Making of The Ghazi Attack: How an improbable idea turned into a pan-Indian film
Sankalp Reddy, a 32-year-old filmmaker from Hyderabad, is the man of moment these days.
His directorial debut, The Ghazi Attack has received rave reviews, with several critics praising him for pulling off a first-of-its-kind war drama set in the sea.
The film focuses on the battle between India and Pakistan in the wake of the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the whole drama revolves around the crew of two submarines - S21 and PNS Ghazi, and how India's S21 won the battle against all odds. Directed by Sankalp Reddy, the film had Rana Daggubati, Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni in lead roles and it was hailed as a big step forward for the Telugu film industry (the film was released simultaneously in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi), where such ideas - a war-at-sea film for instance - are rarely explored.
Few days after the release, Reddy admits that he's yet to come to terms with all the appreciation he has been getting. "It's been a five year journey for me to make this film. I don't think I can digest the film's success in just four days. My phone hasn't stopped ringing after the film released and within two days, I got more than 1500 friend requests on Facebook. I have strangers messaging me and praise my work. It's been surreal so far," he confesses, as he gets talking in his thick-Telangana accent.
He's a man of few words, but over the course of the conversation, it becomes all the clear that the big success story isn't about how much The Ghazi Attack has collected at the box-office. It's the fact that the film got made in the first place, against all odds.
Five years ago, when Reddy went to Vishakapatnam for the first time, he ended up going to the submarine museum in RK beach. That marked the beginning of his love affair with narrating a story set inside a submarinem and a quick research led him to the story of PNS Ghazi and INS Rajput.
In the next few months, he revisited the submarine museum to dig out more information about the mysterious sinking of PNS Ghazi, just off the coast of Vishakapatnam in the wee hours of December 4, 1971. "The original incident involved a battle between a R-Class destroyer ship INS Rajput and Pakistan Navy's PNS Ghazi submarine. I didn't have the budget to show a ship in my film, so I changed it to a submarine named S21," he reveals.
Talking about the film's budget, the original plan was to wrap up the film in Rs 10 lakhs and release it on Youtube.
Later, Sankalp borrowed more money from his friends and family members, which increased the budget to Rs 25 lakhs. In the midst of all this, he approached several producers and studios in Bollywood to make it into a full-fledged feature film.
"Initially, I was under the impression that an idea like this wouldn't interest Telugu film producers at all. Who makes a film about a submarine and war in first place in Telugu? I tried reaching out to a lot of actors in Bollywood back in 2013-14, but I hadn't proven my credibility to be taken seriously. The only actors whom I could establish contact with were Kay Kay Menon and Rajeev Khandelwal, but the film almost never took off," says Reddy.
Despite the initial setbacks, he put together a small team who pooled in all their resources to build the set of a submarine in a building that was still under construction. Reddy's initial idea was to work with theatre actors and have very few CGI shots to give the impression of a war, but everything changed once Rana Daggubati came into the picture.
"Once Rana came on board, everything became bigger - we got a bigger budget, a bigger star cast and even a bigger submarine set," he laughs, adding, "The original set that we had built was a tad small for Rana. So, we had to reconstruct the whole thing once again and increase the height by couple of feet to suit Rana's personality."
For all the changes that were made in the final shooting script, there's one thing which no one wanted to tinker with. "Everything that you see in the second half remained intact. Everyone who came on board this project was impressed with the second half when the actual war begins between the two submarines. The only major change that we made was to try to accentuate the conflict between Kay Kay Menon and Rana Daggubati. Another major change was the visual effects under water. When I didn't have the budget, I wanted to have not more than 40-50 CG shots. But when Ghazi was made, it ended up having more than 600 CG shots," he says.
Considering that the film was shot in Telugu, and Hindi within 60 days it sounds like a great team effort. Reddy nods in agreement saying, "All of us have been living and breathing this film for the past few months. So much that I can even tell you what each component of a submarine is supposed to do (laughs)."
Prior to his debut in films, Sankalp Reddy flew to Brisbane, Australia to pursue a degree in Masters in International Business. It was then he realised that he had to change his track to something more creative. "I can't remember being obsessed with films till I turned 14. It was only when I was studying in Brisbane that I had a chance to watch lot of Hollywood films and I remember being mesmerised by the works of Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan," he recalls.
For now, Sankalp Reddy can sigh a breath of relief. The Ghazi Attack is doing great business and is still in theatres.
"I'm enjoying this moment. I mean, think about it — which debut director gets a chance to make a film in two languages and enjoy such appreciation? It'll take me some more time to get back to normalcy (smiles)," says Reddy.