Reddy, set, go: Meet the director who has set a world record for most awards

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What makes a film awards-worthy? Is it the story, the way it’s shot, the director’s vision?

“Different film festivals judge a film on different criteria,” says filmmaker Deepak Reddy. “In the US, it’s often about how inventive you get with the storytelling. Festivals in India seem to look for a moral or message or social cause.”

Can Reddy explain how his own Telugu short won 513 awards around the world? No he cannot, he says, grinning, but it thrills him that Manasanamaha (Salutations to the Mind; 2020) now holds the Guinness world record for most awards won by a short film.

The 16-minute film focuses on a young man named Surya (played by Viraj Ashwin) as he looks back on past relationships; it’s a twist on the romcom, using the boy-meets-girl trope but travelling in reverse.

“The past is known, the future is uncertain, and when it comes to relationships, particularly failed relationships, it’s always better to look back at the beginning, because the beginnings are always happy,” says Reddy, 31. There is a delicious twist at the end too, involving a girl, a milkshake, and a brief but telling take on an alternative point of view.

Reddy convinced a cousin to fund this project, which was shot in less than a week. It then spent months in post-production, since all the editing and dubbing etc was being done by friends working on it free. “Once it was done, people did suggest that I submit the film to festivals, but I didn’t have the money for that,” laughs Reddy.

It was the movie review portal spreadflix.com that submitted the film to the first few festivals, on his behalf. “When I saw the short I felt the film was of international quality. The reverse approach to telling the story is a rare thing,” says Naveen Venkat, an independent reviewer and founder of SpreadFlix. “I liked it so much I felt it deserved wider appreciation outside India.”

A month later, the awards started coming in.

Manasanamaha won Best International Film at the Birmingham Film Festival in 2020, and was nominated in the same category at the Crystal Palace International Film Festival, both in the UK. It won Best Romantic Comedy at the Cinema World Fest Awards 2020, and Best Long Short at the Berlin Flash Film Festival in 2020. It also won Best Romantic Film at the Jaipur International Film Festival, 2021. Friends, family and the original cousin pitched in to help take the film to more festivals.

Manasanamaha is Reddy’s fourth short film, and it best represents him as a filmmaker, he says. It’s meant to be his demo reel, he adds, laughing. “I just wanted producers to understand that this guy can handle a film. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of locations, a lot of props. But I didn’t have the money.”

His first short, WTF or What’s The Fact (2013), is a 26-minute abstract thriller that explores people’s belief in God. Excuse Me (2017) is a six-minute comedy about smoking. And Hide and Seek (2016) is a five-minute single-take horror film featuring the late theatre actor John Kottoly. All four have a sharp twist at the end, and moments of irreverence and humour woven in. His narratives are surprising in where they go, and how they are moulded. There’s an energy to the films that feels raw but refreshing.

With a Master’s degree in industrial engineering, the one thing he treasures about his years in college, he says, is the hours he spent on the internet, not studying. “I discovered Hitchcock, Kubrick and Lynch and studied their language of cinema.”

At 21, he finally succumbed and told his mother he was quitting his job at Tech Mahindra in Pune to pursue a diploma in film technology. “I didn’t finish it. I am not a filmmaker who goes by the rules. I always thought as a filmmaker I should break the rules,” Reddy says.

Manasanamaha is finally helping him take his next step. It’s put him in touch with the Tamil director Gautham Vasudev Menon (of Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein). “Gautham Sir called and said, why don’t you dub it in Tamil,” says Reddy. “That was actually the biggest award of my life.”

The film has been uploaded to the YouTube channel of Menon’s production banner, Ondraga Entertainment. “A film I really liked and thought it should be put out and shared. Loved the filmmaker’s attitude and style,” Menon tweeted when the film was uploaded in June 2020.

The original has travelled far too; it now sits on the YouTube channel of UV Creations, a leading banner in the Telugu film industry, where it has almost a million views. Meanwhile, offers to direct a full-length feature are coming in, including from UV Creations.

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