Raam Reddy’s Thithi has fetched him a rare renown. Critics have hailed this Kannada film as a unique experience, the kind one gets to experience very rarely in Indian cinema. Subhash K Jha spoke to the film’s director .
A remarkable achievement like Thithi happens once in a while. Did you expect the film to make such an impact?
Never once while making the film did we expect it to receive such wide-spread acclaim as well as audience acceptance and appreciation. Making the film itself was such a tremendous challenge, that all our focus was on managing to just complete the film to our satisfaction. We always intended to make a “warm” film that was realistic and observational, but at the same time cinematic with a humour that was particular to the world we were trying to create. I believe it is this playfulness that is at the core of Thithi’s national and international success.
Tell me about its genesis?
The film began in an unorthodox way, with the decision to make a film in the particular place, the village ofNodekoppalu, being the seed of the film. Nodekoppalu is the home town of the primary writer and casting director of the film, the very talented Eregowda. Eregowda and I have been friends for 15 years. It was our relationship that was the core collaboration of the film; an insider and outsider combination that eventually lead to a nuanced authenticity with stylistic particularity. We also took the unorthodox decision to cast the three main actors before we came up with the story, and then, once we spent time with them and got to know them well, we used all our research to write a script for them.
How difficult was it for you to gather the funds for the project?
I am lucky in this way because the primary production company that backed the film, Prspctvs Productions, was a production house started by my father, Pratap Reddy, and myself. The film was fulfilled by funding from Prsptctvs, and later from the support of Sunmin Park and J. Ethan Park, veteran Hollywood producers from Maxmedia based in California.
How did you get a foreign producer interested in the project?
Sunmin Park (Producer of the The Others starring Nicole Kidman) came on board the project as a producer at Film Bazaar in Goa in 2014. She was one of five international mentors in the Work-in-Progress Lab where filmmakers present a line-up or rough cut of their film and receive invaluable feedback on how to shape the film towards its completion. She loved the film, and came on board right after seeing it. Her brother, J. Ethan Park, also came on board as Executive Producer.
You’ve received tremendous support and attention in Mumbai. How did that happen and do you think that support bolstered Thithi’s lifespan?
Absolutely. I am overwhelmed by the support for Thithi from industry leaders in Mumbai. Key supporters have been Anurag Kashyap, who was one of the first people in all of India to see Thithi. We met at the Locarno Film Festival, and since then he has been a wonderful champion for the film. I also had the immense honour of sharing the film with Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao about ten days before the release. I was lucky to meet Kiran Rao when the film was screened in the International Competition section of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. Kiran Rao was incredibly kind to organise a special screening of Thithi, where key people who helped push the national release watched the film. Also, an unforgettable moment in this journey is when Aamir Khan wrote five overwhelming tweets about Thithi; an honour that is hard to describe in words for a first time filmmaker like myself.
Who are the filmmakers you admire?
I admire so many filmmakers that it is hard to list a few. I learnt the language of filmmaking mostly from watching the world cinema of masters like Michael Haneke, Wong Kar-Wai and Emir Kusturica. At the moment, I have great admiration for many filmmakers from my generation such as Gabriel Mascaro, Emin Alper and Chaitanya Tamhane. I also have immense admiration for David Simon, the creator of the television show The Wire.
Thithi features actors who don’t act. How did you get such natural non-performances from the entire cast?
All our filmmaking techniques were geared towards aiding performance. Eregowda’s relationship with the people and the place was key in creating a comfortable and familial environment. As a crew, we were extremely flexible and had to be highly reactive. We often did a lot of takes, and re-shot scenes some times. In my treatment of film, I decided to eliminate blocking to help the non-professionals be more focussed on their body language and delivery rather than physical positioning; therefore, when an actor moved, the camera moved with them at the same speed. Then there were a lot of direction techniques that were tailor made for each actor depending onEregowda and my reading of their personalities.
Patriarchy and property paranoia are predominant in your plot. Do you see rural India as being governed by these two aspects?
‘Governed’ is a strong word, but I do think they play a significant role in the rural social milieu. That is something we experienced first hand while we were in our creative exploration period. All said and done, we did not attempt to make any political statements through the film; the core of the storytelling for me was to compare three generations of characters, two who are materialistically driven, and one who has transcended materialism. This for me is the spiritual core of the narrative, and the primary intention.
How easy/difficult was it for you to shoot on location in such a village where basic amenities were not available?
We had a wonderful local productions team lead by Eregowda who looked after the entire crew and cast extremely well. The food on set was made with so much love, and everyone found a family within the community that made the film. We had collaborators from Holland, USA, Mumbai, Kerela and many other parts but boundaries were quickly dissolved. We did have to heat our hot water for baths in big metal pots and we managed with make-shift toilets, but it felt very natural for all of us – perhaps it was beautiful surroundings and clean air – and wasn’t a struggle at all.
What is your next project?
I am yet to completely fix on the content of what I am doing next, but it will be a film that is very different fromThithi. I am keen on working in the magic realism genre, and making a film that is bit more personal. That kind offilmmaking requires more creative control over the craft, and for that reason I am likely to want to work with professionals. As an artist, I like to treat each project in stylistic isolation and make every film as original as possible, while keeping an underlying often hidden philosophy and spirituality the common thread between all my work.
Do you think the language(Kannada) limits your vision in any way?
No, not at all. I love the particular dialect that the film has been made in. It has a musicality that is particular and nice to listen to. Also, with maintaining authenticity being the keystone of our process, the choice of the place was key to the quality of the final product, which in turn is reason for widespread recognition.
Would you like to work with Bollywood stars?
Casting for me always comes second to the intention and story of the film, I would love to work with any actor who would fit my vision for the film, whether they are a star or not. I think that is the key to making organic and meaningful films. Having said that, there are many amazing Indian actors such as Irrfan Khan and NawazuddinSiddiqui whose work I admire and I would love to work with.
Which are the Indian films lately that according to you take our cinema forward the way Thithi does.
Films like Court and Masaan are great examples of amazing debut films by Indian filmmakers that have made a mark on the international level. Also, both these films use realism as a stylistic choice, and this is something that resonates with me personally.