Kannada cinema

A bald man looking for love finds the perfect ending – Kannada indie hero Pawan Kumar’s support

‘Ondu Motteya Kathe’ will be screened at the London Indian Film Festival on June 24 and 25.

The Kannada film Ondu Motteya Kathe (Egghead), a small-budget and big-hearted comedy about a bald man’s love life, was fated to be confined to a small district at the foothills of the Western Ghats. Instead, it has crossed the oceans for screenings in New York City and London and will be released in Karnataka in July.

The fortunes of former radio jockey Raj B Shetty changed after a chance referral piqued the curiosity of Kannada indie hero Pawan Kumar. Jointly produced by Suhan Prasad and Pawan Kumar Films, Ondu Motteya Kathe will be screened at the London Indian Film Festival on June 24 and 25. The film has already been premiered at the New York Indian Film Festival.

The director of Lucia (2013) and U Turn (2016) decided to champion the movie after watching a first cut. “We knew that finishing the film is in our hands, but the selling and marketing was never going to be possible,” Shetty told Scroll.in. “We didn’t have the budget for a Karnataka release. We were thinking that if no other options work out, we would release the film in Mangaluru and Udupi and maybe use that money to try and release it in the state.”

A cinema enthusiast referred the film to Pawan Kumar. “Pawan got us to come to Bengaluru, he saw the film and he was very happy with it. Looking back now, it seems easy. We were lucky perhaps. We believed in our film and luckily it worked out.”

Play
Ondu Motteya Kathe (2017).

The movie follows the fortunes of Janardhan, a 28-year-old bald Kannada professor in Mangaluru. Janardhan and his family have but one question: can a bald man be considered a suitable groom?

Shetty has written the script as well as played the frequently heartbroken yet tenacious Janardhan alongside a cast of newcomers such as Usha Bhandari, Shailashree, Prakash Tuminadu and Amrutha Naik.

The movie marks Pawan Kumar’s debut as a producer of outside material. Thus far, the director of the audacious Lucia (2013) and U Turn (2016) has produced films written and directed by him. The horror-tinged U Turn, starring Shraddha Srinath, was inventively marketed and has ensured an afterlife by being selected for the streaming platform Netflix.

“I enjoy the marketing, presenting and budgeting a film as much as writing and making my films,” Kumar said. “OMK’s team came to us and told us that they had no idea what to do with the film once they made it. The minute I saw the film, I wanted my company to be associated with it. There were people who had warned the makers of OMK telling them that they shouldn’t hand over their film to someone like me; that my image would overtake their project. But I’ve been saying and still maintain that it is their film. All I’m doing is marketing and presenting the film and that’s because I enjoy doing that too.”

Play
U Turn (2016).

Shetty almost never made Ondu Motteya Kathe. After struggling to make a full-fledged feature in Tulu for almost four years, he decided that a short film in Kannada was the only viable project for him. “I struggled to find a producer who wouldn’t interfere with my script,” Shetty said. “I gave up eventually and wrote OMK as a three-to-six minute film.”

Before Kumar saw the film, another referral turned Ondu Motteya Kathe into a full-length feature. “When I began casting, one of my actors told Suhan Prasad from Mango Pickle Entertainment about the concept,” Shetty said. “Suhan said that I should not waste the idea on a short film. He put his faith as a producer in the film first.”

Shetty fleshed out the script into a feature. He conducted auditions and picked a cast full of newcomers. “Almost everyone in the project is appearing in front of the camera for the first time,” he said. “We conducted workshops for about two months in which we choreographed and practised almost every scene. By the time the cast reached the sets, they were quite comfortable with the shooting process.”

Is it a lonely struggle to bring a film from the page to the screen? “Yes it is – the system is used to formulas and set templates and expects you to conform,” Shetty said. “When you ask for advice, most people say that it is better to compromise by adding an item song or a few scenes for the sake of money. There isn’t infrastructure to ease the struggle of individual filmmakers and ensure that different films get made outside the formula. I would think OMK is a commercial film. I mean, this is my kind of commercial cinema.”

The loneliness of the Kannada indie director

Ondu Motteya Kathe is just the kind of movie with which Pawan Kumar is associated. When he made his debut in 2013 by crowdsourcing the production budget, he wanted to create a parallel system for alternate cinema in Kannada. “I had given a couple of presentations at seminars on how a parallel system can be created right from production to distribution,” Kumar said. “The system that we have currently is not supporting the kind of films we want to make. I used to think for everyone a couple of years ago and wanted to change things together. But soon, I realised that it is only me that wants to do all of this together. People I spoke to were alright with the idea as long as I was doing all the work.”

