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Director Aditya Kripalani wants people to take away one thing from his women-centric movies- that the “Devil is inside all of us.” Here’s why he says that.
“Totta, Pataka Item Maal’ are quite often fearlessly used as derogatory terms to describe women. However, these words have now gained special attention, thanks to one man. This man is doing his best to show the society what it feels like to walk in a woman’s shoes.
Recently, while scrolling through social media, I found an advertisement that led me to a trailer of a movie on Netflix. Not very startling, right? Well, the movie was titled ‘Totta Pataka Item Mall.’ I am not joking, and mind you the movie is as unique as the title sounds.
‘Totta Pataka Item Maal’ is directed by an indie director Aditya Kripalani and it takes the audience into the minds of four working women. These women, quite like all of us, live in constant fear of harassment, abuse and assault from men.
One night, these four women take matters into their own hands, when yet another man begins another cycle of harassment against them. Thus, begins a journey of breaking the person down – physically and mentally. It offers a number of other perspectives and narratives too.
This isn’t the first movie the director has made. His first movie ‘Tikli and Laxmi Bomb’ revolves around the lives of two sex workers. It also deals with a much larger topic of women moving towards revolting and starting an ecosystem of their own to fight patriarchy.
Well, we live in a world where movies still show women as eye candies and violence, abuse and assault are normalised in the name of love. *coughs Kabir Singh*
Kripalani’s debut film, ‘Tikli and Laxmi Bomb’ won the Best Feature Film Award at the 10th Berlin Independent Film Festival and the Best Film on Gender Equality at the 20th Asian Film Festival. He has always tried to offer a different perspective to the world through his stories. I recently got to talk to him about his movies, the numerous awards he’s won and why he makes the movies he does.
Aditya did his post graduation from the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) in screenwriting in 2004. Then, he worked at an advertising agency and his first step towards filmmaking was with the film 1920 where he worked as an assistant director. He also wrote for some mainstream movies but wasn’t satisfied with it.
Eventually, he moved towards creating his content through storytelling. He has been a writer for 15 years. Since 2018, he has delivered four novels titled Back Seat, Front Seat, Driver Seat and Tikli and Laxmi Bomb. Aditya then shifted into film-making by turning his book ‘Tikli and Laxmi Bomb’ into a film. Then he directed another movie – ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal.’ He also produced both these movies.
“I still primarily consider myself as a writer but now I have started to think of myself as a filmmaker and that’s what the journey has been. Filmmaking makes me feel satisfied because there is so much to do in an independent film and it’s always an amalgamation of so many different art forms that I love. In that sense, I have fallen in love with cinema over the last two and a half years in a new way,” he told me.
Aditya doesn’t just direct and write his movies. He also produces them and sings some of the songs too!
Aditya’s first movie revolves around the lives of sex workers and the second movie is about the fear of rape. His themes also set him a class apart.
“The real answer to all this is that I don’t know. I wanted to make a movie that is spaced out in a way that it is commercial…which means engaging. Like Tikli is a very engaging character. I wanted to do something around feminism which is very strong to say,” he says.
It’s often said that movies are an adaptation from real-life scenarios. And Aditya feels the same about his movies. There is no denying in the fact that in the modern era, the push for gender equality has made real progress in India.
Still the scales are still heavily tipped against women. He says that this is the very reason to take a strong feminist line. And though his first two films have been based in the metropolises of Mumbai and Delhi, their subjects are universal. Aditya says that he intends to continue making socially relevant films that can uplift the condition of women in the country.
“The idea behind my movies is to get strong female characters. In Tikli and Laxmi Bomb, the message is that if these women can stand up then anyone can. For example, if you see the advertising agency most of the products sold are catered to women but the ideas they are gonna be sold often come from men!” he says.
His movies particularly target misogyny, push for equality and seek to shatter the status quo, but they are about the human condition as well. And to make his point clear there is an intensive amount of research that goes in before writing a movie.
Aditya believes that this research has been in life in general. Because he is not from Delhi and second movie is based in Delhi. ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal’ draws inspiration from people including his friends who spent time in Delhi.
“I am from Bombay so Tikli and Laxmi Bomb was easier to craft but Totta the stories come from people living in Delhi. Even though I have spent some time in Delhi and even I was told to not go out late at night. If I went to drop people to their houses in Noida or Faridabad and then come back late in the night and see a jeep of men slowing down near my cab then it’s scary for me too! If you ask around people from Delhi especially women you’ll find that everyone have a story of how they have been followed home. And how sometimes the next day they opened their window and they see the same man who followed them last night standing right there outside their house,” says, Aditya.
