An Interview with ‘Vaat’ Filmmaker Miransha Naik

Vaat Interview - 2022 Miransha Naik Movie Film

Set in present-day Goa, Vaat (2022) follows a young farmer, Mattu (Arjun Radhakrishnan), who gets excluded from village activities after assaulting his uncle. Filmmaker Miransha Naik infuses the Marathi-language story with realism, as nothing seems out of place or too preposterous. Marked by restrained and believable performances, Vaat scores on its simplicity and authenticity. In this interview, Naik discusses his various creative and logistical choices.

Dipankar Sarkar: How has your education at Whistling Wood International helped you become a filmmaker?

Miransha Naik: When you join a film school, you learn everything quickly, which would otherwise take longer. There’s teaching, more discussions and exposure to more field work where you have more opportunities for the right role. As I had more interest in parallel cinema, meeting Ashwini Malik — who was our screenwriting faculty — was great. Our tastes matched, which really helped me get into art house cinema, and he’s a very good teacher.

DS: Juze (2017) was made in Konkani, but you preferred to make Vaat in Marathi. What drove you to make this decision?

MN: Vaat was supposed to be produced by another person, and so it was a producer’s call to make the film in Marathi. If it were possible, I would always make films in Konkani. But it is not because of the market or restrictions, like not having enough actors to choose from. Making Vaat in Marathi was a blunder, as I don’t have command over the language and my Hindi is much better. A lot was lost in translation.

DS: In both Jude and Vaat, the exercise of physical force and intimidation sets off a chain of events in the lives of the protagonists. Why does violence play such a key role in your film?

MN. Violence is very much a part of human nature. Despite the law, violence still plays a pivotal role in our daily lives, and I always say that sometimes the only solution to peace is violence. It is believed that when it comes to the story — more than you writing it — the stories find you. Not every story has violence in it, but most of them do.

DS: Vaat narrates the plight of a young farmer, Mattu, who has to encounter one difficult situation after another because he’s unable to control his rage. How did the idea for the film emerge?

MN: When I was a teenager, I personally suffered a lot, being just like Mattu, and I have seen and observed a lot of people like him. It’s just that some people change with time. For some, it takes a lifetime, just like Mattu and some only change when they have to or are left with no choice. This aspect of people or behavior not changing until left with no choice, I find it very interesting and always wanted to write something on it and thus Mattu’s character emerged.

DS: Vaat begins with a wide shot of a beach. We then come across a shot of a forest with the skull of a bovine on the trunk of a tree, followed by a ritual in the village, and then we are introduced to the two principal characters. Except for the beach, we revisit the other locations and characters as the story of Vaat moves forward. Why did you begin the film with an idyllic shot?

MN: When you think about Goa, you get the image of a party, a beach, all the good energy, liberty and freedom, in contrast to another Goa I know of and that most people don’t know about. A large part of Goa is about village life. Life is beautiful there, but there are stories or situations that are like Vaat.

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Vaat Interview - 2022 Miransha Naik Movie Film

DS: Mattu is a man who cannot keep a tight rein on his indignation and arrogance. He does not hesitate to cheat on his girlfriend. Mattu steals, gambles and lies as well. Why are there so many negative traits in his character?

MN: These traits are present in most people, regardless of their gender. It’s just that we know how to deal with them better than the others or Mattu. But in the film, most of the decisions Mattu makes are because he’s left with no choice or has run out of options. To begin with, he even decides to do the jobs that the villagers otherwise find filthy.

DS: Veena and Shaila are strong women who have the liberty to choose their partners. But Gauri proves to be an emotionally weak woman who takes a drastic step towards the end of Vaat. What was the reason for having such contrasting female characters in the narrative?

MN: It’s just different people, so to speak. But in a small village, rejection is hard to deal with, especially if you’re a woman, and that too a poor one. Even Veena is a lot like Gauri. Despite finding out what Mattu has done behind her back, she’s never in agreement to leave him. It is Shaila who is different and dominant.

DS: The people of the village use mobile phones and the young women are quite upfront about their sexual choices. Yet superstition and religious beliefs have chained their lives. Have these people accepted modernity?

MN: In my opinion, superstition has nothing to do with modernity. It will always exist until we have fear. The same goes for religion. Tell me one place without a temple, church, mosque or superstitious beliefs. Goa has always been liberal when it comes to women’s choices. Maybe it is because of the Portuguese influence. When it comes to superstition and religion, no matter how modern we are, they will always be there until we have a fear of some sort or another.

DS: Vaat has lots of ellipses, as some of the scenes do not proceed in a conventional manner, such as Mattu getting caught while stealing forest wood, Mattu and Shaila visiting the mountain temple or Mattu being tied up and beaten for a devious act. What was the reason behind constructing the narrative with an episodic structure?

MN: This is what I like. I did that in my other films also. Sometimes, the ideas work. This time around, I got mixed reviews for those sequences. I’ll continue with the same thing, though.

DS. Most of the time, the camera remains static and the drama unfolds in an uninterrupted manner. There are limited countershots or intercuts between the characters. What was your thought process regarding Vaat’s visual style?

MN: The story I have told is very old in style — the way the people live, the thought process, etc. The whole idea was to give the feel of how the cinema in its early days was shot: simple, without any fancy shots.

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Vaat Interview - 2022 Miransha Naik Movie Film

DS: Vaat is primarily structured with ambient sound. But in certain scenes, background scores have been used to evoke emotions. Could you talk about the sound design?

MN: I personally do not like the background score, and there wasn’t supposed to be any initially. It was only added after receiving feedback from the OTT platforms. I’ll definitely add a background score if I find the need, but I’ll add it right at the writing stage. I hope I don’t have to forcefully add it in the future, as I did for this film.

DS: Every actor in Vaat performs their role with ease and restraint, which gives the film a genuine feel of verisimilitude. How did you achieve such an emotionally appropriate performance from your collective actors?

MN: As a director, you have your strengths and weaknesses. Luckily, my focus is more on the performances than anything else, which comes naturally to me. We also asked for a lot of retakes to achieve the required performance. I also had a lot of workshops with the actors, as most of the actors in the film are not professionals. A few of them faced the camera for the first time; a lot were from the theatre background, and some had previously worked on my films.

DS: You have made two low-budget independent films. How do you manage to find producers?

MN: I produce and finance my own films, though I got help from Dr. Pramod Salgaocar on Vaat. Finding producers is difficult, if not impossible, because there’s no recovery. What happens with international films is that the films that are selected for festivals get commercial releases and have a wider audience, let’s say in Europe. We need to build that audience if we are going to survive making art house cinema. Some OTT support would be nice, but nowadays their focus is on commercial films.

DS: What are your plans to release and distribute Vaat?

MN: I’m pleading with the OTT platforms, as I don’t have any plans to release the film theatrically. We don’t even ask for the cost of production, but it is still difficult to sell the film. I have kept my fingers crossed.

DS: At present, mainstream Indian cinema with hyperbolic narrative forms is getting global recognition. A recent example is the selection of Adipurush (2023) at the Tribeca Film Festival. Under such circumstances, what are your thoughts on independent filmmaking in India?

MN: No matter what, independent filmmakers will keep on making movies because we do it out of passion. But more help is needed from the festival to the OTT platforms so that we at least reach our niche audience, which is there.

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.