Following Passion Off the Beaten Path: K. Pavan's Journey
Films might be a luxury to common people, but filmmaking is our life.
-words underscored by the voice of our alumnus, a passionate and self-taught film editor, cinematographer, photographer, dancer and in short, a blend of talents- Kodati Pavan Kalyan.
In the present-day world, it is quite common to hear about how engineering students want to pursue unconventional interests after they graduate. While such decisions are often met with scepticism and lots of discouragement, there are those who decide to follow their passion and dare to tread the less travelled paths, come what may, and end up creating successful and inspiring life stories for fellow dreamers. One such person whose description fits perfectly into these lines is K. Pavan Kalyan, an alumnus of the Mining Engineering batch of 2016. He recently edited the OTT hit movie ‘Colour Photo’. The movie set in the late 90s revolves around love and prejudice based on skin colour and is a fresh blockbuster of the Tollywood industry. The film available on AHA video streaming platform has received great acclamations from both critics and superstars of Tollywood industry including the likes of Superstars Allu Arjun, Vijay Devarakonda and many others.
Team Monday Morning got a chance to catch up with him for an interview session to know more about his life, the journey in the film industry and his future plans.
Monday Morning (MM): Can you walk us through your early life and schooling days?
K.Pavan Kalyan (KPK): I was born in Visakhapatnam and brought up in a town called Zahirabad, which is somewhat 80 km from Hyderabad. My Dad is a mechanical engineer at Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. So, I studied at the school associated with it called Mahindra Academy. Throughout my schooling, I was very active in extracurricular activities. I played a lot of sports like chess, cricket, football and hockey at the district level. I was also good at elocution, and dance amongst others. Speaking of academics, I was a topper in my school.
Now, this might come as a personal story; I had a lean body during my school days. So, I was subject to bullying. Many people constantly discouraged me. So, I found solace in movies. Somehow it gave me the confidence to prove such people wrong. I started proving that I can do anything, even if someone is telling me that I can’t. This attitude had developed from my early days, thanks to the people who didn’t believe in me (chuckles).
MM: How did NIT Rourkela happen to you? How did you end up choosing Mining engineering?
KPK: We have Sri Chaitanya and Narayana in Andhra Pradesh. So, I joined the Sri Chaitanya Campus for better coaching. After achieving a good rank in AIEEE, I was allotted Industrial Design Engineering in NIT Rourkela initially. For the admission purpose, my dad and I had to book a cab from Hyderabad to Rourkela as the trains were cancelled due to heavy rain! After reaching the campus, we enquired regarding the placements statistics of various branches.
During that time, Coal India Limited (CIL) was hiring an ample number of undergraduates from Mining Engineering. So, my dad wanted me to choose Mining Engineering, and finally, I landed here.
MM: Tell us something about your NIT Rourkela days. Would you like to share some of your most enamoured memories or experiences during your days here?
KPK: I wanted to explore myself and push my boundaries in college. And clubs allowed me to do that. One can say that I was a 'club-person'. I attended orientations of almost every club on campus. In my freshmen year, I joined around seven clubs. Later as a sophomore, I joined Synergy, the dance club. And I joined Cinematics in my final year, and that was my thirteenth club. At the same time, I never ignored my academics and was among the toppers in my branch. I interned at the Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research, Dhanbad in my third year researching explosives, which also happened to be my final year project. Back then, I actively worked on research papers and was even called to Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, to present papers. However I didn't have a passport, so I had to drop those.
Some of the best memories I had in college were while travelling to different places. I visited IIT Kharagpur, IIT Bombay and have performed there too. I also won student elections as the Sports and Games Secretary in my 3rd year and was part of the institute hockey team as well.
MM: What fascinated you to work in the field of film editing? How did NIT Rourkela help you recognise your vision?
KPK: This may sound a bit filmy (smiles). I bought a camera with my first salary in Vedanta. I used to travel to different places every weekend, and I used to click pictures and record videos there. I began recording experiences of people and their stories.
