Very early on in the science fiction film, Violentia (2018), a student is shown entering the foyer of a school. He is wearing a blue denim shirt and black trousers, with a rucksack on his back and a guitar case in his hand. A group of youngsters, a mix of boys and girls, enter. One of the boys pushes against the guitar-toting student, who hits a locker. And in the very next scene, a boy is seen pulling out a hunting-gun from a guitar case and shooting the students amid screams.
Though it is a taut, riveting film, and the instances of random violence can be unnerving, the film has received good reviews abroad. In the prestigious Sight & Sound magazine of the British Film Institute, critic Anton Bitel placed Violentia among the top 10 films of the Science Fiction London Fest 2018 held in May.
Vancouver-based Indo-Canadian director Ray Raghavan is on cloud nine. Talking about the theme, he says, “The film explores the reasons why people choose violence, and the extreme that government takes to in order to prevent such violence from happening.”
Praising the film, Bitel writes, “Raghavan’s film is a twisty affair, playing out its morality drama on an ambiguous stage where people’s memories, real or manufactured, can be viewed like a movie clip.”
And it seemed to have gone down well with the audience, too. After the screening, there was a line of people who wanted to take Ray’s autograph. “I was blown away by the love I received,” says Ray.
On being asked, why he focused on violence in his debut feature film, Raghavan recalled a childhood memory. For a few years, he studied at Kendriya Vidyalaya in Jagdishpur, Uttar Pradesh, because his father worked as an engineer in a steel company there.
“Some of my fellow students used to consider me an outsider,” says Ray. “They came from different backgrounds, the children of villagers, businessmen, farmers, and politicians. And they were very motivated in assaulting me. They felt I was a rich kid because I used to come to school in a car.”
That got Ray interested in the subject of physical force: why do people get violent? Later, at Delhi University, Raghavan saw Stanley Kubrick’s classic A Clockwork Orange. “It was a tremendous film that deals with violence,” says Ray.
Recently, he came across a TED talk where scientists Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology talked about their research on whether they could edit memory. The duo aims a laser beam into the brain of a mouse to manipulate its memory.
“All these thoughts struck me when I began writing the script of Violentia,” says Ray, who migrated to Canada in 2005 and did a year’s stint at the Vancouver Film School. He also worked as an intern in a production house for two years.
“In my film also, death of the daughter of Anderson, a pioneer of nanobiotechnology, prompts him to look into a psychopath’s memories to find reasons for violence. Anderson’s aim is to reprogramme the violent people,” he says.
The creative talent runs in his family. His late grandfather was the famous writer KG Raghavan Nair, based at Ottapalam, Kerala, while both his Kochi-based parents are avid film buffs. About future plans, he says, “I want to make hard-hitting films.”