Deva Katta doesn’t shy away from opinions. In fact, his film Republic begins with a quote from George Orwell saying, “In our age, there is no such thing as keeping out of politics.” His films reflect that too. In this interview with Bhavana Murali, he talks about what compels him to make films like this, what would he do differently now and how this film is an outlet for his frustration.
You wrote on social media before that you followed a 4-Act structure for the film. Can you elaborate on why you made that decision?
Generally, political films tend to have a fantasy-like solution to everything. We had a similar approach but at the same time, we also wanted to define what democracy is. We presented the joy of seeing it function well but also brought it back to the reality of the vicious cycle that we are stuck in, which we should ideally break out of. In order to make a film where I can show that taste of victory and turn the audience inwards to their responsibility, it needed to have that extra turn or shocking element after the victory.
Apart from this, there are multiple layers to the story. I wanted to address governance and policies around the environment because it is crucial right now. There were multiple angles that I wanted to take to talk about the issues around the lake. There was the farmers’ protest, a researcher’s finds and the fishermen’s livelihood. For this to be carried out perfectly, I needed some time. The 4-Act structure fits in naturally for this story.
In the film, is Abhiram (Sai Dharam Tej) an idealist? Or straight up fantasy?
Abhiram’s father Dasarath (Jagapathi Babu) is the character that is rooted in reality, and Abhiram is definitely fantasy. I have taken the liberty to design a character that is Socratic in his mind. Although, I believe that this ideal is there in all of us but it is systemically butchered and broken. What is a democracy, to begin with? A mechanism that will enable you to right the wrongs. Having lived in the US, I have seen, first hand, some of these systems functioning like that.
Republic is a film that is showing that in India, we only have a pseudo-democracy of sorts because of the unending power political horses hold. Through blind loyalty, unquestioning belief, keeping aside any rational thinking, this power will eventually turn us into a dictatorship. That’s human nature. In the film, this power is challenged by simply removing the provision of politicians being able to transfer bureaucratic officers. Abhiram is that experiment.
What was Abhiram’s death in the film then a commentary on?
Abhiram’s death is to show that it was not him who failed but it was the society that let him down. Just like with many of our heroes in real life. For example, Satyendra Dubey was an IES officer who wrote to the Prime Minister of the country exposing corruption in the construction of the Golden Quadrilateral Highway. He was soon killed.
This film is also saying that our loyalties should not lie with one politician but with the vote that signifies our democratic values.
Do you believe that dissent is important?
Democracy is a field of discussion, debate and dissent. These are concepts that are deep inside the nature of our very existence. On an everyday basis, we are making choices we like that others might not. It is our innate behaviour to debate.
How important is it that your films carry a political message?
I dislike the word messaging. Films should be written, designed and executed as an experience. When it comes to me, I don’t have anything more to say about politics or governance. I dumped all of my anger and frustrations into this film. Tomorrow, I will take up a film that talks about some other human emotion. However, it will always reflect the culture of thought and the political ambience we are living in at the time. Even when K. Balachander was making a love story like Maro Charitra, he reflected on the socio-economic conditions. That is what our films now lack but it is extremely important to me. Just last night, I was blown away by the Kannada film, Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana. It was a fantastic masterclass. I felt like there is so much to learn from this filmmaker.
I do think that filmmakers and films who are attuned to that kind of reflective cinema are very important.
In Republic too, we have a hint of the commercial aspects that are expected of a film like a dance, fight sequence, punch dialogues etc. Did you feel a pressure to keep these elements?
I do, to an extent. It wasn’t an external force as much as I kept telling myself that these are a few things I need to do. There are factors like the culture of watching films of my audience that puts me in a place to make these checks and balances. What I don’t like in my film is how the first two songs look and the kind of magnification I had to choose in the intermission fight sequence. Ideally, the first song of the film should have been more emotional to show pain. Having said that, I know the audience that (Sai Dharam) Tej has. Although he gave me complete freedom to make the film I will, I was a bit more calculative. These are still liberties I have taken only during the setting up of the film. Once it gets to the more serious part, I have a straight point to make. Even after this there were producers who watched and asked if we could have one more song but I said “no way”!
Do you think the film would be made the way you liked if it was an OTT film? Are you thinking of making films exclusively for these platforms?
Yes, it might be. What I have done is divided the bank of stories that I have as theatre films and OTT films. After the response for Republic on ZEE5, I am thinking of a few of these will have a bigger impact on OTT. Films like Karnan and Jai Bhim did extremely well even if they were released on a streaming platform. These channels have given more power to the filmmakers too. There will always be stories that will be made for the theatres but now there’s a choice.
A lot of political films are made with a base of a real life incident. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
This is also something I have been thinking about. I think my process works the other way around. I have a thematic disturbance where I begin to question a few things. Then I begin forming the story where I want to address those issues, debate and discuss different angles to it. In this process I do extensive research. If I were to make a film about economics, I would study it to understand the very idea of currency itself. That way my stories are fictional but they are based on a lot of real life research.
My only film that was inspired by true events is Autonagar Surya, which is based on the train incident I have written about.
Does Deva Katta believe that the ideal world is possible?
Ideal world, probably not. But, the ideal world must always be the aspiration. We are not going to live forever. Death will come one day but we still strive to live each day. The same way, we must forget that the ideal world isn’t possible and still work towards it.