Shailaja Padindala, 30, a journalist-turned-reporter from Bengaluru, recently had her short film Memories of a Machine screened at Seattle South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF). The film, featuring actress Kani Kusruti and shot in one continuous shot, involves a woman talking freely about her sexual experiences during her childhood to her partner/husband. The film evoked strong responses from the audience. It even made some of them angry which, Shailaja says, is the point of the film.
Excerpts from an interview with Shailaja:
Is this your first short film?
Yes, you could that as this is the film I'm taking to places and putting out on platforms.
How was the crowd's reaction at SSAFF? You mentioned that the film made some people angry, and that was the point. Why do you say that?
Firstly, the people were awestruck by Kani's performance and her demeanour!
Coming to the reception of the subject, it is not a film where one likes or dislikes. It sets the human mind to question one's own sexual side and nakedness, hence I would say the audience were more reactive than responsive. In fact, one member of the audience was completely disturbed and angered after watching the film as her own childhood experiences of a disturbing abuse were stirred. She was vulnerable and angry and it would have been unfair if I had not reciprocated to that vulnerability. I opened up a part of myself too and told her that I was 8 years old when I was touched sexually by an adult and I was curious and felt pleasure at that age. There was a sense of silence and acceptance of this situation among the audience after I quoted my experience.
Why is the movie titled "Memories of a Machine?"
A machine in this context is a camera and also the mind of the narrator. A machine captures and outputs information as it is, but the human mind looks at the information under a moral lens, now that's where the information gets a right / wrong perspective to it. So here the woman is narrating her experience as it is...but the listener/audience have a moral lens. So this is an experiment to look at the memory of a MACHINE through a different moral lensing!
Do you think there are many Indians who are as comfortable talking about their earliest sexual experiences, even if with their partner?
A couple who fell in love and got married for 15 years were disturbed and disgusted that couples can have such conversations while some others wanted to find a relationship where one could have such intimate conversations. But mostly, people don't feel comfortable opening up to a topic like this.
What are your future plans? Do you plan to make another film?
I'm making a Kannada feature with Kani as the protagonist. The film will break all comfort zones for an audience. Only people with guts and clarity about one's own sexuality will be able to watch this film.
Of course, I do not have a producer and don't want one either....and hence I'm sourcing money from alternate methods. The funding details and the first look of the will be out by the end of December 2016. SSAFF also helped me find initial funding.
A DVD of the film Nymphomaniac is seen in the film. What is the point of that?
Lars von trier is the filmmaker who inspires me in many ways. His film Nymphomaniac has had a large influence on me and the film's DVD is a tribute to him and also a subtle way of saying that maybe the couple is having this conversation after watching the film.