Shashi Sudigala quit a well-paying job in the US to return to India to pursue his dream of filmmaking. His first film, Mona Darling, got released earlier this year, and now his first web series Social, starring Rana Daggubati no less, is available on a streaming service. Shashi calls his journey “the usual story”.
Mona Darling, his debut and a sci-fi horror film about the evils of social media is getting screened at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York this December. “We had a limited theatrical release. It was an indie film made on a shoestring budget. I was happy with whatever screens I could get.”
Part of the reason Shashi doesn’t really regret not having had more screens is the attention the film has got since it was made available on Hotstar. “I have more eyes watching it than would have been possible with a theatrical release.” Shashi adds that it doesn’t make sense to sit on a film after it’s finished when you have streaming sites so big “that even Martin Scorsese is making an exclusive film for one of them.”
Does he follow the social media chatter about his films? “I am not a very avid social media user or abuser (laughs); so I only know about the comments on YouTube for the trailer, which are, by and large, quite generous.”
He says social media has become dangerously all-pervasive. “People make fake profiles, use it to stalk people. Depravity gets heightened when armed with anonymity.” Is this what prompted him to make his web series, Social? “In a way, yes. In the series, there is a fictitious social media company called Social.
The entire show is a thriller that unfolds in a world where this company is all-pervasive. It has a Mark Zuckerberg meets Elon Musk kind of visionary at the top, Vikram Sampath played by Rana Daggubati. He is the narrator and his presence is felt all through the series.”
What drew him to the premise of this 13-episode web series? “I chose this because I wanted to do cliffhangers and the subject was incidental.” The treatment, he says, is also completely different. “While my feature film was a sci-fi horror, this is a contemporary thriller that is completely grounded in reality.”
On writing for a web series, he says, “Unlike your regular binge-watch shows where you drop 13 episodes at one go, we were shooting as we wrote each episode. And every day, we’d wake up to news of a number of social media evils, which we used as the kernels for our story.”
But doesn’t that lead to a villain-of-the-week kind of treatment instead of an overarching story arc? “Not at all. The overall story is about a girl going missing, and four characters from different backgrounds coming together to solve the mystery. It’s when we wanted a character to go from A to B that we took such real life examples and tried to fit them into the story.”
Shashi calls the freedom he had working on a series as opposed to a film, “a double-edged sword”. “I had so much freedom, but the time constraints were tremendous. Everyone needed to be on the same page because the series had a lot of VFX, in addition to the story we were telling, and everyone had to be punctual. Fortunately, we were.”
The director calls Rana, ‘the cherry on top of the cast’, and reveals that the Baahubali star appears in a special appearance. “He is a huge name, and I am sure he brought in all the eyeballs. He pulls you in, but once you are in, it is my responsibility to ensure you stay. That is the hallmark of a good story.” Interestingly, he hasn’t yet watched the show himself. “When we were shooting, I couldn’t watch it and stay sane, because all I saw when I saw the final rush was mistakes. Now that the series is completely done, maybe I will watch it.”
What’s next? “Cinema is my first love and I am a writer first. So, right now, I am concentrating on that. But, if I have the opportunity to work with such a wonderful bunch again, I would do so in a heartbeat.”
Social is a 13 episode web series on Viu and is available in Telugu and Hindi.