The end of Thithi is very personal to me – Raam Reddy
Raam Reddy, the 25 – year – old filmmaker has taken the film industry by storm with his Kannada film ‘Thithi’. After studying direction in Prague Film School, Reddy (in collaboration with Eregowda) pursued making Thithi, his debut directorial venture, which has won awards at Locarno Film Festival along with winning the Best Kannada Film at the 2016 National Film Awards. But Reddy is no stranger to national and international awards as his short film Ika (Feather) won several titles in 2011.
Reddy’s latest venture captures three generations of a family and how they deal with the death of the oldest in their clan. The death of the 101 – year – old Century Gowda starts a chain of light and humorous events leading up to the ‘Thithi’, which takes place eleven days later. With the movie ready for a pan India release on June 3, we caught up with the young and talented Reddy who opens up about the starting point of the film, his preference to work with non-professional actors along with exploring the relationships between the characters.
You have made several short films before making your feature debut. When did you start writing and when did you foray into filmmaking?
While I was growing up I did not have much interest in filmmaking; the interest came much later. The first thing that drew me in art was poetry and then I went into photography quite seriously. I was pursuing economics in college, but during my second year I got a bit bored of it. So, I started writing a novel and experimenting with narrative fiction. One day I just happened to go to the set of of a short film that was being made by one of my seniors. It was there that I realized that film was a medium where I could combine writing, photography and music, which were things that I was passionate about, within one medium.
This was one of those clichéd instantaneous realizations where I knew that I could love this medium because it combines all my passions. This realization came when I was almost 20. And, after that I went mad (laughs), I made eight short films within a year. I had a DSLR and would work with my friends and non-actors. The eighth film did really well and went to almost 20 film festivals. That film was made with a crew of two people, Eregowda (Co-writer of Thithi) and me, and that was where we first collaborated. This was all before film school. After making all those short films, I went off to film school, came back and then started Thithi.
I came across a statement where you said that the crux of Thithi is in its place and not the story. Could you elaborate on that?
Usually with all my creative work, I don’t start with the story. For me the fixation of the medium and the intention came first; storytelling came later. So it could be a song that triggers something or some philosophical concept and it is then that I let it sit and grow and eventually find the story to fit that starting point.
The same thing happened with Thithi, where I had been working with non-professionals. I had this variant, especially for my first film, to try and make a more ambitious film where I wanted to show real people, real characters, which you see everyday rather than cinema’s version of people. When I went to visit my co-writer’s village for the first time, I was looking for a feature. I was ready, I had made a lot of short films and was comfortable with the medium. Eregowda and I already had an incredible relationship with each other. But I also realized that Eregowda shared an incredible relationship with the place and through him I was able to see that world as an insider. For an outsider to be able to experience a different world through the eyes of an insider is an extremely strong creative place and that is when I realized that this was a really special situation. So at that point I knew that this was a place where an ambitious film with non-professionals can be made and we decided to try and make a film there. I didn’t want to do anything small; I wanted to do something that was meaningful.
I didn’t want to do anything small; I wanted to do something that was meaningful
Why did you opt to work with non-professional actors and how was the experience?
I like realism, but at that time in Indian cinema and also cinema in general, I wasn’t seeing much of it. That was one reason. The other reason was that there are certain people that I meet while I am travelling that deserve to be in a film and there is something special about them. Therefore, instead of having someone pretending to be like that, I wanted to immortalize the real people themselves. I am comfortable making movies with non-professionals because I used to do that with my short films. I also noticed that it created a different sense of cinema when it is done with careful casting, it creates a different level of suspense and disbelieve, and as an artist I really liked that idea.
We also decided to have all ages represented within the film. Therefore, there were four generations shown because that, for me, opens up the creative space and allows you to do a lot. If you are working with only youngsters then you are limited within that world, but if you are able to move beyond it, that becomes a device to open up the creative space. These were the two things that I went in the village knowing.
Were the non-professional actors and the characters they were playing parallel in any way?
Yes absolutely! There were a lot of similarities. The core of each character on screen and the core of each person’s personality as people are quite similar. That was really important, to try and get the nuances of complex performances out of people who have never performed before. They had to be themselves, but within certain specified situations. But at the same time the characters are completely fictional though what they do and how they talk is based on reality.
