Written and directed by Natesh Hegde, Pedro (2021) is a Kannada-language Indian film about a middle-aged electrician who lives with family members in rural Karnataka. When the title character’s beloved dog gets killed by a trespassing boar, he hunts the wild animal in the middle of a monsoon. Pedro accidentally kills a cow that belongs to one of the village heads, and the incident creates an uproar in the village. I recently discussed the film with Hegde, who won the Best Director award at the 2021 Pingyao International Film Festival.
Dipankar Sarkar: Tell me about your background and how you got interested in filmmaking.
Natesh Hegde: After I had finished my course in journalism from Karnataka University in Dharwad, I joined the Kannada-language broadsheet daily newspaper Prajavani, which is the sister publication of the Deccan Herald. I worked there for a brief period and then I joined Viacom as a creative writer. One day, I accidentally came across an article on Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (1990) in a local newspaper. The article was illustrated with a black and white image of Abbas Kiarostami holding a Handycam camera. I found that image quite striking and realized that filmmaking can be a very intimate practice. It was a kind of validation and that is how I got attracted to filmmaking. Until then, I was just a cinephile watching lots of Indian films. I watched a lot of Robert Bresson films in the beginning and then I began exploring Victor Erice, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and then [Jean-Luc] Godard. I discovered great Indian filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Ritwick Ghatak and [Govindan] Aravindan later in my life.
DS: Did you discover anything unique in the way Kiarostami treated the subjects of his cinema?
NH: I find that there is an honesty in how Kiarostami made his films. While watching Close-Up, I did not think about the structure and form of the film. I found that there was honesty in everything that the film had depicted. I also had similar feelings while watching the films of Victor Erice and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Their way of expression is also very honest.
DS: Your short films have traveled to film festivals. Did that propel you to make Pedro?
NH: After making two short films, I felt that I should go ahead and make a feature film. Before making my first short film Kurli (2016), I had never touched the camera. For me, it was a natural progression. People indeed liked and appreciated my films. But the feeling of making a feature film was something personal to me. So, I went ahead and made the feature film.
DS: How did the idea to make Pedro occur to you?
NH: The idea that I wanted to convey through my feature film was already there in my second short film Distant (2018). So, it was a continuation of a thought process from the smaller format of the short film to the larger canvas of the feature film. However, for the story of Pedro, I was inspired by an incident that triggered my thought process and raised some questions in me. My father worked as an electrician and had an accident. From the memory of that event, the genesis of the film started to take its shape initially, and my search for a screenplay began from there. I immediately did not start to write the screenplay but rather began thinking about the accident, like why and how it had happened. Such random questions kept coming to my mind. It took me some time to write the screenplay. Before that, it was like a work in progress for many years.
DS: How long was the screenplay of Pedro?
NH: It was around 25 pages.
DS: Wasn’t that too short to expand into a feature-length film?
NH: No, it wasn’t. For instance, the first scene of the film is approximately three minutes long. But I wrote that scene in two to three sentences. So, when you shoot a film, it takes its own time to happen. The script is a blueprint for me. Moreover, when an actor performs a scene, he brings in his nature and style into it. But for that to happen, you need to write a scene. Thus, the screenplay is not the final product.
DS: So, you are not rigid about your script and let it evolve at its own pace and develop a rhythm?
NH: While making a film, you cannot be rigid. In another instance, the film was shot at a time when the Western Ghats, the location for the film, was flooded. We shot the film navigating through all these difficulties. Now, if you take out the rain from the film, it will become dry. The rain has added a lot of essence to the film. But you cannot vividly describe such scenes while writing a script. The environment gives you something very crucial, and you have to be open to such divine interventions.
DS: As a writer-director, how did perceive Pedro as a character?
NH: The character is like us. He is neither a good nor a bad person. I am not trying to sympathize with him. I put this character into various situations and [thought] about how I [would] behave in such situations. Pedro is a complex creature like most of us.
DS: Do you justify the violent acts that Pedro commits on the villagers and how the villagers react to him?
NH: It is not like how you think. Pedro does not commit the violent act voluntarily. There is a motive behind his reaction to the people around him. I am neither justifying his violent act nor the one committed by others. If a murder happens in a film, no filmmaker can justify such an act of killing someone. What happens in the film is a situation where I am studying the character. So, I am not answerable for all his actions. Moreover, we need to understand that Pedro behaves in such a way because he is provoked.
DS: How did you plan the visual design of the film?
