While Raj B Shetty’s directorials have not stuck to a single genre, they do have one thing in common. All three of his films, Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017), Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana (2021), and his most recent Swathi Muththina Male Haniye (SMMH), focus on emotions that are specific to humans and explore them in unconventional, yet real ways. He explores the relationship between companionship and self-image in Ondu Motteya Kathe, pride and love in GGVV, and humanity’s relationship with grief in SMMH.
“I like to think and process why I lost someone,” says Raj Shetty when asked what was his process of grieving after a loss, “What did I do wrong? When I see it that way, I get opportunities to learn and grow from it. I see grief as a huge opportunity to learn. Hence, I don’t like to lose it quickly. I like to spend time with grief. I don’t like to escape from it by playing a video game or a game of cricket. I want to stay with the feeling and see what is happening. I feel like I’ll lose out on a lot of teachings if I just distract myself.”
SMMH is a story about Prerana, played by Siri Ravikumar, who is a counsellor at a hospice care centre in Ooty. She helps terminally ill patients deal with their eventual death and has hence become numb due to her morbid job. Her view on life and grief changes when Aniketh, another patient, comes into her life.
“An old acquaintance of mine called me up once,” he says, speaking of his inspiration for the film, “We don’t have a deep relationship or anything. She has been married for over fifteen years and has two kids. She called me up and started crying. After the call, I wondered why she would choose to talk about her feelings to a stranger instead of her husband of fifteen years. This feeling of loneliness haunted me and I have seen such a feeling in every woman I have met. I have never spoken to her after that call but her situation never left me. That person became Prerana.”
The film is Raj B Shetty’s third directorial, following his previous film Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. The latter starred him and Rishab Shetty in lead roles and was a rousing success. The film made Raj Shetty a star, with stalwarts like Anurag Kashyap praising the wonderful gangster saga. While he went into a similar space with Toby, SMMH is a radically different film.
“When I was making the film, my thought was to break the image created by GGVV. All filmmakers, in some way, fall into the trap of making a commercially viable film, thinking about the expectations of the audience. I wanted to break it and make a film that did not have any commercial pressure. I wanted to make a film that was personal and was philosophically deeper.”
SMMH comes on the heels of another tragic romance Sapta Sagaradaache Ello - Side B and viewers seem to be in a surplus of tear-jerking romances. The films have been breaking a trend and a notion that the time for romances has gone and that only action films work in the current milieu. Kannada cinema has historically lapped up tragic romances and the universality of these films begs the question: Is it necessary to lose something to have loved?
Raj B Shetty simply says, “It is a chicken-egg kind of a question. I just feel life is that way. The mind gets bored of a singular feeling so we continuously receive love and loss, happiness and sadness in equal doses.”