What happens when an intimate video of two consenting teenagers is leaked on social media and pornography sites? Would the consequences they face be equal, especially if the teenagers come from vastly different socioeconomic backgrounds? Kannada filmmaker Prithvi Konanur’s film Hadinelentu, which received critical acclaim in festival circuits before its recent theatrical release, answers all these questions with nuance and sensitivity. Prithvi’s second film after 2020’s Pinki Elli?, Hadinelentu is a slow visceral thriller that keeps the audience hooked. TNM caught up with the filmmaker to discuss the film, his choices as a director, his creative process, and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Though Hadinelentu was about an intimate video being leaked, such a video or any part of it was never shown. Was this a deliberate choice?
It felt unnecessary for the story. What happened surrounding the video leak felt more important. We don’t want to know what happened in the video. I also think there was no ‘decent’ way to portray something this sensitive, in my opinion. I could have done that, but I didn't even want to go there. I wanted people’s attention to not be on the video but what was happening surrounding it. It [nude scenes] might have helped in making the film more sensational, but that was not the point of the film.
Sexuality, especially teenage sexuality, is still a taboo in India. In the film, everyone was shaming the couple for indulging in something like this. But the couple themselves never seemed guilty for making the video.
The younger generation is not sorry about it [their sexuality]. They are quite vocal about it, at least among themselves. I come from a different generation, but I have observed this behaviour among the younger ones and I wanted to portray that. I wanted to show that things are changing with the younger generation, at least in terms of the expression of their sexuality.
An intimate act between two consenting people creates a huge moral panic in the film. Did you want the incident to reflect how conservative Indian society still is, or was the focus on documenting the moral panic itself this video would cause?
An incident like this is not small, despite the way I had portrayed it in the film. Even without the ramifications, it is still a serious incident. For this script to be properly developed, it took around 5-7 years. It took this long because my thought process also had to evolve. When I roped in my co-writer Anupama Hegde, who is a High Court lawyer, the script began focussing on the legal complications and the moral dilemma, as opposed to the earlier draft which was centred around family dynamics. I think our combined efforts and thought processes resulted in what you saw in the movie. I did not start out with a specific motive.
Initially, some characters in the movie were portrayed as villains while others seemed to be victims. But as the movie progressed, almost all the characters became grey.
I wanted to keep the characters as rounded and grounded as possible. I mean, that is also what we are all — none of us are black and white in terms of personality. Constructing grey characters is also a matter of writing, it does not happen in one draft. It takes a lot of hard work and rewriting. Sometimes you want your characters to make a certain choice, but that may not be what you had envisioned for them earlier. But to push those characters to make that choice, you have to give them those grey shades.
One character that stood out for me in the film was Deepa’s mother. She comes across as quite naive in certain aspects of life, but her portrayal does not feel condescending. Was there a deliberate choice to write her character with that level of naivete?
I am sure we have all seen such people exist in certain class and caste locations. I don’t mean to generalise, but I think a vast majority of them are like that. These people, women mostly, must have been married off at a very young age and they might not have had access to education. Then they start doing menial jobs to survive. In this case, I do not think it is just naivete but also concern for the daughter. It was also to highlight the desperation of the mother to get her daughter out of trouble.
Another detail that struck me was how tender the relationships between Deepa and her two older sisters were. It was heartwarming to see them stand by her with love despite the dire circumstances.
To be honest, the initial drafts had the family fall into conflict with each other after the video was leaked. It did not contain this relationship between the sisters. But with the later drafts, I felt this representation made more sense and added value to a story like this. I was also under the impression that if I showed the sisters to be fighting and not supporting each other, it might reflect poorly on their economic class, so it seemed like the best option was to avoid that. From my lived experience, I have seen the dynamics of families similar to Hema’s, and it was a conscious decision to show the sisters in a positive light.
The age of consent as mandated by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has been widely debated by several activists as it paves way for criminalisation of consensual sexual acts among minors. This aspect being explored in your film felt refreshing, because not a lot of films talk about this…
I read a lot of non-fiction and I read about a case in the United States where an African American boy who was 18 was involved with a girl from a high school, probably 17, but he went to prison for it. This felt very interesting. As a filmmaker I don’t want to judge anything and I am not in a position to right the society’s wrongs. That would be too condescending! But I am in a position to observe society and present it. The POCSO Act aspect in the film is also merely an observation. It is up to people to take it how they want to and if it leads to debates and discussions, I am happy about it.
There are very few films in the south Indian industry that explore the interior lives of people in the way Hadinelentu did. Is it because there is a perception that the audience might not enjoy such films? Or are filmmakers simply not inclined to make them?
I think it is due to the [adversarial] ecosystem, because I know that the audience will watch films like this. There is a disconnect between the audience and films like this, because there is very little press around the release of these films. Even if such films win awards, there is little coverage in the media. Because of this, a majority of the audience, even those who might enjoy such films, are not even aware of its existence. If they are aware of its existence, they do not know about its theatrical release. Because of the larger ecosystem, such films do not even reach the audience in the first place.
There is a belief that a certain type of film will not attract an audience and because of that, there is very little hype around such films. This includes my films as well! Taking the film to the people itself is an expensive affair. We cannot spend a huge amount on marketing and promotions since we do not have big stars. I believe that if Hadinelentu had gotten an OTT release, it would be watched by people across the country. But like I said, there is a disconnect between good content and the audience. Once that is bridged, people will watch and share it.