The Telugu film ‘Mail’ harks back to the time when the personal computer was new and revered
Cinematographer and first-time director Uday Gurrala remembers spending his school holidays at his grandmother’s village, Kambalapally in Mahabubabad mandal, Telangana. “To me, that was the best holiday destination. I would sit by the lake or watch Bathukamma celebrations and feel at home with everything the village had to offer,” he recalls. When he decided to direct feature films, he was determined to narrate stories from Kambalapally. The Telugu film Mail, produced by Swapna and Priyanka Dutt and starring Priyadarshi, is the first of the Kambalapally stories. Mail, termed as chapter 1 of Kambalapally Kathalu, premières on Aha on January 12.
The film is set in Kambalapally of the mid-2000s, when the village looked at the personal computer with awe. Priyadarshi who knows a thing or two about the computer and internet, teaches a wide-eyed Harshith Malgireddy the basics. But first, the computer needs to be handled with care and reverence. Uday reveals that some of the traits that shape the character enacted by Priyadarshi were inspired by one of his lecturers.
Uday had a basic storyline of Mail in 2014. He discovered his interest in storytelling during his graduation in fine arts at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad: “I love photography and as an extension of it, cinematography. I enjoyed narrating stories visually,” he says.
Director Uday Gurrala
His Instagram account is a window into his visual storytelling methods; he captures moments from everyday life, pausing to find beauty in ordinary things.
It isn’t surprising when he says he likes to watch cinema that presents stories inspired by real life: “I think viewers connect to such stories easily,” he adds.
Uday wanted to gain experience before directing a film. After graduation, he wrote and directed the short film Swecha and was the cinematographer for Nisheedi, the short directed by K V R Mahendra. He also handled cinematography for the film 24 Kisses.
He then fleshed out the story of Mail and narrated it to Swapna Dutt of Vyjyanthi Movies. Preliminary auditions were held before the lockdown and the search for actors continued during lockdown, through video calls. Uday had known Priyadarshi for a while and he felt the actor was a perfect fit for one of the leads. For the smaller parts, people from the villages were chosen.
Mail was filmed over 50 days in Kambalapally and neighbouring villages, with locations chosen carefully to befit the mid 2000s. Uday and his childhood friend Shyam shared cinematography responsibilities. “We worked with a small crew, which wasn’t easy, given the COVID-19 fear. We took prior permission and all of us stayed in a village school,” he says.
Uday is also the cinematographer for the Telugu film Hangman, which is under production. He has a story for chapter 2 of Kambalapally Kathalu, which he intends to make as a feature film in the near future.
Before winding up, we talk about the outdated computer monitor, CPU and speakers of the early 2000s that are seen in the film. How did he find them? “We got lucky, we found it through OLX. The monitor and speakers were all in good condition,” says Uday.
(Mail will stream on Aha from January 12)