NH: I had shot the film in the village where I had grown up. I am familiar with the space, and I wanted the same emotion to be felt by my cinematographer Vikas Urs. So, I made him stay in the village for some time and explore the space. I wanted the visuals in the film to evoke a dimension of the village that is abstract. In the film, we do not know how Pedro or the other characters are exactly feeling. But we have a faint idea about their feelings. For example, if Pedro is angry, he is performing a violent act which we are not showing. But we are trying to evoke that emotion through the design of the film, in terms of the camera movement and framing. When the people are discussing their plan to kill Pedro inside the vehicle, we don’t see their faces. As a conscious decision, the glass of the vehicle has been kept foggy. Previously, I was planning to shoot the scene somewhere else. But later, I decided to shoot it inside a vehicle where we neither see the faces of the character nor hear them speaking to one another. This was done to infuse a certain feeling into the scene and that is how the visual design of the film had shaped up.
DS: Were you inspired by any filmmaker regarding the shot design of Pedro?
NH: I make films based on my life experiences and my imagination of the medium. The imagination that I have for my film will be different from how others would have imagined it. Every filmmaker is different from one another. I would like to repeat that I felt validated by watching the films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Abbas Kiarostami and Victor Erice. Their films are very distinct to me because they are trying to make their films based on their sensibilities. Having said that, I was intrigued by the quality of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s films, where there is a story and, in each of the shots, there is an internal rhythm to it. That is very fascinating to me.
DS: Could you talk about the sound design of Pedro?
NH: Just like the shot design of the film, we paid the same attention to detail to the soundscape of the film. The key aspect of the sound design was to evoke a realist feeling within the milieu. But at the same time, I also briefed my sound designer, Shreyank Nanjappa, to incorporate the quality of recalling some memories within the design, as I believed that if we could add that quality, it would elevate the film from the burden of fabrication. That was my attempt to achieve through the sound.
DS: Why did you decide to make the first cut of the film?
NH: I have edited the two short films that I have directed. I do not know the reason why I did that. Maybe I like the process of editing. I also write the scripts of my films in the way I would like them to be edited. I think that I imagine my film as an editor. So, after shooting Pedro, I just felt like editing it. It was not as if I was in love with the footage or possessive about it in a manner that I won’t allow another person to edit. That was not the case with me. When I join the various shots in the edit, it gives a new meaning to the scene and that gives me a thrill. I think this could be one of the reasons why I love editing.
DS: How did Paresh Kamdar come on board as a co-editor for Pedro?
NH: Paresh Kamdar was Vikas Urs’ teacher in a workshop that was conducted while he was a student at the Film and Television Institute of India. So, after the first cut of the film was complete, we decided to show it to Paresh Kamdar for his feedback. At that time, I did not have any intention of him editing the film. But Paresh Kamdar liked the film immensely and we started discussing the length of the film. He then decided to edit the film, and I was happy with his decisions. Paresh Kamdar has his method of approaching the edit of a film. He would bounce an idea, we would discuss the film for about two to three hours and if we felt it was okay, only then [would we] proceed with the edit. At the same time, we were also open to the concern of whether the cut points were working or not. That is how we arrived at the final length of the film. Moreover, when you are with Paresh Kamdar, the discussions are not only about films but something beyond, which is the beauty of his company.
DS: How long was the initial length of Pedro?
NH: It was two hours and 40 minutes, and the present length of the film is one hour and 40 minutes.
DS: Which sections from the first cut of the film were deleted?
NH: We did not cut the length of a shot from the first cut. Very few shots were trimmed by a few seconds. But we eliminated some of the scenes from the film. It was like a complete chunk was taken out from the first cut.
DS: You wanted your father, Gopal Hegde, to play the role of the protagonist. Raj B. Shetty and Medini Kelmane are trained actors, but the rest of the cast are non-professionals. What was the particular reason behind your decision?
NH: There is a logic behind the casting of each of the characters, and the process of reasoning was happening within me. The non-professional cast in the film is the people from my village whom I know quite well. The old lady in the film is someone whom I had been watching since my childhood. When I wrote the screenplay, I had this intuition that people from my village [could] play the characters in the film. So, I cast the characters from my gut feeling. By doing so, it becomes difficult to say if the individuals are portraying the role of the character or behaving naturally as they would do in such situations. Hence, I believe that in my film it is difficult to distinguish what is fiction and what is real.
DS: Have you thought about the theatrical release of Pedro?
NH: We are planning to release the film in Karnataka and limited theaters in other states of India, wherever it is possible. We are quite sure that if we do not get single theaters, then we will release it in multiplexes. My producer Rishab Shetty is very keen to release the film, as he firmly believes that people should watch Pedro only in theaters. So, as of now, we are planning to release the film next year around June or July.
DS: Lastly, what are your plans for the future?
NH: Right now, I am writing something or rather trying to write something. There is a short story that I am trying to adapt, and then there is another idea based on my experiences that I am in the process of developing. These are the current work-in-progress projects which I want to make. But I do not know when.
Dipankar Sarkar (@Dipankar_Tezpur) is a graduate in film editing from the Film and Television Institute of India and currently based in Mumbai. As a freelancer, he frequently contributes to various Indian publications on cinema-related topics.