Earlier I wanted to become a cinematographer. I got into film editing from my 4th year of college. I remember, there was a time when Cinematics had a few unreleased videos, and I used to go to the people who recorded the videos and make stories of my own from the clips. For example, one of my friends Abodid Sahoo, who was then the president of Cinematics, went to the Puri beach one day and captured a lot of people. I took all those clips, wrote a poem, and we put up a piece of music in the video together. Then we released the video called “The Silent Witness” on the Cinematics YouTube channel. We didn’t initially plan on sending the video to a film fest. However, it got shortlisted in a film fest. That’s when I realised I’m good at telling and writing stories and at editing.
I recollect one more incident; one day, I went to Pushkar, a place in Rajasthan where the desert starts. It was around 47-50 degrees there in the day. I started shooting at 8 in the morning, and I shot till 11. My memory card was full, two batteries of my camera were exhausted, but I wasn’t. Initially, I had plans of joining a film institute. However, gaining experience from my work and learning theory from other sources felt a better option for me. I left my job and came back to Rourkela, and I shot two short films here, which got shortlisted in a film fest and bagged awards.
I then shortly joined a company called Chai Bisket, which is a Telgu production house. I worked there for about two years, and I edited somewhat about 250 short films, webseries, sketches, documentaries, lyrical videos, etc. After all this work, I got confident enough to pursue a career in the field of film editing. As soon as I left my job, I edited the film called ‘College Kumar’ followed by ‘Colour Photo’.
The culture at NIT Rourkela is very vibrant, which I think no other institute can provide. Even if it is an engineering college, you can become anything you want.
Coming to the career that I chose; Cinematics club of NIT Rourkela is one of the best filmmaking clubs in the entire east India. We used to even compete with IIT Kharagpur and many other colleges who even have better equipment. Still, we won many times because of our quality of storytelling and team spirit.
MM: Walk us through your experience of working on the recent OTT blockbuster ‘Colour Photo’.
KPK: The film ‘Colour Photo’ finds a resonation with me because I faced similar kinds of experiences with time. We started shooting Colour Photo in January, and it was supposed to get released in May this year, but Covid-19 happened, and we all were locked down! Since I had my editing set up in my room itself, and I got a lot of time to work on the film editing.
So, from the start of the shooting to its release, it took almost 7-months to complete the film. I felt very comfortable doing the film as my opinions were always considered and valued. I was experimenting and giving my best at the same time. Overall, it was a great experience working with this film.
MM: As ‘Colour Photo' is a blockbuster on the Aha platform, how different did you find it from your previous work?
KPK: I have been working with this team for almost two and a half years. The director of the movie also happens to be my roommate, and I had my workstation in my room. So we used to work together in the room itself, and I feel that this created that unique family ambience. The audience has been observing our journey, starting from a minute video to two and a half hours film. So it was received as one of our own has made a film. The movie speaks about a very persistent stereotype even though it might feel insignificant in the current times; nonetheless, it still exists. Colour based discrimination still continues in some areas, especially in rural areas which ought to be changed.
MM: What were the difficulties that you faced as a fresher in the cinema field? What would your advice be for youngsters planning to enter the cinema world?
KPK: Initially, it was tough for me, financially and also mentally as I was struggling to make my name in the industry. Every film that I wanted to be a part of, everybody wanted an experienced editor who has worked or handled films before. So, I got rejected many times because I didn’t have experience of working in a movie.
However, working directly as an Editor for a film has a better impact rather than working as an assistant/associate editor. In the case of the assistant/associate editor, one would not have complete control over the dynamics of the film. Soon I got an opportunity as an Associate Editor in ‘College Kumar’. I handed the project entirely, and they gave me credit as Editor, even when I joined as Associate Editor. Then I signed up for ‘Major’ as the Associate Editor and then ‘Colour Photo’ happened.
Starting as a fresher was a very risky thing to do as there are a lot of responsibilities for an editor. An editor can either make a film or break a movie. When nobody was ready to give such huge responsibilities to an inexperienced guy, I kind of questioned my skill set during the time. However, after the release of ‘Colour Photo’ and after getting tremendous response and appreciation of the film from the people, it kind of washes off all those bad experiences away.