Death in the movie is treated in a celebratory manner, can you elaborate on that?
There are multiple reasons as to why we did that, one is because the person who passes away in the film is around 101, so his life is celebrated. If somebody young passes away then it is always mourned, but when someone old passes away then their life is celebrated especially when it’s someone famous. The second thing is that even philosophically, I do think that death is slightly over dramatized and while it is an event that is mourned, it need not be mourned to extreme levels because it balances life.
Lastly, the third thing is that we wanted to make a film that had a lot of characters and a lot of life. If you go into a village at any given point of time, it is very quiet, the only times when everyone comes together and the village is a frenzy of activity is during festivals, weddings and deaths. We were keen on making a universal film but festivals were too culturally rooted and weddings were a cliché. Therefore, we found the device of ‘death’ to be a good way to do a character study of three generations. It was a device to create a lively film where people come together and was also a good way to tie up three generations.
We found the device of ‘death’ to be a good way to do a character study of three generations
The characters in the story appeared to be a bit aloof from each other; can you describe their emotional state during the course of the movie?
Gadappa and Thamanna had a bit of friction. Gadappa is a bit bohemian in certain ways, he is very free-spirited and is not bound by the general societal norms and is really at peace. Whereas, Thamanna is exactly the opposite, he is reaching for something on a societal level and the friction is born from that contrasting characteristic. That is what it is on the surface, we don’t know beyond that and I wanted to keep it open to imagination.
Gadappa has a back story that is pretty dramatic, but at the same time he has moved beyond it, so he is not holding on to anything. Thamanna is not aware of the back story, at least in my head, and in fact, no one in the village would know of this ideally. So even if you see the way he narrates it in the film, it seems like he is not used to narrating or talking about it.
In the mean time Abhi is quite restless, he likes gambling and drinking, he has an impulsiveness within him. He would run after a shepherd girl, which not every village boy would do. His dad is a bit controlling, he keeps telling him to do this and that. In fact, we have some deleted scenes where we had Thamanna constantly bugging him and telling him to do things, but we removed that. Thamanna is lazy and greedy and he makes people do everything. But his son is impulsive and free-spirited guy so that causes a bit of friction in their relationship also. Although, Abhi and Gadappa have a great relationship as they are similar in their core, he is also a very loveable character. He just doesn’t seek morality in the way that others would do. Thamanna is really the one in the middle who is causing friction. He is caught up in materialism and he is in that phase of life where he is grasping for more, which doesn’t make you agreeable.
The end of the movie appears to be quite an open-shut ending, was that intentional?
Yes it was intentional. I think the Indian audience finds it more open than the western audience, who find it quite closed along with poetic justice. It is open only in Thamanna’s story line. The main intention was to tell a realistic story that spans 11 days, so in a realistic story nothing gets sorted.
But more important than all of that was that there was a certain part of me that I wanted to share in the end, the end is very personal to me. It is the end that not many people have got the way I intended it, which is totally fine with me because the film was set up in a different way. But having Gadappa alone when everyone is listening to the storytelling is very meaningful for me and it encapsulates the entire symbol of Gadappa and the fact that he is the way he is because he has a strength to stand apart and to observe. That is another reason why the last shot has been a long shot, it is observational.
We have learnt the conservational way of living from Gadappa. So this has a certain philosophy and spirituality that I am very connected to. It is really interesting because we in India are more normatively oriented, but in the west they are more symbolically oriented, so there people tend to find the end to be quite closed.
I think the Indian audience finds the end more open than the western audience, who find it quite closed along with poetic justice
Have you started working on any other projects?
Nothing in particular, but I have many ideas. I know the genre I would like to work with and know that it is going to be very different from Thithi. I like to treat every film uniquely and stylistically different from the earlier work as it keeps me interested. I like the genre of ‘magic realism’ and want to explore that in films because it has been deeply explored in literature, but not so much in films. I would like to see how I can subtly bend reality in a way that would be unique to my film. And, for the next film I would like to work with professionals because it needs to be a more controlled environment to execute the concept of magic realism and then I might come back to non-professionals. This is all an idea at this stage;I haven’t picked what story or what impulse to pursue.