Telugu thriller ‘NET’ walks down the dark alley of the web

Director Bhargav Macharla on his upcoming ZEE5 tech thriller drama, which explores breach of privacy and trust

Imagine a couple entering their dream home, unaware that it has been fitted with multiple spy cameras that relay their private life to subscribers across the globe. The Telugu feature film NET, scheduled to premiere on September 10 on Zee5, is a tech thriller drama hinged on this dystopian idea. Bhargav Macharla, who makes his debut as a feature film director, wrote NET after researching case studies of data leak and privacy breaches. The film stars Rahul Ramakrishna, Praneeta Patnaik and Avika Gor.

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Bhargav was aware of the growing instances of data leaks while doing his masters in electrical and electronics engineering at Texas Tech University, United States. “Globally, there have been incidents of suicides as a fallout of breach of privacy and trust. India has also been witnessing data leak incidents,” he points out.

Bhargav had initially planned a six-episode web series, but the plot eventually shaped up into a web film for Zee5. Bhargav says he was glad to make this a web film since it gave him the scope to experiment, without worrying about box office considerations.

Rahul Ramakrishna, Praneeta (in purple) and Bhargav Macharla while filming ‘NET’
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In this dystopian world, Avika Gor and Vishwa Dev are being watched by subscribers — free of charge for the happenings in their living room, silver for kitchen and dining, and premium for what happens in their private space. Then there’s the story of a couple from a lower middle-class background, played by Rahul and Praneeta; he is a porn addict and she is struggling to make her marriage work. The story looks at voyeurism and its effects on the couples as things take an unexpected turn.

“The women in NET are from different backgrounds and stand up for themselves when pushed into tough situations,” says Bhargav.

He chose Rahul since he wanted an actor who would look like a regular guy in the neighbourhood and signed Praneeta after watching her in Care of Kancharapalem, a film he admires for its realistic characters speaking the dialect native to the region.

Hailing from Vizag, Bhargav moved to Hyderabad to work in an IT company, with a dream to be a techie in the US. Once in the US, he realised that he wasn’t enjoying it: “It took me time to figure out that I loved reading and storytelling, which I had picked up from my grandmother. She had a box of Telugu books and enjoyed reading and narrating stories.”

Bhargav wanted to see if he had it in him to be a storyteller. He founded and wrote a story — Tana Parichayam — in 22 chapters, uploading a chapter each Friday. This was later published as a novel and sold more than 2000 copies, giving Bhargav an impetus to make the career switch.

He was sceptical if his parents would approve of his decision, given that there was an education loan to repay. He penned a heartfelt note on his life choices to his father, who was moved and put his weight behind Bhargav: “I am blessed to have my parents’ support. I finished my masters and returned from the US, determined to be a filmmaker.”

In Hyderabad, Bhargav joined production house Tamada Media and learnt filmmaking. He also learnt by keenly observing Malayalam cinema and films of David Fincher, Gautham Vasudev Menon and Vetrimaaran. He wrote for web projects and directed the series Kailasapuram.

NET will be his biggest test. He was keen that it looks and sounds different, to befit a tech thriller drama. For the portions that unfold through the spy camera, the same sequences had to be filmed from different angles. This, he says, involved extensive pre-production. Bhargav is proud of his maiden feature film and is unfazed that September 10 will witness two big Telugu releases — Tuck Jagadish and Seetimaar. He believes that NET will find its audiences.

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