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Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Built to order

Writer Samit Basu on his cinematic debut, hikikomori and the possibility of an Indian Game of Thrones

Written by Ektaa Malik | Published: November 15, 2019 12:00:02 am
The sense of order in the house is at the centre of the film, House Arrest.

In today’s supremely connected world, where Hootsuite, Slack and email accounts run our lives, the need to disconnect has never been more pertinent. In House Arrest — the latest original film by Netflix — the protagonist Karan (Ali Fazal) does just that. “This idea has been in the making for several years. I started writing seven years ago. The concept of people staying home, ordering in, watching films and not stepping out unless strictly necessary isn’t common in India, but is quite acceptable in East Asia, Japan, Korea, and China. People are coming to terms with digital addiction, the hikikomori phenomena basically,” says novelist Samit Basu, the writer and co-director of House Arrest, which streams today on Netflix. Hikikomori is a Japanese lifestyle trend, which the film touches upon, where young adults isolate themselves to severe degrees and withdraw from society. The film clocks 24 hours within a typical Delhi flat.

House Arrest is the screenwriting and co-directorial debut of Basu, who has several novels, graphic novels and children’s books to his credit. “ I wanted to be a writer since I was born and wanted to make a film since 2001. I was asked to write a single-location murder mystery for House Arrest, but I don’t take well to instructions, so I wrote a single-location rom-com. It was a challenge, as we didn’t have even a vaguely romantic backdrop,” says Basu, 39, “I felt this film would be a small one, and then it blew up with Netflix coming on board. And with Shashanka Ghosh as co-director, we also had recognisable names like Ali, Shriya (Pilgaonkar) and Jim (Sarbh).

The show’s writer and co-director Samit Basu

The film scores high on detailing, with quirks and idiosyncrasies of the lead characters revealed subtly. We get to know about Karan’s obsession with order and precision in the way he places things around the house — abstract figurines, paintings on the walls, tower of playing cards and marble checkers. The house is almost like a character in the film. “The sense of order in the house is the core of the film, as the romance is essentially about two people who find themselves in the middle of chaos and repeated intrusions of very real situations,” says Basu, who divides his time between Delhi and Mumbai. “The house was designed to look like a place where you can recuperate. I think we go through a churning in our late twenties, early thirties, where our worldview shifts,” he says.

In a nod to Basu’s area of expertise — science fiction and fantasy — we also see holograms in the film. In the middle of Karan’s serene blue sitting room, we see a full blown Punjabi-wedding sangeet materialise. “Everyone thought that as this was a single location shoot, it would be easy, but it wasn’t. No one in the crew had done this before. I used the holograms because I wanted to get some variety in the single location, by effectively cramming in another location within the given space. On stage we do it with two lights and a prop, but here cinematically, it worked. We have had people apparating since the eighties in the Ramayana,” says the Presidency College graduate, “Indian films have been defying physics for a long time, so technically they are sci-fi. We are breaking the emotional reality of the universe, so every show and film we bring out is different.”

Basu, one of the most popular writers of India to explore science fiction and the fantasy genre, is hopeful of an Indian Game of Thrones. “We have such a strong viewing culture and a star-driven one. So, yes it will happen, but I can’t predict when. At least we have the material. When I started there was none, or I didn’t know where to find it. Things take time, remember even the Lord of the Rings films came out 50 years after the book, and Terry Pratchett is getting adapted now. Similarly, for Game of Thrones, (George) Martin had been writing it for a while before it got picked up,” says Basu.

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