Sci-fi a prism through which I examine existential questions: Arati Kadav on ‘Cargo’

NEW DELHI : Debutante director Arati Kadav says her film “Cargo”, which has been praised for ingeniously marrying science-fiction with Indian mythology, was her attempt to arrive at some understanding about the existential questions that have bothered her for a long time.
A software engineer-turned-filmmaker, Kadav struggled for years to get her film off the ground and all the critical-acclaim coming her way has given the director hope about continuing her journey in the sci-fi genre, an area that remains neglected in Indian cinema.
Kadav, who is a self-confessed science-fiction nerd consuming all kinds of literature related to the genre, said the film will appeal to everyone who has ever pondered over questions related to life.
“I keep thinking about questions like ‘What is the meaning of life? Is there a purpose?’ These are the things that have obsessed me for years. Science-fiction acts like a prism through which you can look at life and examine what is valuable because as a civilisation, we are always told what we should value.
“It’s not like I have a solution for it but I keep toying with these ideas to arrive at something that will, hopefully, impart some meaning to me,” Kadav told PTI in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.
The movie, which released on Netflix last month, is set in the future where demons and humans have learnt to exist together peacefully.
Demons have entered the space age, which is why most of the story takes place on a spaceship named Pushpak 634A where a lonely demon, Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) recycles and prepares dead humans for rebirth. His routine of years is disrupted with the arrival of an enthusiastic female astronaut, Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi Sharma).
Kadav said while both Prahastha, named after Ravana’s army commander and Yuvishka work at a post-death immigration-like centre for humans, they also get influenced and evolved in the process of their work.
Asked about pulling out details from Indian mythology, the filmmaker said she wanted to create something that did not remind people of Hollywood science-fiction movies.
“I wanted to ensure that it’s an Indian sci-fi and not copied from somewhere. I wanted it to belong to the Indian subcontinent. What’s remarkable about Indian subcontinent is that we have a rich mythology and we can’t ignore the magical stories of our collective consciousness,” she added.
Kadav knew that she would not have the budget to shoot the film the way she wanted to early in the making, so she kept the technology basic, without compromising on the concept.
“Sci-fi is a complex undertaking… It is heavy on pre-production as well as post-production,” she said.
The journey was not easy. There were moments, when Kadav said she felt she had “hit the rock bottom”.
“My husband says, ‘You must feel redeemed that finally your hard work has paid off’. It has but there were so many moments when you felt defeated and you had hit the rock bottom. It is so difficult to break into this industry, female director or not,” she recalled.
What helped, Kadav said, was the faith of certain people in her vision.
The special appearances by director Hansal Mehta and actor Konkona Sen Sharma, Kadav said, were favours pulled in from here and there.
The main cast also came together thanks to Kadav’s conviction in her story.
Shweta was already on board but they were still looking for a male lead when the actor suggested Vikrant’s name. Both Shweta and Vikrant were shooting the Amazon Prime Video web series “Mirzapur” at that time.
“We had a meeting and in the first 20 minutes Vikrant said ‘yes’ and that too without reading the script. He had a lot of faith in Shweta’s conviction. (Co-producer) Shlok Sharma brought Hansal Mehta. We were really scared to approach Konkona because we knew she does not do special appearances. But Vikrant put in a word. He said ‘Meet and then decide’.
“When I met Konkona, she was surprised to know that it was a sci-fi film. Konkona’s father is a sci-fi fan. She liked the concept. It was a beautiful gesture on her part because her scene is very important emotionally.”
Kadav, who was writing a multi-species superhero film before “Cargo”, credited producers Anurag Kashyap, Sharma, Navin Shetty and Vikramaditya Motwane and others, for believing in her unusual story.
“They have always encouraged me over the years that I make sci-fi. Three years ago, I sent a story to Anurag and I called it ‘Rakshas World’ (‘World of Demons’). He said, ‘This is a beautiful story. I don’t know how you will make it but I trust you’. Everyday production is a different thing but at the top, you need someone to unblock your pathways,” she said.
The one important lesson “Cargo” has taught Kadav is to never let go of her conviction, she said.
“People have liked the quirks and the places where we have gone absurd. We were scared that these things will not be liked but the reverse has happened.”
Happy with the reception of “Cargo”, the director said she has many stories she wants to work on but most of them will be rooted in science-fiction.
“I have read everything in science-fiction for like seven-eight years. I am so crazy about it that I consume science-fiction podcasts and my love for it keeps increasing. So my next project will also be in the same genre,” she added. (AGENCIES)