Kumar dreamt of a collective of 10 filmmakers who would pool in resources so that they didn’t have to be dependent on outside producers. “I didn’t want to create associations but systems,” he said. He has several practical ideas: “How to not waste money while shooting; if you can pool in resources, the same set of resources work for various people and you are saving costs; in terms of distribution, reaching out to a set audience as our primary target audience and building a subscription network with them and so on. Last year, our industry saw many interesting films but not many of them made as much money as the noise they made. What if we had presented each of those films collectively?”

All Kumar needs are a few more directors like Shetty and he is set.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Removing the layers of complexity that weigh down mental health in rural India

Patients in rural areas of the country face several obstacles to get to treatment.

Two individuals, with sombre faces, are immersed in conversation in a sunlit classroom. This image is the theme across WHO’s 2017 campaign ‘Depression: let’s talk’ that aims to encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to seek help and get assistance. The fact that depression is the theme of World Health Day 2017 indicates the growing global awareness of mental health. This intensification of the discourse on mental health unfortunately coincides with the global rise in mental illness. According to the latest estimates from WHO, more than 300 million people across the globe are suffering from depression, an increase of 18% between 2005 and 2015.

In India, the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed the prevalence of mental disorders in 13.7% of the surveyed population. The survey also highlighted that common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. Perhaps the most crucial finding from this survey is the disclosure of a huge treatment gap that remains very high in our country and even worse in rural areas.

According to the National Mental Health Programme, basic psychiatric care is mandated to be provided in every primary health centre – the state run rural healthcare clinics that are the most basic units of India’s public health system. The government provides basic training for all primary health centre doctors, and pays for psychiatric medication to be stocked and available to patients. Despite this mandate, the implementation of mental health services in rural parts of the country continues to be riddled with difficulties:

Attitudinal barriers

In some rural parts of the country, a heavy social stigma exists against mental illness – this has been documented in many studies including the NIMHANS study mentioned earlier. Mental illness is considered to be the “possession of an evil spirit in an individual”. To rid the individual of this evil spirit, patients or family members rely on traditional healers or religious practitioners. Lack of awareness on mental disorders has led to further strengthening of this stigma. Most families refuse to acknowledge the presence of a mental disorder to save themselves from the discrimination in the community.

Lack of healthcare services

The average national deficit of trained psychiatrists in India is estimated to be 77% (0.2 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 population) – this shows the scale of the problem across rural and urban India. The absence of mental healthcare infrastructure compounds the public health problem as many individuals living with mental disorders remain untreated.

Economic burden

The scarcity of healthcare services also means that poor families have to travel great distances to get good mental healthcare. They are often unable to afford the cost of transportation to medical centres that provide treatment.

After focussed efforts towards awareness building on mental health in India, The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF), founded by Deepika Padukone, is steering its cause towards understanding mental health of rural India. TLLLF has joined forces with The Association of People with Disability (APD), a non-governmental organisation working in the field of disability for the last 57 years to work towards ensuring quality treatment for the rural population living with mental disorders.

APD’s intervention strategy starts with surveys to identify individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The identified individuals and families are then directed to the local Primary Healthcare Centres. In the background, APD capacity building programs work simultaneously to create awareness about mental illnesses amongst community workers (ASHA workers, Village Rehabilitation Workers and General Physicians) in the area. The whole complex process involves creating the social acceptance of mental health conditions and motivating them to approach healthcare specialists.

Participants of the program.
Participants of the program.

When mental health patients are finally free of social barriers and seeking help, APD also mobilises its network to make treatments accessible and affordable. The organisation coordinates psychiatrists’ visits to camps and local healthcare centres and ensures that the necessary medicines are well stocked and free medicines are available to the patients.

We spent a lot of money for treatment and travel. We visited Shivamogha Manasa and Dharwad Hospital for getting treatment. We were not able to continue the treatment for long as we are poor. We suffered economic burden because of the long- distance travel required for the treatment. Now we are getting quality psychiatric service near our village. We are getting free medication in taluk and Primary Healthcare Centres resulting in less economic stress.

— A parent's experience at an APD treatment camp.

In the two years TLLLF has partnered with APD, 892 and individuals with mental health concerns have been treated in the districts of Kolar, Davangere, Chikkaballapur and Bijapur in Karnataka. Over 4620 students participated in awareness building sessions. TLLLF and APD have also secured the participation of 810 community health workers including ASHA workers in the mental health awareness projects - a crucial victory as these workers play an important role in spreading awareness about health. Post treatment, 155 patients have resumed their previous occupations.

To mark World Mental Health Day, 2017, a team from TLLLF lead by Deepika Padukone visited program participants in the Davengere district.

Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.
Sessions on World Mental Health Day, 2017.

In the face of a mental health crisis, it is essential to overcome the treatment gap present across the country, rural and urban. While awareness campaigns attempt to destigmatise mental disorders, policymakers need to make treatment accessible and cost effective. Until then, organisations like TLLLF and APD are doing what they can to create an environment that acknowledges and supports people who live with mental disorders. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.