At its core, the recently-released Kannada film, Dia, is an audacious effort. How else do you explain a 138-minute film that relies entirely on conversation to keep the momentum going?
The characters talk - a lot. A mother and son have heartfelt conversations, an introverted girl crushing on a boy has intense conversations with herself, and we realise later he does too. An extrovert does what he does best, speak, but he also respects silences. This ‘respect’ extends to what the director feels for the audience too. He does not believe he has to pander to the lowest common denominator. He allows his characters to breathe, and so when they don’t, your heart stops for a second too!
At the theatre where I watched the film, two young women were livid when it ended. It was Valentine’s Day, and after two-odd hours of watching a tender love story unfurl, they did not expect the ‘twist’. Cuss words were hurled, a boyfriend got an earful for choosing this film for a day dedicated to love...
Director KS Ashoka laughs when I tell him this.
“I’ve been getting a lot of this,” he says. So, if this is the climax he wanted, why did he bother setting up the audience to expect something else?
“See, this is why I did what I did. I did fear that there would be anger, but unless you get so invested in a story as the audience, how will you feel for the characters when something takes place? How will the film linger long after you’ve reached home?” he asks.
And so, while Dia is a sea-change from his first film, the hit horror-thriller 6-5=2, this love story packs in enough thrills too. What makes Dia work majorly is how it respects its women. It is evident early on that Dia (a superb Kushi) does not share a great relationship with her father, but that angle is not used to stop her from being her own person. An uncle turns father-figure, and she moves on.
Adi (an effective Pruthvi Amber) is the kind of boy you wished you saw more often on screen. He’s incredibly proud of his doctor-mother (a dignified Pavithra Lokesh) and openly tells her that. He writes her letters and their relationship is one that might tempt all to touch base more often with their mothers. It is obvious that she’s a single mother, but, admirably, there’s not a single reference to the missing father or husband.
Rohit (Dheekshith) is another introvert, but that’s not made fun of. And so, when Rohit and Dia finally find each other after three years of college, you feel the butterflies fluttering in their stomach too! When they do things normally considered cheesy (a code using interlinked hands to tell someone ‘I Love You’), thanks to the character arcs, they appear sweet.
Adi is the kind of person who smiles when his chappal falls off a train, and promptly flings the second so that someone can get the pair! He’s also the kind of boy who knows he likes a girl, but knows when to back off, and even better, knows when to just be a shoulder, a healer with his words and actions. Which is why a decision he takes, rankles, especially considering it is he who makes a phone call and diverts Dia from suicidal thoughts.
And so, in a film with only deeply positive characters that can lull you into complacence, director Ashoka manages to infuse enough twists.
“My scenes are interlinked. The first couple is quiet, and they need actions to speak too. Which is why the code with the hands. That is important, because that’s how Rohit realises something is amiss. Dia needs an Adi to help move on from Rohit, but she needs Rohit to help her seek out Adi again. I do believe that however much our new-age audiences have gotten used to love stories that are over-the-top, they also love understated romances, because in real life, most fall in the second category.”
Helping keep the film trim are fleeting shots that explain more than words can.
“The audience can sense certain things, and I hate spoonfeeding them. They know Dia’s bond with her father, and they also know Adi’s with his mother in just a second," he says.
There has been criticism regarding the non-usage of helmets in the film, even after a major character suffers an accident, and Ashoka says that in hindsight, he feels he should have opted to feature helmets.
“I never expected that it would matter, but now I know people have minutely watched the film. What drove the idea of the film, for me, was that we can plan all we want, but life will throw surprises and shocks at you. God is the number one sadist in the world. No one is allowed to be truly happy, no?”