure, in a good way. So that makes it easier to tell stories in the way we envision them in the first place. The one similarity though, is that in both cases, everyone is as passionate as you are about films!”
Q. Let us rewind the clock a bit. When you first thought of applying to SCMC as someone inspired to be a filmmaker, what did you expect from the institute? Following that, at the end of your three years here, what did you take away?
Akhil: “My parents and I loved Chennai, and at the time that I finished my 12th grade, SRM introduced a course in film. So, I applied there, and went there only to realise that it was not what I was looking for. I had to then take a gap year and figure out where I could actually get what I’m looking for. And as for any aspiring media student, Symbi was my first choice. I didn’t think I would get in and I honestly did not know what to expect when I eventually got in. But everything changed once I came to Pune. I think two of the most important things SCMC gave me was knowledge in a vast range of subjects like Psychology, Sociology, Film, Colour and so much more which is something that works in your favour when you start working. I was fascinated that people could talk about colours and feminism and lines and cameras and so much more, for hours together! Second, my internships. I went to Pondicherry, Ladakh and also interned at Dharma Productions and Vyjayanthi Films, where I now work. I’ll always be grateful to SCMC for that, and most definitely the friends I’ve made there!”
Q. Akhil, I remember seeing your passion for dance every year on the SCMC auditorium stage as you put all your passion into it. Considering your interest in both arts, what significance does dance hold to you and do you think there is a correlation with your professional work in films? For instance, your degree film was an amalgamation of both!
Akhil: “There is definitely a correlation that dance and films have, in my life. As I told you, dance partially laid the foundation of my understanding of stories and how to tell them. I don’t think I can separate my two art forms entirely. I dance for personal joy, it’s like meditation to me. Talking about films, I try to translate my feelings onto the screen for others. When I dance, I do think of story-telling the way I do in films, and when I make films, I think a part of me sub-consciously tries to incorporate dance into it. Like you said, my degree film had to have dance in it, I couldn’t leave it out! That actually is true about any art, you cannot separate them, especially for me.”
Q. Do you think it is hard for someone to get into any film industry- be it in the south or in Bollywood? What barriers did you face as an outsider and how did you overcome them in the course of being an Audio-Visual student at SCMC to working on big commercial projects such as Jathi Ratnalu?
Akhil: “Honestly, this whole concept of an outsider or an insider is not restricted to films. A doctor’s son is made a doctor, an engineer’s son is made an engineer. Similarly, people in films also use the connections and help their kids build their future. At the end of the day, it’s all a business and I understand if an actor or a producer chooses to launch their son or daughter. Having said that, there is going to be quite a struggle for someone coming from the outside, especially without connections. Personally, I did not face any such struggle because the people that gave me my break were very open-minded. Though the producers came from film families, they were always open to giving chances. But at the end of the day, I think effort really does pay off.”
Q. Since the film released in March 2021, a lot of the work on the film must have happened during the pandemic. How difficult was managing work in an industry that demands outdoor spaces, now confined at home?
Akhil: “We didn’t really shoot or edit during the pandemic. We took a break and only resumed in August 2020. In terms of difficulties, I think the people working as producers or writers or editors could always switch to a different role. For example, I moved to research on a different film when this was on hold. The real difficulty was for the people who worked as on-ground crew- lighting, sound and more. I think it’s them who faced the hit because of the lockdown and it was quite sad because you can have your script, your actors and everything, but without your crew you film is a no-show.”
Q. Since a lot of students wanting to be in films would like to know, what would you say are key differences on working on films in the south as compared to working in the Hindi Film Industry? You mentioned the open-ness in the Telugu films, is that something unique?
Akhil: “Okay, I’ve only seen a speck of the film industry and cannot comment on the film ecosytem as a whole. From my experiences till date and what I have seen, creatively there’s not much difference – you essentially just tell stories in different languages to different people. t least in Hyderabad, it’s a laid-back city and we’re all lazy people. There’s no culture ad-film culture here yet, and everyone works in a close-knit community and we don’t work on extensive deadlines. But in Bombay, it’s very different- you work for 18 hours a day, people are multi-tasking as editors and the DOPs and there’s this sense of rush, you have to keep running. Also, if I had to compare the places that I worked for, I think the Hindi film industry is more corporate, and you have to climb up the ladder and wait for your turn on roles. But that’s not the case here, it’s much easier to switch and experiment new roles and find what you really enjoy. I think these are the major differences I found.”
Q. Finally, Akhil, as a senior and mentor, what advice would you give to current and future students looking to pursue work in the film industry?
Akhil: “Haha, I myself ask other people for advice, and am still very new in the industry. So here’s a disclaimer- please don’t take my advise because tomorrow if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll curse me! But fun and games aside, I feel that as students at SCMC we’re taken through so many things that by the end of our course we feel we know everything and set up our mind as to what particular thing we want to do – for example be a director or do something behind a camera. But when you come out in the industry, you realise there are so many other things you can actually do in film. I feel that we should get out of the shell that we’re only good at one thing and experiment as much as we can, for a couple of years. Most of us come from privileged backgrounds and even if we fall back in the beginning, our parents will feed us. At least, by then end of it you’ll know you’re true calling and you can stabilize yourself in that department and even grow further from there.”
Talking to Akhil not only inspired me to keep an open mind to working but also assured me that good work in any field will always pay off!
Don’t forget to watch Jathi Ratnalu, Akhil’s first film as an Associate Editor, now!