His debut film Shuddhi opened to rave reviews across the city and also garnered high praise from around the globe when it went digital. But his second film Bhinna has created a record of sorts, by being the first Kannada movie to go directly digital.
Adarsh Eshwarappa’s psychological thriller Bhinna, which released on the OTT platform Zee 5 on October 8, is a first-of-its kind project in Sandalwood. In an industry that has begun lapping up the benefits of OTT only recently, Adarsh’s film, inspired by Puttana Kanagal’s cult classic Sharapanjara, not only brings about a change in how Kannada cinema is viewed, but also transforms storytelling with its intricate screenplay.
In an exclusive chat with TNM, Adarsh unravels the story behind the film, the power of digital platforms and more.
How was the idea of Bhinna born? Why did you choose mental illness as the subject for your film?
The idea of Bhinna was purely born from Sharapanjara, the cult film from ‘70s, and the character of Kaveri in that movie. Choosing mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, was not a conscious choice. I was basically going with the flow as Kaveri in Puttanna’s film also has a mental disorder. I just chose what I thought would work for the story.
What kind of research did you have to do to portray a schizophrenic character?
I watched a lot of documentaries about schizophrenia, read a few documents and research material put up by a few doctors online. I didn't talk to any schizophrenic person personally – all my research was done online and I also watched few movies which depicted the disorder, like Shutter Island. I even watched Memento, which talks about mental illness and has a nonlinear storytelling, just like Bhinna.
How did you pick Payal Radhakrishna and the other actors (Sowmya Jaganmurthy, Siddharth Madhyamika and Shashank Purushotham) for the film?
Shashank and Siddharth were already part of the cast, even before I wrote the script. Since I had worked with them in Shuddhi previously, I knew what I wanted from these actors. As for the two women, we did an audition where 70 to 80 people turned up and Payal was the one who cracked it. Sowmya too gave a screen test and got selected.
Why did you make the decision to go directly digital? How do you think OTT plarforms can change how the Kannada industry works?
We’re the first film to go directly digital in Kannada. The decision was not just mine, it was actually initiated by the producer. I went with the flow.
As for how it’s impacting the Kannada film industry, I'm already getting a lot of calls from people and producers asking how to go about this. Given the challenges faced by Kannada films in today’s times, especially with regard to the number of screens and shows, and non-star films, a lot of people are enquiring about going directly to digital platforms. This is an issue that many are dealing with, and I too faced it during Shuddhi, when I couldn’t get enough shows because of big releases.
Considering all this, OTT platforms are a great boon. But if you ask me, I would still prefer going to a theatre release first and then going to a digital platform. However, there are a lot of other filmmakers who would prefer going digital directly, and it's a great chance for all of them.
How have the reviews been for Bhinna? After the response Shuddhi received, do you think Bhinna has lived up to your expectations?
I always thought Bhinna was two notches above Shuddhi, and now I’m hearing that from the audience too. With Shuddhi, people were writing reviews online, but with Bhinna, I’ve received so many paintings where people are reviewing the film through their art!
There are also some who are writing poetry and one person even wore a Joker costume and gave a review. Some people have called me the Christopher Nolan of Kannada films – I’d heard this during Shuddhi too, but after hearing it again, I feel validated as a filmmaker. Some people have compared it to Joker, so that’s a great feeling as well.
What next after Bhinna for you?
I would want to make a bigger film with respect to the scale, but the sensibility would still be the same. I'm not going to venture into the commercial potboiler films. The style of the movie will be something that's very new to our industry, which not many people have tried. A few people have attempted it, but haven't succeeded in that genre to the extent that I am attempting to succeed. I really hope it works out.
As someone who’s bringing about freshness into the Kannada industry, what do you think needs to be done to take Kannada films to a wider audience?
It's very simple. We have to start making films that have a more universal appeal where people should be able to watch a Kannada film and connect to it without any language barrier. They should have the sensibility of global cinema. That's the only way you can go beyond Karnataka. If we are making films only for our audience, we will not grow beyond the state. If the goal is to go national and international, then we have to think about subjects which are more universal. And the storytelling also should have a global sensibility - I think Thithi is a classic example of such a film.