'Nathicharami', which has Sruthi Hariharan in the lead, is about a young woman who loses her husband and wants to satisfy her sexual needs.

Worried if Nathicharami will be used to target Sruthi Hariharan Director Manso Re
Flix Interview Monday, October 29, 2018 - 13:07

State and National Award winning Kannada director Manso Re isn’t concerned about making box office hits, and says his audience doesn’t expect such movies from him anyway. His new release, Nathicharami, has a unique plot-line, and while it’s being appreciated in the film festival circle, things could go either way in terms of its box office success. Nathicharami follows a young Bengalurean widow, Sruthi Hariharan’s Gowri, on her complicated and wrenching quest to fulfill her sex drive after the death of her beloved husband, Mahesh.

On the way, it explores issues of consent, sexual harassment, and the agency of women in choosing their own sexual partners. Manso Re has been working on this film, which is shortlisted for the Oxfam prize for Gender Equality at the MAMI film festival this year, for one and a half years now. Much like Vaishnavi Sundar’s new documentary, What Was She Wearing, which is a deep dive into workplace sexual harassment in India, Nathicharami too was conceptualised well before the #MeToo movement gained the momentum it has now, making it an oddly prescient film.

Nathicharami has become doubly significant after Sruthi Hariharan recently rocked the Kannada film industry with her explosive allegations of workplace sexual harassment against actor Arjun Sarja. Manso Re discussed Sruthi’s recent #MeToo recent allegations, the making of the film, his decision not to depict “the act” of sex directly and more over a telephonic interview with TNM.

When asked whether he considers his movie to be explicitly woman-led, and how he thinks the audience will react, given that Nathicharami has Sruthi Hariharan in the lead, he says, “I have always maintained from the beginning that it is a woman-centric film, and I don’t think that will be an issue. In Kannada right now, the multiplex audience doesn't come for the hero’s face. In 2016, we had U Turn, which starred Shraddha Srinath. It had no hero-pulling face, but people came. Ondu Motteya Kathe also had a new face, Raj B Shetty, but still the audience came and the movie was a huge success. There is a particular wave and audience who watch good movies, not hero-centric movies. They don't bother what language, they just want a good story, and a movie that’s thought-provoking. So they will support and promote my film, and come watch. I don't think the lack of a hero face will be a negative for Nathicharami. I’ve always been clear that this is not an ABC sector movie. Also, since I am a National and State Award winning director, everyone is clear it won’t be a regular commercial film. In the Kannada industry, they think if the director is an award winner, his movies are not for common audiences, you need to have a little bit of a mind to watch and enjoy! People know that about my movies.”

Nathicharami is indeed thought-provoking, but while dealing tastefully with several important issues, it doesn’t smack you in the face with a moral or a message. Manso Re says that “It is supposed to raise questions in the mind of the viewer, not provide answers.” It does, however, lend itself to the telling of some important truths, such that women who have sex may not want to have it with everyone, as you see in the scene where Gowri rejects the advances of her lecherous co-worker Rishi, or better still, when Suresh’s hitherto doting wife suddenly rejects his.

Rather predictably, Manso Re says he developed his interest in these themes because he grew up surrounded by women, having about 12 women in his family, from his grandmother to sisters and nieces. He says he listened to their conversations, and gleaned a lot from the discussions they would have “after a girl attained maturity”.

He also credits his insight to his experience in learning fine arts—which he studied at Chitrakala Parishath—which broadened his initially restricted world view.

“Regular society thinks that if a girl roams with a boy, or goes out with a boy at night, she is wrong. I was raised in that society. Then when I joined the field of fine arts, I was with so many friends and colleagues, and there my way of thinking changed. I realised it's not like that, what society thinks is wrong. And I also realised girls are not so weak. They don't just go with whoever comes up to them, they are very clear about who they want to make a relationship with, who they want in their personal life. But on the other hand, I noticed that even among my very progressive friends, who were willing to discuss most things openly - the right kind of poetry, new kinds of art - deep inside, they still held beliefs that were perhaps even more regressive than what an orthodox person believes," he says.

The film explores the thoughts and feelings of a woman who still loves her husband, who is no more, but craves for sex. She's urban, independent, and employed, but what happens when she approaches men with her need?

Given that the movie deals with such sensitive issues around sex, marriage and consent, and even includes a scene reminscent of one that caused controversies on social media after the release of Veere Di Wedding, we wondered if Manso Re expects his film to spark controversy when it releases in theatres.

“When I initially approached the producers with this film, they were hesitant, having only seen commercial films," he responds, “But I told them to have faith in me, and that it would be a thought-provoking movie, not a controversial one. When they saw the film, they were very happy. The same with others who were initially reluctant hearing the subject matter. So I don’t think it will be controversial if people really see the film, but I do have my doubts. Forget the men, I wonder if women will find it controversial! One of the women who worked on the film, I noticed that she didn’t share the trailer even when we were selected for MAMI. When I asked her why, she said it's because people would connect the subject matter to her own life! So some ladies, who have these questions and feelings inside them, don’t want others to connect [their watching or supporting the film] to their lives, so I don’t know how they will react. I don’t know what the public reaction will be, but there are chances it will be controversial.”

Speaking of the film's portrayal of sex and sexual acts, he says he was also careful not to depict “the act” itself. “I have not shown her body, I've only played with sounds. Before the shoot, I was clear I won't explicitly show [sexual] acts. If I show the act, the subject I want to focus on will be diverted and attention will go only to the act. That’s why I never directly show it.”

He does think that controversy may arise around the movie given Sruthi’s recent #MeToo allegations against Arjun Sarja though. But unlike many other directors and big names in the Kannada film industry, he’s very clear about where he stands, and he stands with Sruthi.

He talks of how he’s afraid people may misuse the “bold” scenes in the film to malign Sruthi Hariharan in real life.

“In Sruthi’s case, the whole industry is against her. There are allegations that she has no proof, and that she’s created this scene only for publicity. I have a fear that people will take this issue, and the dildo and masturbation scene, and the bold character that wants only sex in the movie, and use it to give her a bad image. I am afraid they will paint Sruthi as bad. I’ve had this fear since the controversy started. Those people who are active on social networks, there’s cow dung in their minds, because they don't have the patience to think what is true, what is false, what is right, what is wrong. Whatever they see, they pass judgement. We’re living in that era," he says.

He continues, expressing his support for her actions, “On the fourth day after her press conference she contacted me. She's very clear about what she's doing and I'm very clear why I'm supporting her. Apart from the fact that she's my movie’s main lead, I support her because what she's doing is good. Instead of talking about whether she has proof or not (I don’t mind about that), this woman is challenging the 70-year-old Kannada film industry, and dominant directors and producers. She’s disturbed their sleep, she's given them tension, she's put the fear in them, that some other woman might take their name and expose their unfair practices and their bad actions. Those seniors who have been here for years, the ones who have done whatever they wanted for so long, the ones who think if someone’s a lady in the industry, she's ready for sex, those who judge only by body shape and cast women in movies on that basis, she's scared such people for two days. Whether she wins or loses the case, I don't care, but all those who look at women with a bad gaze will have that fear. That’s why I'm very happy with Sruthi, and I am with Sruthi.”

He concludes his thoughts on the matter by saying, “About the allegations, the court will decide. Sruthi filed a case [on Sunday], Arjun filed [on Saturday]. The court will decide, I have nothing more to say about that, but what Sruthi has done is great. It was very essential in our industry, in fact not just in the Kannada cinema industry, but in the whole Indian cinema industry.”

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