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Sci-fi acts as a prism to help look at reality: Cargo director Arati Kadav

Writer-director Arati Kadav spoke on her love for sci-fi and the binaries of life and death.

Written by Alaka Sahani |
Updated: October 17, 2019 11:42:17 am
vikrant massey cargo still Arati Kadav’s Cargo stars Vikrant Massey and Shweta Tripathi.

Homegrown sci-fi feature Cargo, which is rooted in Indian mythology, will have its world premiere at the MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival under the ‘Spotlight’ section. Cargo, written and directed by Arati Kadav, is about Prahastha (Vikrant Massey), a lonely astronaut who works in the spaceship Pushpak 634A. Every morning, his spaceship comes close to Earth and picks up cargo, which are people who have just died. Prahastha works for Post Death Transition Services, which recycles dead people for rebirth. His routine is disrupted when Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi), a young astronaut trained in cutting-edge technology, joins as his assistant. Kadav talks about her love for sci-fi, unspoken interactions and alternative lives. Excerpts:

From being a techie in Seattle how were you drawn to filmmaking?

I loved storytelling since childhood and used to even win prizes for it. Being good in studies, like every middle-class kid, I was pushed into engineering. I got into IIT-Kanpur and completed my MTech in 2005 — and later got a job in the US. It’s over there — away from home or preconceived notions of what a person should do — I discovered my love for movie making. I started writing and directing short films with my friends there.

How did the idea for Cargo come about?

Cargo is my sixth screenplay. I have been writing films for the last seven years and have also worked in the short film space. I started working on Cargo with the idea of self-producing it with my team. My key takeaway from my previous projects was that to manage budgets for sci-fi, one needs to limit the locations. At the same time, I wanted to make a film that tapped into our culture and mythologies. I generally obsess with themes around ‘meaning of life’ and like to ruminate over life re-affirming concepts. So, a spaceship film that deals with the duality of life and death, juxtaposing loneliness and crowd — all these themes came together naturally in Cargo.

shweta tripathi cargo still Arati Kadav’s sci-fi feature Cargo is rooted in Indian mythology.

The movie came across as a rumination on death and the cyclical nature of life. Was that the idea?

Yes. The film is a story about arrivals and departures for me, a revolving door of life and death, of coming to a new place with that shine of wonder in your eyes and leaving with sadness that comes with knowing your journey has ended. What I also wanted to explore through the interaction of Shweta and Vikrant’s character is the idea of potentially leaving people to alternative lives (and not just to death). We meet so many people in our lives, some we become best friends with, some are our ‘person in our life’ but our life takes us in different directions, and we lose touch, miss them for a while but eventually forget them. Maybe, sometimes something might remind us of them suddenly but then that’s that. We move on. I wanted to talk about these unspoken interactions we have with memories of a person from the other person’s point of view.

Sci-fi is not a genre that Indian filmmakers have experimented with much. What draws you to this genre?

I’m attracted to magical stories and invented narratives. It’s nice to assume, for example, that the fan over my head has its own consciousness and is thinking about the overtime money it will earn during the summer. Science fiction acts as a prism to help look at reality in a way that’s thought-provoking. It helps impart a sense of humour to the limitations of the world. I feel fortunate that in the last few years, there is a change in the status of science fiction. It’s no more a marginalised genre but a genre that promises entertainment and even blockbusters.

Cargo will have its world premiere at the MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival under the ‘Spotlight’ section.

You kept the screen and knobs of the spaceship a bit rudimentary. Is it deliberate?

Yes. This is a sub-genre called retro sci-fi where the tech is very ’80s. It’s a tribute to gadgets we grew up on — clunky and soaked in nostalgia. I didn’t want the tech to be intimidating but more endearing. Even the spaceship mechanisms are derived from the way a jellyfish moves. I wanted to push certain familiar memory buttons when people see gadgets of the film so that they feel more welcomed into the world of Pushpak 634A.

You spoke about not having enough budget for a sci-fi feature. What was the process of filming it?

The benchmark for sci-fi is large Hollywood films. It has been a stumbling block. It’s hard to explain to people that one can play smartly and make a sci-fi without gigantic budgets. We shot in a spaceship set for 27 days and it was hectic. We made our spaceship in two parts. One was inside a studio and we shot the first schedule in that. There was another larger exterior set. This apart, we also did outdoor shoots for nearly 10 days.

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