Amongst the films every MAMI Film Festival attendee is gushing about this year is Thithi that won the Jury Grand Prize in the International Competition section. A story about three generations of a family in the Mandya district of Karnataka and how they react when the great-grandfather passes away. It features what has to be the most interesting dead character in a movie since Satish Shah in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron.
Here’s what Raam Reddy, the film’s director has to say about the film and festivals it has been to:
I got into art quite early and was building my portfolio in various art forms – poetry, photography, music and then I also wrote a novel. I was building a stage from where I could prove that I could handle a larger project. After this my father and I started a Company together, Prspctvs Productions. Thithi is its first feature production along with Maxmedia.
How did you go about getting Maxmedia on board?
They came aboard at Film Bazaar where it was at a rough cut stage. They liked it very much and they were keen to work on this film and future projects as well.
What was the inspiration behind the story? Some of the characters look as if they are based on real life people.
The seeds of the characters are real life people. Most of them play themselves. Some were cast even before we started writing! They are not just non-professionals, they are not even acting aspirants. To make them essay complex roles, it was necessary to write something they could relate to. The whole story was constructed piece by piece based on a creative exploratory period that we did before we wrote. We went in without a plan and interacted with the place on multiple levels. Anything we found interesting was put into a larger brainstorm. That became the clay for the larger story.
Since you have been working with non-professional actors, how did you go about training them? Were any workshops conducted to get them into the groove?
Not really, because as soon as you train somebody they start moving into their actor form of psychology. Eregowda who wrote with me is from the village the film is set in so he had a special relationship with these people and that is what we worked on. But they all had inherent talent and that is what was important. After shooting two scenes we knew what made them tick and which way we needed to go with each one of them.
How were duties split between you and Eregowda? Did you write separately or did you have a joint session where you would brainstorm ideas?
The film was written together in a room. The macro structure was more of my responsibility and the micro detailing is what he took care of. Of course things merged and we both got involved in both jobs and by the end we were one complete mind. If you are writing, you need to show your writing to someone else but we had one another.
The locations you used in the film look completely authentic. Were they actually shot on location or did you have sets built?
No it was completely authentic. We did not have a large budget and when I visited the place I saw a cinematic world there. When I set out to be a filmmaker, I decided I want my early work to capture realism. India is a fascinating place and there are a thousand different stories that can be made here in Dogme style. So many films by non-professionals are coming up which are so exciting to see.
A few scenes look spontaneous, as if they happened at the spur of the moment. Something that wasn’t part of the script. Is this true?
Everything was scripted and we stuck to it, quite stubbornly so. I wanted to create a suspension of disbelief. The audience should not feel he is watching a film, they should feel as if they are entering a world; it’s an experience. I try to find the truth in every shot and until I don’t I won’t move on.
Amongst all the myriad characters you have, Century Gowda stands out. He has just one scene, yet impacts the entire film. Did you ever consider increasing the length of his role?
No, it was entirely script dependent. CG was the most talented actor we had on our set. He WAS the character he was playing and he inhabited it beautifully. Once in a while something magical happens and you sit back and let it happen. He is 97 today and really strong. We had a scene with him without his shirt on but we had to cut it because he was too muscular!
Except the cowherd girl, the female characters like Thamanna’s wife or daughter don’t have much of a say in the story. Was that a conscious decision?
I was comparing three generations of men, not necessarily making a patriarchal film. I would have happily compared three generations of women. Working in a village, practically it is more challenging to work with women than men, given the social milieu.
-Spoiler alert begins-
The film deals with topics like pre-marital sex and incest, topics which are traditionally regarded as taboo in Indian cinema. Do you foresee any problems when you take you films before the censors?
These things do happen in the world, but visually there isn’t any objectionable content. Even the scene with pre-marital sex is treated very gently. So that way the film is very safe.
-Spoiler alert ends-
You have taken your film to Locarno and MAMI. What are your near future plans? Visit some more festivals or go in for a theatrical release?
We are going to do a little bit more of the festival journey. We will have to plan the theatrical release properly. This film has grown organically so there has never been a rush to do anything. If the quality is good enough the economics will follow.
We are going to do our best to secure a wide release but everything is run by economics. Right now all I know is that people across all cultures are enjoying the film. The response at Locarno was also been very encouraging.
As you have been to Locarno, what advise would you have for other filmmakers who wish to take their film there?
Go to Film Bazaar! That’s one thing that is singlehandedly changing communication dynamics between filmmakers and the rest of the world. Now even Film Bazaar is getting extremely competitive. You need to put your heart and soul into your film, do the best you can and ultimately your film has to be good enough. Even if you don’t go to Film Bazaar, you have to catch the attention of festival scouts in India. A good way is to shoot a short film that can get into the circles, that way you have their attention and when you shoot a feature they will watch it. But finally the film has to be worth it. Always match your script to your budget. Don’t make a film that could have been better if you had more money. Another way of going about it is to go to co-production markets with a script or going to script labs. Cold submissions to festival may not work because there are too many films like that and chances are it won’t be noticed.
As a filmmaker you have been to Locarno as well as MAMI. Have you noticed any difference in terms of how the two fests are managed?
(Laughs) I cannot really comment on that. Locarno is one of the oldest festivals in the world so there is a different ethos to it. Its specialty is that it plays at cinema halls with huge capacities, nearly 1000-8000. Thithi was screened multiple times at 1000 seat theatres. At MAMI maybe 600 people may have watched it. But MAMI was awesome in so many ways. So much networking and supplementary events happen alongside. A few projection glitches early on were corrected for subsequent screenings. I felt quite good about that.
Which is the most difficult part about making a film, is it the conceptualization, the actual filming or getting an audience to see it?
It all very easy and it’s all very difficult. A film can fail anywhere. It’s one of the most unforgiving pursuits ever. Your heart has to say yes at every step or you will end up regretting your decision.
You have written a book – Its Raining in Maya. Any chance that you will be converting that into a movie?
Let’s see. I am concentrating on Thithi right now. I do like to micro-manage in some ways and I’ll feel I am cheating on my film if I think about another film while working on this one. The book’s genre is magic realism and I will have to figure out how and when to convert it into a film
Any parting thoughts?
Just that I have had the honour of working with a lot of incredible people and cinema is really a collaborative process. We have all donned many hats. It was collective soul that we built.
We at MAM wish Raam Reddy and the entire team of Thithi all the very best for the rest of its journey.