My advice to the youngsters entering this field would be to have a lot of patience. It might take one year or ten years to get moving in the film industry. There will be times where you will feel very low that you are not able to get an opportunity. When such circumstances come, give a lot of positive inputs towards your skills. Always try to surprise yourself and give your best. This will change your mindset entirely, and that will provide you with the confidence to deal with whatever problems that come in future with a smile. Developing that kind of confidence and positive attitude towards your work is very important for entering the film industry.
The film industry has a very negative vibe in the society. Many people assume the film industry to be a bad influence on people, but there are thousands of people who depend on the film industry. It might be a luxury to common people, but filmmaking is our life. When people realise this difference, things will change.
MM: According to you, which role is more challenging: cinematographer or film editor and the reason for so?
KPK: Both cinematography and film editing are equally challenging. Cinematography has a time limitation like you will have a schedule from 6 to 6 for taking 30 shots, so you will be motivated through deadlines! And the second thing is, you need to be better built because the types of equipment are quite heavy (laughs).
Editing has the power to play with physical and temporal aspects. Imagine you are standing on a rock, 5 seconds later you are in the water, immediately a door opens with a drenched person entering the room. Our brains are conditioned to alter reality daily. It happens in our dreams. And out of all the filmmaking aspects, editing has the power to do it which dreams have, to create the illusion of reality, which is a pure form of art.
Editing is the process of gathering all chopped-up pieces of life, stitching them together, energising them with electricity and send them out on-screen with colour and sound to experience a series of events and feel them. It’s like giving life to a Frankenstein monster! Editing has themagic of giving life. It’s not just cutting and stitching.
MM: What are your hobbies and favourite pastimes? How do you manage to have a work-life balance?
KPK: I binge-watch films a lot, primarily to observe and understand different perspectives. I try to keep myself updated. While in college, I used to enjoy various hobbies. Nowadays I play on PS4 or dance once in a while. I have almost sacrificed my personal life for my career (chuckles). I work for around 14-15 hours a day. However, whenever I feel exhausted, I take a break and go on long drives finding solace.
MM: Can you share your experience when you clinched a silver medal in the Indian Hip Hop Dance Championship in 2016?
KPK: Back then Synergy and Mavericks used to be rivals. However, we wanted to collaborate and go to the competition together in a single group. In the summer vacations, after our final exams, we just had projects in our hands. We used to start our practice at 8 AM and used to practice for about 10 hrs. Then we had to go home and work on our research projects. We practised in the same schedule for a few months. Then we went to Mumbai and performed in the Indian Hip Hop Dance Championship. We had a few coordination flaws in the performance, and we lost the first prize by 0.27 points! It was a very close call. We all were very excited to go to Las Vegas to represent India for the World Hip Hop Dance Championship, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to find suitable sponsors in time. We even asked the institute people to help us, but the cost was somewhere around 80 lacs to 1 crore. At that time, I got placed at Vedanta. So, I had a choice whether I wanted to go to the championship or join Vedanta. Since we couldn’t get sponsors, and the group was not ready to perform, I chose to join Vedanta.
MM: You have an immensely inspiring journey so far. What are your plans in the near future?
KPK: I want to make films that are raw and honest to the core. I am good at editing commercial films also but editing raw films will be my priority. The future goal that I am aspiring to is to achieve a National Award in film editing.
MM: What message would you like to give to our readers?
I feel college is the best place to know yourself , figure out who you are, what you are good at and decide what you want to be, so don't restrict yourself. Don't isolate yourself by sitting idle in the room all day. Keep going around the campus and relish each moment. Try your hands on different things. Don't limit yourself and try to push your boundaries. Figuring out what you are good at is more important than any other thing. Set this as a priority and put in your best efforts.
Team Monday Morning congratulates K. Pavan Kalyan for his OTT blockbuster movie and wishes him all the best for the journey that lies ahead.