Kannada film Arishadvarga released in theatres on November 27. Directed by Arvind Kamath, the film is an intriguing murder mystery which offers differing accounts to viewers. The ambiguous ending makes the audience wish to watch the film again, to find out if their guesses are right.
At the heart of the plot is a 36-year-old film editor and her relationship with her husband who is much older. A gigolo, a thief, an aspiring actor and an upcoming director are some of the other characters in the film. And of course, the policeman who is investigating the crime.
Speaking to TNM, director Arvind Kamath discusses the various aspects of the film, the reception it has received and the lack of support from the Kannada film industry. Excerpts from the interview below.
Let's begin with the title. Why did you decide on Arishadvarga?
I'm a realist. Hindu philosophy, dharma, or for that matter the philosophies of other religions, the way they talk about sin is from a moksha point of view, from a getting better point of view. I feel that suppressive to be honest. I believe a person has all these emotions (lust, pride, anger, jealousy, greed, attachment); these are essential ingredients to life in various proportions.
'Arishadvarga' means conquering the six 'enemies of the mind'. So did you not want your characters to make that journey?
No. It is a counter commentary that I am making. All I'm saying is that from the time we wake up and up until the time we go to bed, we have all these six elements. That's what makes us human and real. The topics I've chosen to touch on in this story are ones that affect me as a human being. I'm not a very religious person.
I'm not saying that I don't believe in god. I'm saying I don't believe in the idea of god that human beings have created.
So while writing the film, did you have in mind which character represents which emotion/sin? Or is everyone a mix?
There was no bracketing. I wanted to depict all the characters as close to real life as possible. This script was driven by the characters. I was fascinated with them. The way I work is that for every character, I have a questionnaire of about 300 questions. They may not show up in the film -- like what is in Anish's refrigerator -- but they define the character more and more. I didn't allocate one desire to one person because that's really not possible.The proportions of their emotions also change depending on which environment they are in and with whom they're interacting.
It's very unusual to have a gigolo as a character in Indian cinema and to depict him with dignity...
The dignity part was organic, but I was afraid. People these days get offended for everything and I was skeptical. But I just did what I wanted to. As for where it came from, in 2008, when I quit my IT job and I was making the leap into filmmaking full-time, I was researching gigolos in India. I had heard about it in Western countries but I didn't know about India. Here, the conversation about sex work is only about women. It is usually shown [on screen] in a demeaning fashion and there are no deeper discussions on that profession, considering how much women are objectified. But what about men? They are not objectified so easily but they're also part of this profession, so I was curious. I did a lot of research but in the meanwhile, NDTV dropped a TV documentary on gigolos and I kind of dropped the idea. But the character stayed with me for a long time.
There was also a person close to me who was going through a rough time in her marriage. They didn't get to spend too much time together, and this person was quite agitated. I confronted her and asked her why and she said she hasn't had sex in a long time. That hit me. Not only does society stop a woman from getting what she wants in a marriage, it also does not allow her to get it outside of it, in her own way.
Arvind Kamath with actor Mahesh Bung
Kruthi, the central character in the film, is a woman. Did you struggle with writing from her perspective, considering you are a man?
At the writing stage, I did consult people but most of them were men. Not that I didn't try speaking to women writers, it just didn't happen. So my doubts about whether I was getting it right kept doubling. But at every stage, like before we got into production, I shared the script with my actors to get their views. I tried to be as honest as possible without misrepresenting emotions and facts. I also spoke to my mother, my wife...people who belong to different generations, thought processes. I'm glad women viewers don't hate me!
So, is the mystery woman Manasa real? In the last frame, Kruthi moves out of the frame when the cop is talking over the phone. Was it to make things more ambiguous?
The intention was simple. In life, we don't get everything we want. Nature always has other plans. There are many people who scheme to be in control but in the end, someone else takes over. But I should say that my empathy lies with Kruthi and in my depiction of her, I was very sure that I didn't want judgement. In the end, when you think the cop has got everything, I didn't want him to have the agency. I wanted it passed on to another woman, so that my politics is clear. And this woman, Manasa, you haven't met her. She's a neutral character because you don't know her. I didn't want the police inspector to win. The story goes on from there. There is no end to it, just like there isn't one in real life.
Watch: Trailer of Arishadvarga
I was uncomfortable with what happens to Anish [the gigolo] in prison. It looked like he deserved the assault because of his profession?
It wasn't to punish him. As a realist, I don't believe in happy endings. People who can become scapegoats become scapegoats. Underdogs remain underdogs. He's a small fish and that's what happens to him. It reflects more on the cop's character. If I were being judgmental about Anish, I wouldn't have made him cry in the house...I wouldn't evoke empathy for him in small ways that I have tried. I wouldn't have shown his parents who disowned him. I wouldn't have shown him scream for help in the end. I have actually shown him as a simpleton, an innocent guy.
When the cop enters the room to interview Kruthi, he walks in on her changing clothes. And when he's thinking about the case again, it ends with that memory. Was that to hint at what his real intentions are?
Arvind Kamath with actors Anju Alva Naik and Nanda Gopal
Yes. As a human, he also has lust within him. He's a straight shooting man but he's also a loner who doesn't have a companion. I don't mean to say that he's a pervert. It's a psychological thing. He's not a godly person who wants everything but sex. And it's not physical attraction, he finds her to be a smart woman. The way she handled it and tried to get out of it, it impresses him. Human beings are complicated, I don't know why we try to simplify them.
Is Raajana, the head constable, the one person we can trust in the film?
Raajana is the moral compass of the film. The only observer who knows about everyone and every story. But he's like time, like the clock on the wall. Time watches everything but time moves on. He can't act upon it. A silent spectator.
How's the film doing in theatres? People from the industry have posted in support...
We wanted to test waters. Bengaluru has a mixed population. It is a cosmopolitan city and films release in several languages here. It probably would be difficult for us to survive once everything opens up. There are already many Kannada and other language films waiting. It's an indie film and we did try to get support from many people. But to be honest, while some from the industry are supporting us, there is a huge section which is silent and is avoiding us. I'm wondering why. I'm not asking them to endorse it but they're not even watching it or if they have watched it, they are not saying anything.
We're not big studios, we don't have big stars. We wanted to tell a good story and all these commercial aspects are a big hindrance. For us to move ahead and sustain, this has to work. We need solidarity to survive but it's not so easy.