Zombie Reddy, the Telugu film which released Friday, has several firsts to its credit.
While it is the first Telugu zombie film, it is also the first film to have a theatrical release in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana since theatres started operating with 100% seating capacity.
In a conversation with Silverscreen India, the team of Zombie Reddy shared how the film incorporated references to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how it is the ‘baahubali of zombie films in India’. Directed by Prashanth Varma, it stars Sajja Teja, Anandhi and Daksha in lead roles.
The filming of Zombie Reddy started on February 5, 2020, exactly a year prior to its release. The film was shot for around 12 days, but was disrupted because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown. It was the first film to resume shooting after both the state governments allowed film shootings to resume later in the year. Shooting was wrapped up by October 2020.
“I always wanted to different genres in Telugu. But I thought it would be really cool to do a zombie film in Telugu. I tried to do it at a time but I could not get the producers. After some years, when I found the producer and told him about Zombie Reddy, the film got started,” Varma said. He said that the film is a “zom-com” but where they took zombies “seriously”.
Zombie Reddy, a film that is inspired by true events
The film is set against the backdrop of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. The story is about a mad scientist who wants to invent the vaccine for Covid-19 but after an accident, he invents a zombie virus, Varma said.
Talking about how the pandemic helped him fine tune his script, Varma said the story had a virus and pandemic situation but is not named then. When the team had heard that a virus was wreaking havoc in China, they thought that “Corona was a fun name” to have.
“So, we added the name into the script and shot a few scenes before lockdown and never expected that it would come to India. We had masks in our film and shot few scenes on what if Corona came to India,” he said.
“I changed a few dialogues during dubbing so that the whole film felt relevant in the current times. We never knew the virus would come [to India] but when it came, we took references from real life and chopped off other scenes and replaced it with the current situation,” Varma said.
Stating that the lockdown was the “most productive period” of his entire life, the director said that the film is releasing at the right time, when the vaccine has been invented, thereby making the film relatable.
Cinema is a religion where stars are worshipped: Sajja Tejja
For actor Sajja, who has worked in over 30 films as child artist and now debuting as Zombie Reddy’s lead actor, the film deserves to be watched in theatres.
“As a film industry, as whole, it [the lockdown] was hard hitting for producers and young actors like us. Big-budget films can wait and have the same kind of release and response from the audience, but young actors’ films, if not released might go to OTT platforms, or the hype around the film will go down. But now, I am happy that theatres have opened and people are rushing to theatres. When big players said that the theatre business will go down, OTT platforms have taken over and there will be less turnout, I remained confident that the industry will revive,” he said.
Calling films a “cheap form of entertainment and only outing” in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Sajja said that films are “religion” and “stars are worshipped”.
“We initially planned to release the film on January 15 for Pongal but there were a lot of star films waiting to be released in Tollywood for long time. So, we gave way for them to release and we wanted a solo release as well,” Sajja said.
He will be playing an urban boy in the film and said that he did not have much homework.
He said that the film’s team had to train make up artists from Hyderabad by showing them YouTube tutorials. “Every day we had to get 500 zombies ready, and if we are shooting from 6 pm, then we had to start the makeup at around 11 am. But we did crack the make up and we are very proud. We are at par with Korean and Hollywood series.”
Varma said that while they initially had plans of bringing make up artists from Hollywood, they later opted for local talent. Recalling that they had 10 trials before ending up with the final look, he said that while the film was being shot, the zombie make up was simultaneously being evolved. “With company make up artists, I tried to see what they can do with references. We had some skin burning problems and tried to figure out what we can do with a low budget. The zombies’ look keeps getting scarier as the film progresses, and our make up also improved.”
‘The film will reach cult status’
The team is confident that the film will reach a cult status.
“I am very confident that people will remember. We are giving them first time experience in Tollywood. I am not saying that we will be making fantastic whopping numbers but I am sure this will be in people’s minds in years to come,” Sajja said.
Talking about his experience with the director, Sajja said that Varma wanted him to be subtle in the film. “Prashanth wanted an underdog guy to play the character and he felt I would be appropriate for the role.”
Calling the film an action-comedy entertainer, Sajja said that the film was filled with fun, zombies, thrills and jump scares.
“I think Zombie Reddy will reach the cult status and we have done merchandising marketing as well. It will become an emotion eventually. For lot of future filmmakers, they will take references from this film and I would want them to make better films than Zombie Reddy, but this film will a point of reference for them,” said Varma.
The film’s title, was caught in a controversy after a community objected to the usage of ‘Reddy’ in the title, stating that it offends the community members as they have been portrayed as zombies. Though the director had clarified his stand earlier, he said that people’s sentiments will continue to get hurt.
“They just translated zombie into Telugu and they had caste title next to it. So, together when they read it, they felt like an offensive thing. For example, people who treat mental patients are called mental doctors in Telugu. It does not mean doctors are mental. Just like that, Reddys fight zombies and they stop the zombie apocalypse from happening. I am sure if they see the film, they will not have any issues,” Varma said.
‘Zombie Reddy is the Baahubali of zombie films in India‘
“Zombie Reddy is the Baahubali of Indian zombie films. Out of all the zombie films made in India, this is the most expensive film. The scale of the film is huge,” Varma said.
He said that though they were wooed by OTT platforms, they eventually declined the offers.
Speaking about the film’s sound design, he said, “We worked on how a zombie speaks and did the rerecording accordingly. The visual effects, scale of the film, makeup, are huge. The teaser and trailer show only 10% of it. You will remember watching the film in theatres after 10 years.”
“Films like Baahubali, which was something new and spectacular, you would like to watch it on the big screen. Zombie Reddy is such a film where you can experience the magnitude of the film and feel happy only if you watch on screen,” said Sajja.
Zombie Reddy opened to 500 screens worldwide on Friday. It is backed by Raj Shekar Varma under the Apple Tree Studios banner. Sai Babu is the editor and Anith the cinematographer. While Baasha was in charge of make up, Mark K Robin has composed the music.