Video Editor: Sandip Suman
Curiosity does not kill the cat in Sudipto Roy’s independent film, Kia and Cosmos, literally or otherwise. But after 15-year-old Kia sets out to investigate the mysterious death of her beloved cat, Cosmos, against all advice, her life does end up changing for good.
There is, however, another twist in the tale. Kia Chatterjee, a high-functioning individual, lives with a condition called autism spectrum disorders (ASD), a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour.
Now, Bengalis are no strangers to detective stories; the love affair began way before Byomkesh Bakshi, probably with real-life cop Priyanath Mukhopadhyay, and goes far beyond Satyajit Ray’s Feluda. But to have a teenager with autism solve a murder mystery is not something even Tollywood has witnessed before. Such a script, I ask Sudipto, must have required much research, and then some. He nods in a ‘yes’.
“We did extensive research and workshop with the [lead] character (played by newcomer Ritwika Paul), along with kids who are in schools [for children with ASD]…to understand how they function, think and talk,” Sudipto says.
But even the lengthy research, the director admits, was not enough to understand the condition in its entirety.
"“Every child who has this condition is different from another. So I don’t think we could, or had the opportunity to make a comment on people with ASD. But we tried to raise a question of, ‘why don’t we speak about these people more often?’”" - Sudipto Roy, Director, Kia and Cosmos
Incidentally, the movie – which hit the theatres on Friday, 29 March – comes out just in time for World Autism Day, on 2 April.
Apart from the research, there was some learning along the way as well, shares Sudipto.
“When we started making the film, we kind of coined the condition of the protagonist as pervasive development disorders, but the term that we probably should’ve used is autistic spectrum disorders,” he says.
But how different are the two conditions?
According to National Center for Biotechnology Information, the concept of pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) “closely resemble each other".
However, while PDD is “characterised by a clinical triad of impairment in social interactions, impairment in communications and a restricted repertoire of activity and interests,” ASD “encompasses disorders ranging from severe autism with profound mental retardation to high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.”
Playing Kia, A Teenage Amateur Sleuth With ASD
Newcomer Ritwika Paul was also 15 when Sudipto first shared with her his plan to make this movie. In his mind, she was ideal to play the protagonist in his film. But when the film-making finally took off, was it that easy to fit into the shoes of Kia’s character?
“I think for acting, [playing] any character, a bit of research is required,” says Ritwika. “Obviously, we had to do a separate research in respect to ASD…and extensive workshops both about ASD and playing a character younger than myself.”
“We used to do workshops for months at end,” she adds. “Every day, we would meet and do various exercises like working on hand [gestures], expressions, energy levels, contractions and stuff like that.”
‘Didn’t Take Any Reference from My Name is Khan’
Bollywood has a history of making movies with characters with ASD, and a track report of often misrepresenting it. However, the times filmmakers got it right – with movies like My Name is Khan – did set a precedent for discussion. So did these movies inspire Kia and Cosmos? Not quite.
“We didn’t have to take any reference these movies,” says Sudipto, adding that the “text books” he followed “were completely different”.
Kia and Cosmos is inspired by English novelist Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Bengali author Bankim Chandra Chattyopadhyay’s Biral (The Cat).
But To Make a Bengali Movie Off an English Novel...
While it is not entirely unheard of, making a Bengali movie off an English novel – for a Bengali audience – is a rare practice. The only other film I can think of is Love, a very regional rendition of Erich Segal’s Love Story.
But that was still a love story with a tragic ending – a formula the Indian audience is a pro at swallowing, no questions asked. For Kia and Cosmos, the narrative was much less popular.
“The film is inspired by the book, but when people watch it, I don’t think they’ll find many similarities between the two…because it is so adapted to the culture and the experiences of the people living here [in Bengal], which is drastically different from those living in, say, London,” says Ritwika.
‘Essentially a Film About a Teenager’
All said and done, Sudipto stresses that Kia and Cosmos is not a film about ASD, but that it is only an aspect of Kia’s character.
"“The film is essentially about a teenager. The rest of the things that are there are basically supporting the main plot, which is how a teenager in today’s time faces the society.”" - Sudipto Roy, Director, Kia and Cosmos
“I think people, if they do not relate to Kia, will relate to some character or the other because there is a story about everyone [in the movie], however small. I think there will be an emotional catharsis for everybody,” says Ritwika.
As for other characters, the movie has Bengali actors Swastika Mukherjee, who plays Kia’s mother, and Joy Sengupta in lead roles.
For a movie that starts off around a murder mystery, Kia and Cosmos attempts at taking the Bengali audience – one that’s much-travelled on the route of detective stories – into a new dimension. As for how well it succeeds at it, the viewers will let us know post its release date on 29 March.
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