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Appu Prabhakar: Venkatesh Maha didn’t want anything glossed over

There are two schools to approaching a remake. A filmmaker either takes the crux of the original story and adapts it to suit the sensibilities of the new target audience, or does a faithful copy of the original content. Cinematographer Appu Prabhakar is of the opinion that a frame-to-frame remake is like “copying a painting and trying to match the original. Your film can never better the original”. He is making his debut in Telugu cinema with Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya (UMUR), the remake of Malayalam film Maheshinte Prathikaram, which will stream on Netflix from July 15.

In a phone conversation from his hometown in Kerala, Appu recalls the first location recce he did with director Venkatesh Maha in Araku Valley. “We were constantly comparing what we saw with the visuals of Idukki from Maheshinte…That wasn’t the right approach. The second time, we looked at locations with a fresh mind, having decided to treat UMUR like a new movie that will mirror the culture and lifestyle of Araku,” he says.

‘Local is international’

Prior to taking up UMUR, Appu was not too familiar with Telugu cinema. He watched Care of Kancharapalem and was taken in by how it stayed true to its ethos.

Appu caught the attention of Venkatesh when he won a National Award for best cinematography in the non-feature section for the short film Eye Test (2017). After a B.Tech degree, Appu pursued a postgraduate diploma course in Cinematography from Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata.

A still from Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya  

He then worked on an independent Malayalam film, Bengali films, and the Nepali film Nimtoh (Invitation), which won the Grand Jury Prize for screenwriting at MAMI’s Mumbai Film Festival 2019.

Born and raised in the coastal region of North Kerala, he says, “I am not familiar with Idukki. Maheshinte… was a revelation for me, though I am a Malayali. It was a non-homogeneous way of showing finer details of a place. There’s a saying in Malayalam cinema that ‘local is international’. Films like Maheshinte… have helped further this notion and more films are getting a rooted, regional flavour. Venkatesh, too, liked this idea. We tried to show Araku for what it is, with its mixed culture of native tribes and the settlers.”

Appu Prabhakar with director Venkatesh Maha

Appu Prabhakar with director Venkatesh Maha  
| Photo Credit:
By arrangement

Venkatesh’s brief to him was to realistically capture Araku, without glossing over. “He also wanted the skin tones of all actors to look earthy and realistic. He said the heroines need to look like Telugu girls and not models from Mumbai,” Appu recalls with a laugh.

The filming in Araku was done amid unpredictable weather conditions: “We would wake up to a misty morning and witness harsh sunshine followed by showers during the day. I had to work around that uncertainty. We shot some interior scenes at night, recreating a daylight atmosphere,” says Appu.

Visual sensibilities

At each stage, he worked on the lighting and lensing keeping in mind the theatrical experience. He is a tad disappointed that the film will directly release on OTT, but has made peace with the pandemic situation that necessitated it. “I was hoping to see how this film will be received in the semi-urban areas. A change in sensibilities happens only when the audience in these pockets accept something that’s not the norm,” he says.

Appu is keen to work on Malayalam films and had been in talks for new projects, before the pandemic set in. The other project at hand is a biopic on veteran Bengali actor Soumitra Chatterjee, being directed by Parambrata Chatterjee. “We have only nine days of shoot left and we will resume when it is safe. This is an interesting and challenging project, as we go through different eras, from the 1950s when Soumitra Chatterjee worked with Satyajit Ray, to the present,” he concludes.

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