“The thing is that it’s not hard to find actors instead it’s hard to find really good actors,” says Aditya while talking about the struggle to find actors that commit to trivial roles.
Aditya told me that although the character of the man in ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal’ is very trivial. The things he goes through from waxing, being kidnapped in a room scolded to act like a ‘Totta’ ‘Pataka’ ‘Item’ and ‘Maal’ and in the end instilling the fear of rape is something that is not very easy and accepting to portray. And though several men auditioned for it, actor Vinay Sharma was cast.
“That’s the beauty of Bombay if you look properly you can find dedicated actors. Mahendra Chauhan as a man is just not sleazy and a pervert he is sensitive too and without the sensitivity, no one can essay that character,” he said while speaking about the male character in ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal.”
Mahatma Gandhi said that despise the evil and not the evildoer. This is something that doesn’t exist in our society. No one is born as a pervert or a misogynistic person but it’s the conditioning that makes people act like that.
“I got a lot of hate from men for ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal.’ None of the women in the movie wanted things to be as they turned out to be in the climax. We need to understand that it’s the society’s conditioning that led to the climax of the movie and that is what I want to talk about. Conditioning is the bigger killer than us at some level. So if you want to understand the depth of the movie it’s very important to watch it fully,” said Aditya while talking about the problem that Totta Pataka Item Maal deals with.
Both his movies have won a lot of accolades outside India and have won many awards in several international and national India Film festivals. Still talking about the lives of sex workers and installing the same treatment to men what many women go through is not something easily acceptable by the Indian society. What Aditya wants people to understand is the very fact that ‘How similar we are as human beings’
A lot of people felt that the movie ‘Totta Pataka Item Maal’ glorifies feminism as a ‘tit for tat’ movement. Answering this Aditya said, “It is true the trailer does show the movie like that. Like I can’t reveal the climax in the trailer and the way the trailer shows the movie I think it’s the correct way to market the film. Because if it incites hate and men see it because of that then towards the end they will witness the unexpected change.”
The movie, according to Aditya, is a way to talk about how men and women are similar and how both genders are a product of conditioning. It talks about how conditioning is the killer and not the human being. In his point of view, both his movies are about the factors of inequality that is very much prevalent in society.
The protagonists in the film keep saying, “We’re women, and we don’t act like men,” but the consequences of their actions are the same. Yes, men have not endured the sort of institutional suffering women have, but human nature is a lot more pervasive. “Irrespective of gender, our response to power is the same,” claims Kripalani, while explaining some creative decisions with the film’s unexpected plot line.
Both his movies are available on Netflix. Talking about the importance of OTT platforms Aditya told me “OTT platforms give many filmmakers a way to say something beyond entertainment, something that is a voice is a discussion. And OTT platforms act as an avenue for people to share what they want to say. Things that might not be possible through the mainstream media due to various reasons.”
Some of the Indie films that he admires include – Once Again by Kanwal Sethi, Mehsampur by Kabir Singh Chowdhary, Autohead by Rohit Mittal and What Will People Think By Iram Haq.
There is no denying in the fact that because of OTT platforms Indie films are getting the recognition that they deserve. Movies as a way of expression to take something from are made to be possible because of OTT platforms. One thing that Aditya wants the people to take away from both his movies “The devil is inside.”
Currently, Aditya is working on two upcoming projects ‘Devi and Hero’ and ‘Not Today.’ Devi and Hero starring Chitrangada Satarupa is a story of a sex slave who has fled away from her inhumane environment. Her abuse has led to blackouts every day, where her mind goes blank and she lands up waking up in strange situations without any memory of how she got there. She meets therapist Vikrant Saraswat, played by Vinay Sharma, who himself is dealing with sex addiction. The plot revolves around whether they can break free of their inner demons. This movie was screened in November during that Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) under the Asian category of the NETPAC Award.
He is currently shooting for Not Today about a suicide prevention centre.
Through his movies, Aditya tries to make people introspect within themselves to find a solution to all social evils. From being in advertising to writing books and now, making movies, Aditya has always tried ways to express creativity and make people think. This way he has been very unconventional.
Picture credits: YouTube
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I read, I write, I dream and search for the silver lining in my life.
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