Arjun Kumar: I found the idea of Alien Hand Syndrome to be too silly, initially
He left behind a career in nursing to turn director, but his film, Sankashta Kara Ganapathi, is based on a rare disease which made him turn back to his background while researching the film
After the age of commercial potboilers, new generation Kannada directors are attempting to be different with their films. And going by the buzz, the directorial debut of Arjun Kumar, Sankashta Kara Ganapathi, which is based on Alien Hand Syndrome (AHS), definitely falls into the off-beat category.
Interestingly, the film is a coming-of-age romantic comedy from the first-timer, who made a short film called Panmandri Cross in 2016. In conversation with CE, Arjun tells us why he gave up a career in nursing to turn director, the brainstorming process with actor Likith Shetty, and how they worked on turning a medical condition into a full-fledged commercial film.
Random question starts serious conversation
Given that it is unusual for any film, let alone a Kannada film, to focus on a such a disease, Arjun was initially apprehensive about the base idea. In addition, a serious issue had to be turned into a romantic comedy. But, Arjun credits his rapport with Likith, which helped him bring together contrasting issues. "For the longest time, we were thinking of working together for a film. We had been discussing different kinds of stories, but weren't convinced with anything. However, when Likith popped a query on 'what would happen if hands don't listen to us', it got me thinking. While I thought it would make for a short film, I also felt that the idea was a bit silly. But Likith persisted, and we started researching about AHS. When we were checking whether any film has been made on similar lines, we found an English film, Dr Strangelove focussing on the same issue. We also found other shorts films in Arabic and Telugu, which looked into the condition. These films helped me develop the storyline of Sankashta Kara Ganapathi."
'My nursing degree came in handy'
Over the last two years, Arjun has been researching the script until he felt that it was 'set ready'. While he may have left behind the nursing profession to turn director, Arjun's degree came in handy during the making of the film. He emphasises how he has ensured to make the film as relatable as possible, while also blending in commercial elements of love, sentiments and action. "I was clear right from the word go that the film has to be backed by scientific research and data. The idea is to create awareness on the subject. I looked at other films which have blended medical issues with commercial elements. A documentary on BBC also helped," he says.
He adds: "Even though the actor's 'hand' is the villain in our film, the same left hand is an important character. We've made sure that everything appears natural including Likith's hand moments, and his surroundings. According to studies, AHS happens with the less used hand. In our film, we look at how the hero, who initially is not aware of his problem, handles the truth and faces every challenge that comes his way. It's a film with layers. And whatever the element, action, romance or comedy, we've made it very relatable. Even the songs of the film are mostly situational. This was brought in to please every section of the audience and at the same time ensure that it matches the storyline. However, executing the story itself was a challenge, especially the hero's character. His body movement had to be monitored every moment."
Five producers on board
Arjun finalised the film around the time of demonitisation, which meant roping in producers was nothing short of a herculean task. "Our film has not one but five producers. In addition, a couple of others have also invested in the film. It's probably the concept which caught their attention. I organised an investors meet, where I presented my story to a gathering of 25 producers. Though many showed interest, only five investors came on board finally. Not all of producers look at the commercial angle. In that way, I feel blessed that all these producers are taking equal effort to promote the film," he says.
Technicians from his short film roped in for Sankashta Kara Ganapathi
Ritvik Muralidhar, the film's music director and Vidyuth, the film's editor were, in fact, part of Arjun's short film as technicians in 2016. Cinematographer Uday Leela, Arjun says, started as a light boy, and has been associated with well-known cinematographer, Shreesha Kuduvalli, "It took one year for the music director to create the scores for our film. He was with us throughout the making. We even had the lyricist besides us while composing the songs. Since Uday Leela has associated with various cinematographers for 12 years, he understood the lighting pattern well. He also accompanied me during location hunt, which helped him give a better frame," he says.
'No resemblance to any Tamil film'
Tamil director Ashok has certified that Sankashta Kara Ganapathi is not a remake of his film Peechankai. Arjun says that when he uploaded the trailer, a lot of people commented that it was a remake. "To which, the Tamil director even commented that after watching the trailer, he found no comparison to his film that released last year. We later had a 20-minute conversation over the phone where we talked about the storyline and he wished me luck for my film. Even so, people are under the impression that it is a remake. Now, I can't change that. Just because there are multiple films on cancer or Alzheimer's, it doesn't mean they are remakes. Peechankai was released after we were done with our first schedule. We have all watched the film, and went ahead only when the producers gave us the green signal," he says.