After hours of watching the screen, film-makers Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK, commonly referred to as Raj and DK, limp out of an editing room. Tiredness and sleep deprivation are written large on their faces. Barely do they manage to attack their lunch of pav and egg bhurji when someone from their technical crew shows up. One can’t hear a word he’s saying from behind the soundproof glass, but if the frantic gestures and constant pointing to his watch are anything to go by, he’s not a happy man. Profusely apologetic for having delayed our meeting, Raj and DK stay focussed on the interview. Raj holds up his hand every now and then to the troubled gentleman to signal he’d be done in the next five minutes. “This is funny in a way. Here we are in the middle of a serious interview, and there’s a guy right outside waving his hands about,” says Raj.
Finding humour in the unlikeliest of situations is Raj and DK’s forte. It’s also a running theme in their every film. Take the hilarious scene in Go Goa Gone (2013), in which the three male protagonists are seconds away from being attacked by a group of flesh-eating female zombies, when they stop to argue who gets to tackle the hotter one, and who should be saddled with the plumper one. Another instance is the gritty climax of Shor in the City (2011). Gun-wielding thugs storm a bank but can’t get to the loot because the manager with the locker keys is away dancing at a Ganapati procession. “We joke around a lot. Even when we are writing a grim scene, we ask ourselves, ‘Should it be this grim?’
About 80 per cent of the time, the answer is no,” says DK.
The countdown to Raj and DK’s latest offering, Happy Ending, a romantic comedy starring Saif Ali Khan, Ileana D’Cruz and Govinda, has begun. There are less than seven days to go for the release and the software engineers turned film-makers are still poring over film reels, adding last-minute touches. They’ve been stationed at an editing studio nestled deep in the wilderness of Aarey Milk Colony in suburban Mumbai for days now. They are grossly behind schedule, and the stress is palpable.
On the face of it, Happy Ending appears to be a straight-laced romantic comedy with all the necessary trappings of one. But, these guys are too clever to stick to tradition. “Let’s just say this is a more self-aware romcom,” says DK. It centres on an out-of-work author played by Khan who agrees to write a cheesy Bollywood film to salvage his fledgling career. Raj and DK, who also write all their stories, have generously drawn from their personal experiences, especially from their initial days in the city. Govinda plays an ageing superstar who brazenly pushes Khan to rip off successful Hollywood movies. “We haven’t put in the exact instances, but most of this kind of happened to us. There was a producer who gave us DVDs of two Hollywood films and said, ‘Combine these and you’ll get a great film,’” says Raj.
As is evident from their filmography, they didn’t take the advice. In fact, their fresh, sharp and irreverent style of writing is probably the reason behind their steady rise as film-makers. Not too many would come up with a slacker comedy on drug-fuelled zombies taking over Goa. “Initially, it wasn’t a conscious attempt to make smart films. All we were thinking was, ‘Let’s make a film in which we treat the audience with respect. Let’s put out something fresh for them.’” says Raj.
So far, Raj and DK, both 40, have been successful in all their partnerships. Back in engineering college in Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh, where they met and struck up a friendship, they teamed up for every quiz contest, cultural competition, round of dumb charades and sporting event. They even topped their respective engineering disciplines. “Then we took the traditional route every good son takes,” says Raj, referring to their move to the US for further studies, and later, a handsomely-paying job.
Overcome by acute boredom and the guilt of not having used the right side of their brains in a long time, they started dabbling in film-making. They pleasantly surprised themselves with how well their first-ever creation, Just Me, turned out. “It was an eight-minute psychological thriller, completely devoid of humour and in black and white. At that time, we had nothing — only one actor and the two of us,” says DK. The film got selected for a few high-profile film festivals in the US, reaffirming their belief that this is what they were meant to do. From then on, they churned out one short film after another. These secret experiments in film-making were carried out on weekends. At the time, they were posted in different cities. “During the week, we’d be back again in our office jobs, waiting for Friday to arrive,” says DK.
The engineer in them was still always lurking around. “It feels like a waste of six years of hardcore education. But, it also taught us a lot,” says Raj. With zero knowledge of basic techniques such as cinematography and editing, they broke down every problem analytically. So, when they needed a dolly shoot, they figured using a shopping cart would do the trick. “We stole a shopping cart because nobody was giving us one,” says DK. They went to a Walmart parking lot, which has dozens of trolleys lying unattended. When nobody was watching, they swiped one and started using it as a dolly. “We put it back,” adds Raj wryly. Similarly, they were insistent on making their first film in black and white to lend it a grunge look. The only hitch was they had no idea how to work the camera. “Nobody would rent us one because we didn’t know how to operate it. You need to take classes,” says Raj. They eventually bribed someone to give them a crash course in the basics and in an hour, they had procured a certificate that pronounced them experts. “We learnt everything through trial and error. When you figure things out yourself, you become very strong in each aspect,” says Raj.
It’s now been six years since the duo made 99, their first official Bollywood film. Their long-standing partnership is getting stronger, with the exception of maybe one squabble they have on each film. “At the end of the day, two heads are always better than one,” says DK. Also, they’re no longer in the periphery of the industry. Big stars, who were sceptical at one point about their out-of-the-box ideas, are now more accepting of them.
Meanwhile, their hard-earned degrees are still lying at home, but they doubt it will help them fetch a job if things were to go wrong here. “We’ve been away too long now,” they say. Early next year, they start filming Farzi, starring Shahid Kapoor and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. They say this might be their biggest film yet. They’ve again chosen a new genre for them — a crime thriller. Such risk-taking also serves as a constant reminder of why they threw away their comfortable NRI lives. “It’s more fun this way. We haven’t left everything and come here to do the same thing over and over again,” says Raj. If anything, it’s their story that deserves a happy ending.