Our response to calamity is primal: How lockdown inspired 'Cargo' director Arati Kadav's '55kms/sec'

·5-min read

New Delhi, Jan 28 (PTI) 'If the world was about to end, will your choices be the same?' was the question that 'Cargo' director Arati Kadav wanted to explore in her lockdown short film '55kms/sec', which combines the personal with the larger story of the contemporary era.

Last year, the empty streets of Mumbai during the lockdown gave Kadav, a self-confessed fan of the science-fiction genre, the perfect setting to tell her story about the 'end of the world' .

'This was a lockdown film and we were in a rush to complete it. It was the time when the migrant crisis was at its peak and the lucky one's were safe in their houses.

'But I felt there would be a point when we would also not be safe because there is always someone above us in the pyramid. Class differences will eventually affect us all,' the software engineer-turned-filmmaker told PTI over phone from Mumbai.

'55kms/sec', the film's title, indicates the speed with which a meteor is hurtling towards the Earth as people scramble to find shelter, leaders and affluent members of the society move to a space station, some lucky one's find space in government or private bunkers but most of the population is left to their own devices, waiting for the inevitable.

Amid all this is a protagonist, a man (Mrinal Dutt) who has lived an insignificant life. He finally gathers the courage to confess his love to his college crush (Richa Chadha) during a farewell group call with friends, minutes before the meteor strikes.

'(In the) last few hours before the world ends, we go to a very personal story of a guy whose life did not impact anyone.

'Through him I wanted to talk about how we are always postponing things for tomorrow or not finding the courage to do things now. Our lives are planned so much. I wanted to talk about 'If the world was about to end, will your choices be the same?' I wanted to comment on that,' Kadav said.

The director, who has already created a name for herself as an ingenious storyteller through her widely loved sci-fi movie 'Cargo', said the genre is always seen as a strong tool to speak about reality without actually spelling it out.

Citing the example of the coronavirus pandemic, Kadav said she often wonders who would have thought five years ago there would be a 'collective pause' to lives around the world.

'In my mind, I felt that maybe if such a big calamity comes, the way we respond is very primal and non-sophisticated. We quickly make some bunkers and try to do things that may not work. Like this man sitting in the manhole... We become like rats, deserting a sinking ship. It is just that this time the ship is Earth itself.

'We just go very primal with the response and make it inefficient in a way. Everything is a commentary on what is going on and also on us as humans. My metaphor was that we will become very primal with our responses, like rats.' The director said she got the idea to make the film during a conversation with a friend and realised how everyone reunited in collective misery.

The entire film was shot remotely, and understandably, the team went through many challenges as actors became their own cinematographers, shooting on their mobile phones.

Mumbai's vacant streets helped in conveying the sentiment of doomsday, said Kadav, describing how she felt heartbroken to see the spirited city come to a stop.

'It was shocking... A city is also an organism in itself. Everything felt cancelled.' Chadha was someone Kadav always wanted to work with and lockdown gave her the perfect excuse to get the actor on board.

'As it was the lockdown, Richa couldn't come up with any excuse! But to be honest, I've always been a huge fan of Richa and just wanted an opportunity to work with her. Her role is small but had she not brought those layers of empathy, the film would have felt flat.

'I was surprised because she was using her own camera... She would roll that camera, sit in front and she would start acting. She would just transform into this character and I had goosebumps the first time... I was lucky that she agreed.' Bollywood is not known for its sci-fi movies, something that Kadav hopes changes in future. After 'Cargo', producers no longer think that a movie in the genre will need crores of investment when she approaches them for a narration, she said.

'Cargo', currently streaming on Netflix, is set in the future where demons and humans have learnt to coexist peacefully. The story focuses on a demon, living alone on a spaceship, going about his work of recycling dead humans and preparing them for rebirth.

'People always felt that a sci-fi movie would require a big budget whenever I would narrate the script. This ('55kms/sec') is an almost zero (budget) film... VFX was done by my friends. People think that it takes crores to make a sci-fi film, but producers now feel reassured that it can be done in small budget as well.' Kadav's personal favourite in the genre is the iconic 'The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey.

The director said she was surprised to find that the 2004 movie, helmed by Michel Gondry, was more of a personal story and an inward-looking film instead of a shiny project in the genre.

Next up for Kadav is a 'fun love story' rooted in science fiction.

'55kms/sec' is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. PTI BK RDS RB RB