Naga Chaitanya in the Telugu web series ‘Dhootha’, which will stream on Amazon Prime Video on December 1
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
A well known investigative journalist on the verge of launching a newspaper finds himself caught in a maze of mysterious incidents of crime. There’s no turning back. Dhootha (messenger), the Telugu web series directed by Vikram Kumar, has actor Naga Chaitanya Akkineni essaying the part of the journalist. The director-actor duo who collaborated for Telugu films Manam and Thank You step into the digital space with this paranormal crime thriller series, which will stream on Amazon Prime Video on December 1.
In an interview with The HinduChaitanya states that he was eager to experiment in the digital space and when Vikram approached him with a character that went beyond being merely black or white, he was game to step out of his comfort zone. Season one of Dhootha unfolds during monsoon in Visakhapatnam and also stars Parvathy Thiruvothu, Priya Bhavani ShankarPrachi Desai, Pasupathy, Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam and Tanikella Bharani.
“My first challenge was to play an investigative journalist who is complex; there are several layers to him,” says Chaitanya, about his character that has shades of grey. Not having to think of box office reception was an advantage. “I still am not brave enough to try portraying such a character for the large screen,” he admits. “The audience watches content at home with a neutral mindset. Of course, it has to engage them or they will move to something else. They expect entertainment when they make an effort to go to the theatre, and spend on tickets and popcorn. On OTT, they are open to watching something new.”
Naga Chaitanya and director Vikram Kumar
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Vikram began writing Dhootha during lockdown. If it has a faint resonance with one of his earliest films, the supernatural Tamil thriller Yaavarum Nalam (13B in Hindi), he says it was not intentional. “When I began writing it, it was as though the story wrote itself. It flew. Perhaps because I worked on it, there is some resemblance.”
Vikram, too, is venturing into the digital space for the first time and says one of the challenging tasks was to write eight episodes, ensuring that each one had an intriguing hook. A chunk of the story happens during monsoons and he jovially states it rained for nearly 100 days of the shoot. The rain becomes a character, adding to the visual aesthetics. “The rains established a fantastic mood for the story. The thunder and lightning ensured an audio visual layering that works well for this genre. It was all written in the script,” he says.
With the script at his disposal during the lockdown, there was ample time for Chaitanya to dig into the layers of his character, Sagar, who is not a squeaky clean protagonist. “I asked Vikram several questions, especially since the paranormal element was involved. I liked how he used the paranormal element in the stories of 13B, 24 and even ManamI thought that aspect made the story magical.”
‘Dhootha’ is a supernatural crime thriller featuring Naga Chaitanya as a journalist
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The two have known each other for more than a decade and there is a mutual trust factor. “We are friends first, then colleagues,” says Vikram. Chaitanya reveals that there are times he goes completely by the script, in case of a director he has not worked with. In the case of Vikram, he can repose faith in the director even when the idea is still being fleshed out. “There is a trust factor since I know his aesthetics and how he has presented me as an actor earlier. There are times when I jam with a director, have discussions on what I think works and what doesn’t, and changes are made. In this case, the script he gave me is what you will see on screen.”
In DhoothaChaitanya’s character is working towards launching a newspaper. Not a YouTube channel, podcast or a website, but a newspaper in this age of increased talk about digital media. Vikram points out that the story has to do with the print media, as the episodes will reveal. “This story could not have dealt with any other format of the media.”
Some investigation and crime deduction in the series, can work like reading a crime novel. When asked if he is an avid reader of crime, Vikram says he and his wife are followers of True Crime documentaries. “If I come across a news incident of crime, my attention is hooked,” he says. Chaitanya adds, “In the script, the more the blood the happier he is.” Chaitanya adds that Dhootha refrains from going overboard with blood and gore to avoid alienating a section of the viewers.
Chaitanya and Vikram’s last collaboration, Thank Youmet with a cold reception at the box office. When asked how long it took them to put that film behind them and approach this series with enthusiasm, they admit that it is heartbreaking when a film they believe in does not work, but have learnt to move on. “We were saddened but then, I was filled with excitement for Dhootha since it marked the many firsts for me — first in the digital space, supernatural thriller and the layers in the character,” says Chaitanya.
Vikram recalls what master cinematographer PC Sreeram had once told him. “PC sir said that if a film succeeds, celebrate it from Friday to Sunday and get back to writing on Monday. Similarly, cry your heart out for three days when a film fails, and get back to work.” He mentions how he and Chaitanya spoke about Thank You at leisure, asked themselves if they had given it their best, and decided to move on.
At the moment, they are waiting to gauge the feedback on Dhootha and are eager to develop season two.