‘As a woman, I live out my worst fears every day’

Actors Shruti Haasan and Sanjith Hegde, and director Nag Ashwin, dissect their recent short film, X-Life, that is a part of the recent Netflix Telugu anthology, Pitta Kathalu

Nag Ashwin’s X-Life, one of four stories in the recent Netflix anthology, Pitta Kathalu, is about a futuristic, albeit familiar, world in which people live out their lives in the virtual world. The film is a critique of not living in the real world, and is an appeal to truly love. Given all the Black Mirror echoes, that’s where I begin this group conversation with director Nag Ashwin and the film’s actors Shruti Haasan and Sanjith Hegde…

https://www.youtube.com/embed/acdxpVI51J4 Nag, surely, you must be a fan of Black Mirror.

Nag: I discovered it only recently, and yes, I love it. However, this idea of exploring an alternate, virtual world through a film… This was among my earliest scripts, but we did not have the technology to make it then. When Netflix approached us with the idea of making short films about power struggle, I thought I could finally make this film.

The visual finesse of this film is quite impressive, especially given that it’s a short film.

Nag: Thanks! It was quite difficult for us to execute it, given all the constraints. In fact, we have as many as 300 VFX shots in this film. While a short film typically does not allow for such a visual canvas, it helped that everyone who was working on this project, believed in it… believed in me.

Sanjith and Shruti, could you talk about how you came on board such an unusual project?

Sanjith: I met Nag at an awards function in 2019. When he later invited me to read a script, I thought it was an opportunity for me as a musician. When I realised he was asking me to act, I immediately communicated my reluctance. I loved the script though; it seemed really cool. I was just not sure I had it in me to do the job as an actor, but well…

Shruti: I think this film is the symmetry of many things coming together in an exciting way. X-Life does stand apart in my film experiences over the last decade. The combination of Nagi (Nag Ashwin) and Netflix was exciting. As actors, we are constantly hungry for good directors. I mean, it’s the only type of hunger we are allowed anyway (laughs). Anyway, these days, I am convinced that it’s not just the good director box that needs to be ticked. There needs to be healthy camaraderie, an alignment in vision… Nagi is from my generation, so that helped.

The costumes were quite striking in this film and were relevant symbols of the futuristic vision of this film.

Shruti: It’s interesting you point it out. Initially, I thought we would go one of two ways: Gattaca, or the vinyl and latex route. Nagi, however, went the Japanese minimal way. And it makes sense because in the future, we will likely return to cottons, and raw and organic fabrics. With all the technology we have today, we are already opting instead for electric cars, vegan diets… I’m just glad we did not all have to step out wearing shiny space suits in this film (laughs).

Among my favourite shots in the film is one that captures the reflection of a company logo on a wet terrace at night. Do you plan for such visuals?

Nag: We totally winged this one. We were rehearsing on the terrace and I spotted the water and suggested we shoot the reflection. While editing a film, we see so many things, things we may not have necessarily planned. For instance, it was accidental that in this film’s beginning, Sanjith is standing at a higher level than Shruti. This gets reversed towards the end, when Shruti’s character outwits him. It struck me during editing that this accident may come across as a deliberate plan, but it works.

Does taking part in such a film cause you to worry about your own use or overuse of technology?

Sanjith: Yes, for sure. I have been trying to cut down on my phone usage—you know, Insta, YouTube… After doing this film, I did take a break. I guess the film did affect me on some way.

Shruti: I think I have a healthy understanding of the perils of technology. My father (Kamal Haasan) was using advanced tech at a time when it hadn’t even taken off… I have always thought of it as a cool tool that I can put to my benefit. I also took to social media quite early—MySpace, Twitter… I was there when a few people were, and it was quite lonely (laughs). I think what people do not realise is that our information has always been at the mercy of the powers that be. I think technology is just a replacement for the old ways of keeping track of our private information.

For the remainder of this conversation (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), visit ‘As a woman, I live out my worst fears every day’- Cinema express

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