The ‘award winner’ tag attached to a film often conjures up an extremely slow-paced effort likened to watching paint dry by the sceptical viewer. But such generalisations don’t necessarily apply to an ‘award-winning’ film that entertains a large audience, as evidenced by the turnout for the said film at the recent IFFK. Filmmaker Krishand RK’s Avasavyuham, which won the Kerala State Award for Best Film, is a supreme example.
The film’s rather long English title—The Arbit Documentation of an Amphibian Hunt—might sound like pretentious twaddle to the average cinemagoer. But the significance will be readily evident to anyone who has seen the film. One might even conclude that the makers couldn’t have come up with an apter title.
There is a pretty good reason why Avasavyuham met with much applause and standing ovation at the IFFK venues. What begins with the tone of an avant-garde experimental feature slowly reveals itself to be a darkly humorous satire that maintains a consistent mood once it gets going. One will be delighted to find in the film commercial cinema tropes incorporated in a manner that one wouldn’t expect.
Without giving anything away, Avasavyuham paints an amusingly kaleidoscopic portrait of society while tracking events triggered by the appearance of a man (Rahul Rajagopal) gifted with “special powers” and no identity except for his name, Joy. Through a strongly satirical, mockumentary approach, it takes a dig at various human follies. Save for a couple of characters, Avasavyuham is replete with opportunists and manipulators. In a conversation with Cinema Express, the film’s cinematographer Vishnu Prabhakar reveals that the team intended to tell a story accessible to general audiences.
“We designed Avasavyuham as an entertainer, with all the ingredients that make up a mainstream entertainer. I mean, it’s essentially a revenge story with a little bit of romance and everything. We designed it for the Tik Tok generation, people with low attention spans,” says Vishnu, who had worked with Krishand as an associate cinematographer on Krishand’s previous indie feature Vrithakrithiyulla Chathuram, which, he remarks, is relatively not as accessible as Avasavyuham. “In the latter, the information is being fed rapidly without losing the subtlety. We opted for the faux-documentary style combined with a contemporary background score to lend a sense of familiarity. I’ve observed the young crowd at IFFK responding to it as though to a mass entertainer. It was different in Thiruvananthapuram’s Tagore theatre, though. There, the audience watched it intently.”
The film’s visual style combines several approaches, predominantly a fluid cinema verite approach to following characters, aside from a conventional way of framing. It walks a thin line between documentary and fiction. “We did some research before shooting to figure out how to treat the film. We wanted viewers to wonder whether it’s fantasy or reality,” explains Vishnu, an engineering graduate before becoming a self-taught cinematographer.
Interestingly, Krishand originally envisioned Avasavyuham as a superhero movie about a man-creature hybrid. Vishnu shares that the film was something which had its genesis as a Facebook note about the man-animal parallels, which often figure in Avasavyuham as the observations of a scientist. However, budgetary constraints stood in the way, and the makers had to contend with something more pared-down, for which the preparations took over a year.
For Vishnu, working on the film was like being part of a fascinating science project. “During that time, we managed to identify all kinds of species,” he chuckles while adding that Avasavyuham will most likely release on an OTT platform after a month.