Watching Katha Sangama is like being part of seven timelines, all at once. There’s a rain-drenched backyard where a surprise has fallen flat; a stuffy office space that’s going to see spectacular action; a lighthouse hugging the coast where someone time travels; drama in a closed room and a clash of ideologies; a barber shop where a man learns the need to differentiate between duty and profession; a desolate road that hugs the ocean where someone learns to judge character; and the vast roads of Bengaluru where kind people help a lady who is lost.
Seven stories unfurl in the anthology put together by director-actor Rishab Shetty, who has also co-produced this as an ode to one of the finest filmmakers in Karnataka — Puttanna Kanagal. The film derives its name from one of his creations, an anthology based on three stories. The initial idea was to do five stories, and that Rishab, Rakshit Shetty and Hemanth Rao would direct one short each, and two would be offered to newcomers.
“Somewhere down the line, I felt that if we were pushing the envelope, we might as well introduce new filmmakers. We removed ourselves from the project. I was the last one out,” smiles Rishab.
Human emotions are the linking theme, and Rishab’s team decided to market the anthology, focussing on multiplexes.
“This is not a regular commercial film and we expected extreme reactions. I told the team to not take praise or brickbats to heart," he says.
Rishab was clear he would restrict his role to that of a mentor: “I never had any mentors, did not know right from wrong, and learnt on the job. I wish these young filmmakers don’t suffer those 12 years that I did before I found my voice.”
Here, the seven directors speak about their films.
Chandrajith Belliappa, 28, Rainbow Land
“I grew up in Madikeri, in an environment where every little moment of joy mattered, and that’s what I wanted to capture with this short,” says Chandrajith, one of the writers of Kirik Party and the Rakshit Shetty-starrer Avane Sriman Narayana.
This was originally a story he posted on his blog, and it translated beautifully on screen.
Kishore plays an affectionate father who works magic in the backyard. But, despite the rain washing away the joy from his face, he eventually smiles. Without much noise, the short establishes the father as the one the child turns to for small talk, and cuddles before sleeping.
“Glad that came across. Many fathers told me after watching the short that they tried to fulfil ignored requests, even something as small as a jalebi. In many ways, this is an ode to my parents.”
Karan Ananth, 29, Sathya Katha Prasanga
The sheer audacity with which this short carried the audience along showcased the immense possibilities of the genre. The story of Sathyamurthy, a widower (a brilliant Prakash Belawadi) about to retire from a monotonous government job, was infused with magical realism, and fused two strains of thought: that of Kalidasa and Sathyamurthy.
“I was researching for a project and wondered how monotony could turn people into extreme versions of themselves. And, like Kalidasa is liberated by a goddess, Sathyamurty is liberated by a woman," he says.
As in Rainbow Land, the man here cooks and shops for groceries, and it’s not made a big deal of. Karan used to assist documentary filmmakers before he co-produced the 2018 film Gultoo. He’s now working on a feature to be co-written by his wife, Madhuri N Rao.
Shashi Kumar, 31, Girgitle
A man sets out to the beach by the Kaup Lighthouse, where his lover is waiting for him. They have a tiff, and he falls into the swirling ocean below. And then, wakes up. He walks back home, goes out to buy grocery and chats with the storekeeper.
Now, play this on loop and notice minute differences and the time travel. That’s what this Raj B Shetty starrer is about.
“I wanted to do something related to science fiction and chanced upon this story by Jayanth Seege, who directed the Kannada film 96. I liked this idea of time travelling without a machine. Many still believe the full moon day has a certain energy, and I tapped into that, and decided to set the story along the coast. Raj Shetty and Anirudh Mahesh’s dialogues are a huge plus in ensuring that while lines are being repeated, it does not get boring,” says Shashi, who was pleasantly surprised when a majority of the audience figured out even some technical aspects of the film.
Rahul PK, 33, Uttara
What happens when two people with opposing ideologies are stuck in a room, and end up having a conversation? Sometimes, that conversation can be the answer in itself. And, that’s what Uttara is about. To Rahul’s credit, despite the fact that speaking about the field of news can get noisy, the conversation is civil, and the anger simmers, never explodes.
“I wanted a discussion, and I did not want to paint anyone in definitive colours. I read an article about how we are engineered to think in a particular way, thanks to social media trends. And so, I came up with the story of a peddler of news and a teacher who questions his stand,” says Rahul, who has been assisting at Paramvah Studios, and has also worked on Ulidavaru Kandanthe.
Jamadagni Manoj, 36, Paduvarahalli
Paduvarahalli is the only short in the anthology that found a place after it was made, and did a round of the festival circuit, winning more than 20 awards. Set in pre-Independent India, it speaks of how a police official and a barber are caught in a battle of duty versus profession, and is split into chapters. Ultimately, the barber realises the two are different, and steps back.
The film is based on Colombian writer Hernando Tellez’s Just Lather, That’s All.
“Seventy-plus years after Independence, it has been reduced to a fancy status update on social media or something kids celebrate in school. I thought we should know the price we paid for freedom. We considered three scenarios: pre-Independence, the Naxal movement and Emergency. The concept is that everyone must learn to be honest in their job, and not judge. Yes, there are just two characters and the only ‘weapon’ around is the shaving blade, but the conflict is the drama. How will someone look at a cop who works with the British and has killed his friends?” asks Manoj, who has plans to make a feature based on this, and is looking for ‘tasteful’ producers.
Kiranraj K, 30, Sagara Sangama
This short that screams about discrimination based on looks is sans dialogue! Kiranraj, who has made another short Kabbina Haalu, wanted to treat the concept of a woman (Hariprriya) travelling to defend her doctorate in psychiatry but judging someone who comes to help her, differently. And so, he looked up to his first inspiration — Charlie Chaplin.
“Silent films are my favourite genre, because they transcend language and can appeal to all,” says Kiranraj. The cast, like the other shorts, is minimal — there are just three people: a man, a woman and a dog. The team searched for months before finding Rumi, the dog who instils fear.
Rishab Shetty finally came on board his pet project, as actor.
“I did not want anyone identifying him, and hence that look. I wanted that the woman should feel trapped even though she’s on a long, tarred road, and we managed to find this stretch to shoot in Dhanushkodi. This is also where two oceans meet: the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean, and it went with the theme of my short," says Kiranraj, who is now making 777 Charlie with Rakshit Shetty.
Jai Shankar, 28, Lacchavva
Paravva, who you might have seen in Thithi, playing Kaveri’s mother, returns to the big screen as Lacchavva, an adorable woman from rural Karnataka who migrates to Bengaluru and finds herself lost. Ironically, this film was triggered by an incident when Jai Shankar was waiting at a traffic signal to rush someplace when someone asked him for directions. He did not stop.
“It still gnaws at me that I did not help,” he says. Another incident, when a friend mixed up the localities of Banaswadi and Basavangudi, found a place in the script too.
“The rest of the film is about what I’ve seen and experienced. I’ve spent time with boys who work with packers and movers, and have travelled in similar trains with my mother,” he says. After a lot of recce to get the geography of the localities right, and months of search for Lacchavva, Jai Shankar shot his film.
Helping him zero in on Paravva was Thithi screenwriter and Balekempa director Ere Gowda.
“Till he directed me to Kurudikere, I searched all over Bengaluru where people from North Karnataka live. I would wait for the trains from there to see if I could find someone who could act. I wanted someone who was so innocent, no one would have the heart to be rude to her,” says the director, who is next writing a full-length feature.