{ Page-Title / Story-Title }

Interview Kannada

Nothing is apolitical for me, says Pedro filmmaker Natesh Hegde

The young director who considers Ritwik Ghatak, G Aravindan and Abbas Kiarostami his film school, talks about his debut feature.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Natesh Hegde’s directorial debut, the Kannada-language feature film Pedro (2021), has been screened at several film festivals across the world, premiering at the Busan International Film Festival.

The self-taught filmmaker and writer, who previously made the short films Kurli and Distant, took inspiration from his father’s life and story, which culminated in his feature debut.

Written by Natesh, the movie takes us into the life of a small-town handyman, Pedro, played by the director’s father Gopal Hegde.

Pedro is a servile and submissive worker on the margins of society who minds his own business. He goes where his work takes him and is asked to take over the duties of a guard on a farm. However, an incident takes place there, which leads to unforeseeable consequences.

The film has been garnering acclaim as well as awards and has been screened at the BFI London Film Festival, Pingyao International Film Festival and was screened at the International Film Festival of Kerala.

In an exclusive interview, the filmmaker talked about his beginnings in cinema and his transition from a writer to a filmmaker. “I used to write short stories in the Kannada language. Gradually, I started feeling that this medium is not enough for me. My stories became more visual and I was struggling to express everything that I was feeling when I was writing.

"One day, I saw an article about Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (1990). It had an image of Abbas holding a camcorder, walking… that’s a popular image. Suddenly, I realized that cinema can also be an intimate art form. It can be like writing stories, novels or poetry. Then I decided that I will make films.”

Beginning with his short film Kurli, which also featured his father, Natesh embarked on his filmmaking journey. Inspired by elements from his father’s life, his debut feature captured the angst of someone living on the fringes.

“When I say it’s [the film] autobiographical, it’s not just about some incidents. It’s from my father’s experience and it can be some deep-held feeling and we are trying to communicate that feeling through a fictionalized story and mise-en-scene, and complete design of the film. So many incidents in the film are directly taken from my and my father’s life, especially the climax. That kind of accident happened to my father but luckily, he survived it. Pedro biting the young child’s hand…all these things are directly from his life and more than that, the feeling of not belonging anywhere or the feeling of betrayal, it was the feeling I wanted to communicate with the audience. Generally, in that way, I write a story or make a film, anything that comes from some feeling.”

Other than the character and the emotion that Natesh sought to capture, the location and sound design layered his portrait of community life, or lack thereof, in a small town. His film touches upon a sensitive issue and the entire town reverberates with the heightened response that seems to be necessitated rather than warranted.

Discussing the relationship between art and politics, he said, “I feel that if we are not dealing with politics, then the art form is not relevant anymore. At the same time, if it is just about [presenting] political statements as slogans, you are not doing anything with regard to the medium of cinema. The balance is very crucial. You are telling a relevant story using the medium. Both things are very crucial for me. We don’t really think about the politics or how we place the character. It’s a subconscious thing. We create a story and make a film. It becomes political or apolitical, it’s a subconscious thing.

"I’m living in society and I have certain feelings about the scenario and we think about that and we express it. It may be conscious or subconscious but nothing is apolitical for me. But we are telling the story and making a point in our own way. It should not have to be like how people expect it to be. This same story can be told in a very provocative way and it can be told like a thriller… it’s about sensibility. We chose to make the film this way.”

Pedro review: Captivating, minimalist film that captures the condition of the marginalized

Pedro became embroiled in a controversy when the film was not selected for the 13th edition of the Bengaluru International Film Festival, leading many to speculate that the religious issue it touched upon could have been a possible reason for the omission.

Responding to this seemingly deliberate oversight, Natesh said, “We are trying to reflect the human condition. It’s not just about today’s world and today’s politics. I have seen life like this and I am telling this story. How can they say you can’t tell this story, or you can’t show a cow killed by a person. It’s absurd and foolish.

"I have received criticism from both sides. One side says the film is anti-religion and the other says that it does not have direct slogans about politics. Both sides do not understand that it’s about the medium of cinema and it’s about a person’s reason; he can make a film in his own way. It should not be matched to any side. It’s absurd.”

Produced by actor-director Rishab Shetty, Pedro is headed for a theatrical release, followed by an OTT platform. Hegde is keen that his film gets seen on the big screen, which makes for a more immersive experience.

He reflected upon the stories that appeal to him, saying, “We see big, macho, commercial films making Rs1,000 crore and then we see so many films with heart that are struggling to get released or selected for festivals. But filmmakers keep making these kinds of films. If I talk about what kind of stories excite me, I can say what Ghatak told in his films, what G Aravindan tried to bring to the world, and what Abbas Kiarostami tried to tell about people. That’s my film school. Those are my gurus, so I am trying to make that kind of film.”

Related topics