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Children are profound, says Sumanth Bhat

Director Sumanth Bhat’s debut feature Mithya has won a nomination in the best south Asian film category at the renowned MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. The Kannada indie film was also the winner of NFDC Film Bazaar’s work-in-progress lab last year. The director, in a conversation with Showtime, shares his experience making the film.

How did you choose the theme?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, one of my relatives passed away. A week after that, his wife died by suicide. At the funeral, I couldn’t help but look at their two small children — one, an 11-year-old and the other much younger. The younger child was not aware of what was happening. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted to understand situations like this better. At what point does a child grieve? How did they feel and what did they have to deal with, especially mentally? These questions remained in my mind and I soon found myself writing about it.

What kind of research did you have to do?

The initial phase was to look at articles and research papers online. I focussed mostly on children orphaned because of parents dying by suicide — to understand the feeling of being let down by one’s own parents. But what I realised was that these papers were about children living in the United States. I couldn’t relate them to my story which is set in India. So I spoke to psychologists and psychiatrists here about children’s behaviour and responses to situations like the protagonist’s in my story. These discussions helped me a lot when I went back to my story. We also visited orphanages and the women and child development centre in Manipal to observe children’s behaviour.

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‘Mithya’ features child actor Athish Shetty.

Credit: Special Arrangement

What kind of challenges did you face?

Working with two kids was one of the biggest challenges. When they come here, they’re excited about being part of a film. But only after they’re on the set, they realise the work they’ve signed up for. Sometimes we have 16 to 18 takes and that gets them worked up. “How many times do we shoot the same scene?”, they ask.

But it was great working with them, they opened up a whole new world. Usually, when we shoot with adults, we know what to expect from them and they are aware of what we’re expecting. But with children, they surprise you every minute.

Tell us about your association with Rakshit Shetty.

A common friend introduced us to each other. It was when we were both working in the IT sector. We were both interested in filmmaking and were making short films. Rakshit ventured into filmmaking completely but I was still not very sure about it, especially in terms of the finances. However, he was very supportive and pushed me to direct my first short, Neralu. He even funded the film and it also won the best Kannada film at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival (BISFF) in 2018.

In Neralu, through grown ups, you narrated the incidents from their childhood. Mithya is about a child’s inner conflicts. What makes you choose childhood as a theme in your films?

It is not a conscious act. I believe children are very pure and have an unbiased opinion of the world. I have also been surrounded by children for about 7-8 years now. And I’m a father of two. Through my observation, I’ve realised the things they say are profound. These observations probably reflect in my work.

As an independent filmmaker, what do you expect from a big festival like MAMI?

To be honest, I’m a different filmmaker now, compared to a year ago during the NFDC Film Bazaar. Right now, all that I aim to find at the festival is an OTT platform for my film. Going by the trend in Kannada indie film circles, I know Mithya may not have a theatrical run. Films like Pedro and Shivamma were screened at many festivals and gained recognition but we see very few people talking about them here in Karnataka. The indie scene here is very poor. I hope to get a buyer for my film, so that Rakshit can support another emerging talent.

(Published 20 October 2023, 18:18 IST)

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