Rohith VS, director of Tovino Thomas-starrer Kala, talks about why set the film in the 90s, the role that nature plays in the film, and why he wants to make Iblis again on a Disney canvas, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
Kala is technically an action film and it’s backed up by so much drama. In a way, the broad arc of the film is kind of like Ayyappanum Koshiyum. But this is more primal and savage. Before my other questions, why did you choose the late 1990s as the setting for the film?
I didn’t mean to specifically set it in that period but I always wanted to tell this story in the past tense. The main idea of the film is that, at every point in human evolution, at every point in universal evolution even, the same thing has happened. Even back in Africa when Homo Sapiens fought similar species of Homo, it was an ideological clash between manipulators and skilled people. So, the story is more convincing when we are looking back and narrating it.
I was six years old in 1997. My childhood memories of that era are so beautiful. I have every detail in my mind. So, more than telling the story in the present (and we don’t even have much clarity about the present) I thought I’d set it in the past.
Another reason why I wanted to set it in that particular period was because we were showing a particular treasure in the family and it’s linked to nature. And that thing had its greatest value in 1997. A kilogram of pepper was 500 to 600 rupees back then, it’s come down now. So, the peak of that commodity was also a major reason.
Why I asked you that question was because when Tovino’s character and his wife are sleeping together, she actually mentions the war. So I thought you were building up to a situation where everything was exploding around them.
Basically, we wanted the term ‘war’ to be mentioned because the climax is going to be just like a war. Also, the cost of pepper may also go down because of it.
The film opens with something like an overhead drone shot and you show a rocky stream in the middle of a forest. There are no markers to suggest where this place is. And in a few seconds, you cut to the animated title sequence. Why did you have that shot?
To just show how peaceful nature is. In the last frame of that shot there’s an explosive sound. So, a piece is lost. I wanted to have the stream sounds and the bird sounds just to make people comfortable, to show how peaceful nature is when mankind is not around.
There are many, many plants and animals in places where you might not expect to see them. For example in the middle of a fight we suddenly see a lizard, we see snake eggs. Let us just focus on one particular imagery of creatures. When the battle descends into the stream, instead of focusing on the fight you have a wide shot in which you have two reeds and two butterflies on those reeds. Tell me about that decision of yours to kind of say those two men are fighting out there but I want to focus on these two butterflies.
I don’t know how I came to that conclusion but I probably had dreamt this image in my mind—two men fighting and two butterflies making love. That was the idea and I just wanted to show the contradiction, So basically, here we have the perspectives of the characters played by Tovino Thomas and Sumesh Moor, and a directorial or nature’s perspective. I always wanted to shift, to snatch nature’s perspective at regular intervals, to show how nature sees the whole thing and this was such a moment.
I watched Iblis and I’m still trying to get that out of my mind because it’s such a gorgeous, beautiful, amazing film…
Let me tell you, I have a plan of probably making Iblis once more in my life, maybe in a later stage of my filmmaking career. I’ll definitely make that film once more so we can probably talk about that then.
I see a lot of flaws in the film. I had a lot more things to convey. I had huge budget restrictions when making that film in the Malayalam industry which is very small. So, someday I wish I could make it on a Disney canvas.