Director Kanu Behl says he wanted to explore sexual repression, a feeling that often doesn’t get addressed in India, through his film ”Agra”, which is set to have its world premiere at the ongoing Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday.
The movie, which will be screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section at Cannes, marks Behl’s return to the prestigious gala that feted his 2014 debut feature film ”Titli” (Un Certain Regard category).
Drawing parallels between his two features, the filmmaker said while ”Titli” was about ”family” and ”circularity”, ”Agra” captures the ”soul of a troubled boy”.
”’Agra’ is about sexual repression, the idea of physical spaces and how our repressed sexuality ends up affecting physical spaces around us. And how, in turn, physical spaces end up affecting our sexual lives. It is a play between the two,” Behl told PTI in an interview.
”I wanted to get inside the soul of a troubled boy and understand however difficult the journey might be. I wanted to understand this idea of sexual maturity and sexual repression. It’s a feeling that does not get addressed often in our country,” he added.
The director, who assisted Dibakar Banerjee on films such as ”Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye” and co-wrote ”LSD: Love Sex Aur Dhokha” with him, said he often wondered why nobody talked about sexual repression.
He later realised that it may have something to do with how ”each of us have a public life, a personal life and then a secret life”, Behl said.
”There are some things about your secret life that you don’t reveal to anyone and I found that really interesting. I wanted to go there and explore some of the things that we toy with when we are alone in those secret spaces,” he observed.
”Agra”, written by Behl and Atika Chohan, revolves around Guru, a 24-year-old young single call centre employee, who still lives with his parents and dreams of a room and real intimacy. Caught between his family, the world around him and his own ‘mind’, Guru slowly begins to unravel.
Asked whether certain scenes in the film may make for an uncomfortable watch, the Kapurthala-born director said it would reflect more on the viewer than the story.
”If you have done your homework as an artist, then whatever is being reflected is the truth of life all around us. There is nothing fictional we are building. Art borrows from life, and it is a representation of that,” the filmmaking graduate from Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute added.
The family in ”Agra” is completely different from the one depicted in ”Titli”, Behl said, adding that the characters in his latest film are ”more like individual units”.
”’Agra’ is more of a film about individuals engaging in various forms of transactionality more than being a family,” he said.
The world building in his films is in stark difference from the portrayal of families in mainstream films, which the director believes are ”a form of advertising of emotions”.
”They are laid out for you on a plate in a manipulative way where you get a certain orgasm of ‘all is well’ by the time they end. Hence, there is very little to no churning once the film is over,” he said, adding that such films are important, but should not be the only one dominating the cultural space in a society.
”Titli”, short film ”Binnu Ka Sapna” and now ”Agra” — all of Behl’s stories explore the male mindscape. According to the filmmaker, it is easier for him to tap into the mindset of a man.
”I am still learning my craft so I am a little vary of not being able to do justice to a female perspective in as much depth as I should. So, I have stayed away from it for now,” he said.
As far as reflecting the inherent misogyny and patriarchy in society is concerned, Behl said they are the byproduct of the culture and the sociopolitical context these stories are set in, but each of his narratives explore different themes.
”Every film has a cultural and political gaze. It is unavoidable when you put characters in certain situations, it feels like an exploration of misogyny and patriarchy,” he said.
”Agra” features Mohit Agarwal, Priyanka Bose, Rahul Roy, Vibha Chhibber, Rahul Roy, Anchal Goswami and Sonal Jha.
”Aashiqui” star Roy, Behl said, was one of the initial actors they tested for the part of the family patriarch. But the actor found ”something personal” in the character and dedicated himself to the three month-long workshop, the director recalled.
”During the workshop, he was the first one to reach and the last one to leave. He found something personal in the script, something really connected with him and early on he said, ‘I will do this role, no one else’ and he completely owned the part,” Behl said.
Behl’s next film is the Manoj Bajpayee-starrer ”Dispatch”, which revolves around power and is set in the world of media.
The 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival will conclude on May 27.