'Shivamma Yarehanchinala' director Jaishankar Aryar opens up about everything that went into making this celluloid dream

Showcased at Cannes this year, the film — backed by Rishab Shetty — has already won awards across global film events like the FAJR International Film Festival Iran, Busan International Film Festival, Three Continents Festival and more
Sharanamma Chetti
Sharanamma Chetti

Having garnered critical acclaim and accolades across prestigious events like the Busan International Film Festival 2022, the Three Continents Festival 2022 and the Fajr International Film Festival , among others — Shivamma Yarehanchinala — the Kannada film written and directed by Jaishankar Aryar, is all set to grace the big screen today.

Jaishankar Aryar collecting award for his film Shivamma Yarehanchinala
Jaishankar Aryar collecting award for his film Shivamma Yarehanchinala

Shedding light on the everyday struggles and triumphs of an ordinary woman (essayed by Sharanamma Chetti) with extraordinary resolve, the narrative follows the life of a 46-year-old mid-day meal cook at a government school in rural North Karnataka’s Yarehanchinala village who is the sole breadwinner for her family.

Jaishankar Aryar at Fajr International Film Festival, Iran
Jaishankar Aryar at Fajr International Film Festival, Iran

Amidst her daily struggles, Shivamma harbours dreams of becoming a sales representative for an energy drink brand to secure a better future for her loved ones. While most of the conversations around the film, so far, revolve around the technicalities of the film, we speak to the director to learn more about what went into bringing this script to life.

Stills from the film
Stills from the film

How did you research and portray the aspect of network marketing in Shivamma’s life?

I conceptualised the film when I came across two boys practising the art of body language which they were taught at a motivational event. Looking at them, I was reminded of my own experiences at similar events but the concrete idea originated when I met my uncle who was into network marketing and explained to me the workings of his company and the benefits one can reap from this kind of business. The enthusiasm and the hope reflected in his eyes gave birth to my protagonist — all stemming from the fact that they are humble farmers who through this business model, can not only learn new skills and earn money but can go on international trips too. That is when I decided to travel with him for the next three months to different nutritional clubs where I found my supporting characters.


Why did you pick Yarehanchinala village in the Kuknur taluk of Koppal district as the primary location for filming?

My parents hail from this village and I used to spend the majority of my holidays here — be it during the Dasara festival or summer vacations. I have always wanted to make an authentic North Karnataka film and every time I visualised it, this village would appear before me. I would mostly think of our house in the village, which boasts a huge space before the jagli katte (cement bench) outside, where we all slept together under the night sky and were woken up by temple bells early in the morning. This is something that's missed in our city life thanks to 'closed-door' culture and I wanted to include this in the film.

How did the local community respond to the filming of Shivamma?

When they were informed that this film would be shot in the village, their immediate response was to list all the famous attractions nearby. We had to explain that we wish to film rural life like farming and milking cows and they were taken aback by this notion as to what's so special about their village which only features a temple and a bunch of homes. But as and when we filmed and they witnessed the shots on the monitor, they understood the process and were surprised to find out how lovely their little village looked on screen. Eventually looking at us struggling with the shoot, they began volunteering to act in the project.

How differently did you have to design the script since the cast is full of non-actors? Did this process aid you in integrating any real-life elements into the film's narrative?

When you are working with non- actors, you should always bear in mind that you will be putting them in a tough spot by asking them to do something that they have never done before or know of. But if you assign activities they carry out daily, it will be per- fection. Like Shivamma has only enacted things that she does daily at home or at her workplace. We mended the script accordingly to showcase exactly what their lives offer. The day after we arrived in the village, the lockdown was imposed and we ended up staying there for over 80 days. During this period we picked up some of the lesser-known concepts like asha karyakartaru (health guides) who play the role of home doctors, the traditional Muslim three-hug that is practised even by the Hindus during happy occasions like engagements, the fact that the bride's side only serves either uppit or avalakki when the grooms family visits for match- fixing and other such nitty-gritties.

Without a set or art director on the team, how did you ensure a visually appealing and authentic representation of Shivamma's house and daily chores?

We were on the lookout for an uninhabited house as filming with people living there would not just disrupt their lives but also delay our schedule as well. Since we needed the house for almost 30 days, it would have been a major inconvenience for any family to relocate to another place had we picked that option. After a long search, we finally found a small establishment which had been locked up for years which wecould makedowithitafter minor repairs. We then modified it according to our requirements and toured around the village borrowing one thing from each house like bindge (pot), kola (jug) and a mixie, which we returned after the shoot. Since all the props on the set were something the villagers used daily, authenticity simply came along. We were thankful to all the neighbours and villagers who helped us with everything from smearing cow dung to repairing the walls and even sourcing smaller things like college books and medicines for Shivamma's ill husband (character in the movie).

Can you discuss the thought process behind the costume design for the characters?

We took our lead character to the shop she usually purchases her saris from and depending on the shoot requirements, bought her ten saris similar to what she dons in her real life. We had them repeatedly washed to give a faded look that comes after intense use. These were lightweight ensembles that she could wear and comfortably work even in the fields without worrying about her costume get- ting spoiled. We followed a similar approach for others too-like we borrowed her son's college uniform from a student attending an institution nearby.

From travelling with the film to prestigious festivals across the world to winning awards and finally getting to witness it hit the screens where it originated from? How has the journey been?

It closely resembles a train journey. Having the film released in Karnataka after travelling with it for two years feels as though I am about the reach the final destination where I get off this train and can embark on a new journey. Although, I am a bit nervousabout how the audience will react, I can positively say that I will be rid of the burden or duties of this film once it is released. Because only then I can completely immerse myself in my next project.

What themes or stories are you planning on exploring next?

I don't like repeating myself and I do love to experiment. Now that I have checked the box next to making a film based in North Karnataka, I am looking at devel- oping a movie that the audience will prefer watching in theatres.

Shivamma is now in theatres.

email: srushti@newindianexpress.com

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