Katti Nrittam, the Malayalam film that is part of the Marché du Film (film market) at the Cannes Film Festival 2020, has been directed by Kolkata-based director Aneek Chaudhuri. The critically-acclaimed indie filmmaker had earlier made a mark on the international scenario with his silent films such as The Wife’s Letter, White and Cactus.

Earlier, Katti Nrittam’s script was included in the Margaret Herrick Library in California, one of the renowned cinema-related libraries in the world. In an e-mail interview, Aneek explains that he chose to make his first feature film with dialogues in Malayalam because “being comfortable is not my way! I loved to take up this film as a challenge, and since this is an adaptation of the Mahabharata, the earthly elements associated with Malayalam can beat any other language, trust me!” he asserts.

While pointing out that he is more comfortable in Hindi than Bengali as he grew up in Delhi, he feels that we can no longer witness the integration of parallel cinema and mainstream cinema in the true sense other than in Malayalam cinema.

The 28-year-old director admits that Bengali cinema does not influence him any more because, in his opinion, apart from a few filmmakers, “Bengali cinema is not doing well, at all. It does not mean our region does not have talent, it’s just that they are investing it somewhere else. And, I could not foresee something brighter in the coming future.”

A thriller revolving around a failed Kathakali actor who turns a psychopathic killer, Katti Nrittam had Aneek spending about 18 months in preparation before the actual shooting began. It’s the story of an arrogant Kathakali dancer and his failure to understand or appreciate the significant aspects of his art form that leads to his demise.

Aneek Chaudhari’s hand-drawn poster for his film Katti Nrittam

Aneek Chaudhari’s hand-drawn poster for his film Katti Nrittam  
| Photo Credit:
special arragement

“The Mahabharata has always outlined desire, lust, pride to be the main reasons for the outbreak of the great war. The same has been adapted in the modern-day context. I invested a large amount of time in preparing for this film. We also had a sound secondary research process. I was involved in the primary research, mostly with my actor Sabuj Bardhhan, because he is the guy who plays Subhadra, which means he needed to reverse his gender features,” says Aneek.

He consulted a specialised Kathakali instructor in Kolkata and gathered technical inputs from Kerala. Although the shooting was in Kolkata, Aneek wanted the props and the location to sync with the Malayali scheme of things. “In order to ensure authenticity, we shot with 10 days of intervals between two shoots. Our art director Mrittika Mukherjee did a brilliant job. She brought the feel of Kerala to Kolkata.”

Kathakali speak

  • The literal meaning of ‘kathi’ is knife. However in Kathakali, kathi vesham signifies a character with a villainous streak.
  • Advantage Malayalam cinema
  • “Malayalam cinema is doing really well post-2011. The best part of Malayalam cinema is that it tries to be original as much as possible. Moreover, directors like Sanal Kumar Sasidharan and Aashiq Abu are doing a great job. And the entry of flexible and versatile actors like Fahadh Faasil (I dream to work with this guy), Parvathy Thiruvothu, Sreenath Bhasi, Soubin Shahir, Chemban Jose have infused freshness into the scene. But, I still feel that more women-oriented films should come out in the mainstream industry.”
  • Love sans borders
  • “I am already being tagged as ‘Kerala’s son’ as all the time. I keep bragging about the place as I am completely in love with everything associated with Kerala. And only love can help you cross boundaries with such ease.”

Rahul Sreenivasan, the only actor who knows Malayalam in the film, is the failed Kathakali artiste who plays Arjuna. Dubbing artistes from Kolkata did the dubbing while the script was developed in English and translated into Malayalam by them. “We had a lot of people from Kerala helping us and it felt as if I was actually a part of their culture and industry,” says Aneek.

Although it could have been much easier to shoot in Kerala, Aneek elaborates that it would have been costly to take the whole team down south and he did not want to burden the producers. Moreover, he was averse to excluding his technicians from Kolkata. “See, in Kolkata, cinephiles and technicians crave for a piece of work that provides them the liberty to portray their artistic skills and I guess I provide them the same. However, I have plans of moving down to Kerala, in the near future; then, I will be able to work in Kerala, and with technicians from there. I am looking forward to it,” adds Aneek.

Bowled over

In fact, Aneek’s desire to associate with the traditional art form of Kerala was born in 2018 when he visited Kerala Kalamandalam while on a tour to Ernakulam. Although he had heard about the place from many directors, he was bowled over when he did visit Kalamandalam.

“In Delhi, we are more exposed to classical dance forms in big auditoriums where you can smell nothing but splashy velvet curtains. In Kalamandalam, I discovered myself to be closer to the earth like never before. The aspect of abhinaya had instantly stuck a chord; it is a master-class to all of us, any one related to arts and cinema to express emotions in the method acting through the internal process of maturity, experience and development,” he says.

Aneek continues: “It is spectacular how emphasis is paid upon the expression of limbs, speech, costume and scene. It is a mirror to many who do not want to delve deeper in any art form. It also made me realise that I had not worked hard enough till 2018 to achieve a sense of authority over my medium. One should not forget that the audiences who witness such mastery are also well-educated and aware of the process, otherwise, it is tough to decode the interpretations.”

A still from Aneek Chaudhari’s film Katti Nrittam

Expressing his happiness at the film’s inclusion in the film market in Cannes, he says it is a great way to interact with exhibitors, buyers and sellers. “However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be held on a virtual platform this year. And I will be able to represent Kerala and Malayalam cinema. We are humbled!” He hopes to release the film in Kerala after seeking the film’s luck on the international film festival circuit.

During the lockdown, Aneek was working on a film, The Symphony of Pansies, in collaboration with Stephanie Bou Chedid from Beirut. “This is a film on the personification of musical instruments. Besides, I am planning for something big in 2021,” says Aneek before signing off.

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