Updated: October 13, 2021 5:13:06 pm
Pedro is the kind of film where nothing seems to happen for the longest time: the frame is still, letting us observe the bounties of nature – dense, tall trees piecing the sky, thickly falling rain, the sound of water meeting sodden earth, the muted rumble of a car bouncing along rutted roads. And then, something does happen, the thing that the film has been steering the lead character named Pedro, and us, towards. It is a climactic moment which holds up a mirror, and those complicit faces are us.
In the far distance, we see two men walking. They skirt along the edge of the frame, disappear, and then appear again. One climbs what looks like an electric pole; the other walks away, picks up his phone, makes a call. We don’t hear what he says, but we know, with dawning dread, the fate of the man we left behind, on that pole.
Natesh Hegde’s debut Kannada feature runs a compact 108 minutes. It is about a man and matters and consequences, but this very generic description turns into something very specific through the 25-year-old self-taught filmmaker’s singular vision. “For me, space is primary. I’m fascinated by the internal rhythms of a place, and I’ve used elements from my life and my father’s life (Gopal Hegde, who has acted in all his son’s films, plays Pedro) to tell my story,” says Hegde, over a phone call on a patchy network from Busan, where the film has had a “full-house” premiere followed by an animated discussion on the film’s “characters, tone, and mood”.
The killing of a cow pushes a man, already unravelling through too many years of perilous electrical work and harsh personal circumstances, over the edge. Pedro’s tiny village is a compendium of the complex social layers that are visible in pockets all over India: religious and class differences colliding with rising bigotry have become increasingly combustible. “I wanted to see how far will a mob go, and what is the trigger point.” In Hegde’s deceptively calm universe, which also pointedly questions toxic masculinity, all things come to a roiling boil, leaving you stunned.
Born and raised in the same village near Dharwad that the film is set in (as are his two short films, the disturbing The Crab, and Distance), Hegde, who studied journalism at Dharwad University, started off as a short-story writer. Discovering the cinema of Iranian maestro Abbas Kiarostami was a defining moment, and he jumped into filmmaking, none the worse for not having had formal training. His work’s striking realism comes from the deep connection his characters exhibit with their living space: when the little boy in The Crab delightedly picks up a wriggling little creature from a pond, or when Pedro slithers down a tree-trunk, knowing exactly where the grooves are, you know that this is their life.
After Busan, the film will travel to film festivals in London and Pingyao. A theatrical release back home is on the cards, too. “Pedro will definitely be out soon,” says a confident Hegde. Amen to that.
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