In his first two films (Adventures of Omanakuttan and Iblis), Rohith VS has unfailingly projected his fascination for surrealism. His debut, after being a non-starter, finally got some mileage after the young filmmaker took to Facebook and pleaded with the audience to watch it before it exited the theatres. It was about a young man called Omanakuttan who played complicated mind games with the audience and Iblis was this dreamy experimental film about life after death.
But when it comes to Kala (which releases on Thursday), he seems to have nullified all attempts to indulge in quasi fantasies and has instead gone all out to divulge manâ€™s basic instincts. â€śItâ€™s a psychological thriller. There is ego, lust, vengeance. There might be a negative connotation to it as it can be about people who are considered outcasts in society. Having said that, I would say there is an element of surrealism. Maybe it wonâ€™t be talked about like it was with my other two films.â€ť
Where did you get the idea?
I had this thought 5-6 years ago but didnâ€™t have a solid plot then. Finally, it was during the lockdown that I came up with an original plot and felt it was a film that could be done within the constraints. So it became the first film to start post lockdown.
He was the only choice. He plays this guy who is macho, and a narcissist, and egoist. Tovino fell headlong into the character and his meter and method really stunned me. I would like to think that he carried the role without any shades of the actor in him.
Which was the most memorable day of the shoot?
It has to be the first day of the shoot. Since it was the first film that started with COVID restrictions, we were panicky. By noon we heard that a guy who was at pooja had tested positive. And so shooting had to be restarted after four days, after testing ourselves. Then shooting went smoothly but in between our two principal actors suffered injuries and we had to take 45 days break in between. This story happens in one day and in one location (one house and a forest) and it was important to shoot without any breaks as it will affect the continuity of the narrative.
You wanted it to be a theatre release?
Not really. Since we are living in a new reality, we were open to both at that time. And we are not really seeing OTT as being below the theatre experience. But after two days, the producers felt this film required a theatre experience and asked us not to pitch it on OTT. Now that itâ€™s done, I feel this film deserves a theatre experience.
How comfortable are you with actors giving suggestions on the sets?
The shots are planned according to the artist's movements. I donâ€™t allow changes in the basic screenplay, but I am fine with improvisations in their dialogues or performances. We talk a lot before the shoot. I trip on acting. I love observing human behaviour on a daily basis. Kala is the most performance-oriented cinema I have done so far. I donâ€™t really act out the scenes, just explain on a spiritual and reality plane and then leave the rest to them.
Does the fear of failure haunt you while making a film?
Self-doubt is there but that mechanism helps. In a bid to overcome fear, I think we learn to bring out the best in us. It happens with every film and it just keeps escalating.
Whatâ€™s the one quality a director requires?
Leadership maybe? Also, some qualities that arenâ€™t defined as good, some stubbornness, ego, passive aggression. You are dealing with decision making and you canâ€™t get distracted by the opinions floating around you. Boundaries need to be set. Inner conflicts are myriad.
What did you learn from your first film?
I was so immature. I was only 22 then. I was passionate but technically I was on a learning curve. I wasnâ€™t really happy with my first film. Maybe Iblis was comparatively satisfactory. Though the scale didnâ€™t match up.
Social media can be unsettling, considering the number of fearless opinions it generates. Has it sort of made you become cautious as a director?
For exactly this reason, I am not on Facebook. I keep wondering why are people thinking this way while I am thinking another way. That causes a lot of self-doubt and toxicity. After a point, it gets to you. So I restrict myself to film promotions.
Whatâ€™s that one film that hooked you to cinema?
Chotta Chetan. I was not exposed to world cinema then and it is only recently that I started watching them. I was always into films and even though I didnâ€™t know direction I wanted to be a director.
Whatâ€™s your kind of cinema?
There is a misconception here that realistic cinema is very realistically shot. Revenant is very realistic, but it's cinematically shot. A balance is what we try to achieve and convey to the actors. My kind of cinema is a very realistically performed cinema shot in a very cinematic way. I should feel goosebumps. I love Marvel films; the emotions and dialogues are so real yet shot in a very cinematic way. But nothing is being hidden in the movie process. I like Anjali Menonâ€™s films and recently loved Lucifer (huge Mohanlal fan!). I really loved the canvassing and performances and the way it was shot. From a filmmaker's mindset, the shot division is interesting.
Who are the filmmakers who inspired you?
Priyadarshan, Anwar Rasheed. Shaji Kailas. I prefer all the mainstream directors.
And are you ok with the 'A' Certificate for Kala?
According to the censor rules more than five-minute action scenes require 'A' Certificate and besides there is strong language and raw violence in it. It had to go without cuts and beeps, anything else would have taken away the essence of the film. I was expecting an 'A 'certificate. With Iblis, I was trying to prove to myself that I am ok. But Kala is for the audience.
Watch the trailer of Kala here: