Stories of fallen heroes does not interests Indian audience, says independent filmmaker Pushpendra Singh.
Pushpendra believes due to the "influence of Hollywood" it is only the hero who deserve a story, not the ones like the lead character of his movie Ashwatthama.
In an interview with PTI, the director says, "Ashwatthama is a complex and fascinating myth, like every character in Mahabharat—that they have multiple shades. This part excited me because he was on the losing side of the Kauravas and that it is a cursed figure."
"Every time we think of making a film, we don't talk about the stories of the fallen heroes. And I believe, that comes from the Hollywood influence. But go to the South, you have a hero in Ravana and somewhere Duryodhana is worshipped. In some places in Rajasthan, the heroes from the lore are perhaps greater than Lord Ram. I find this diversity interesting," he says.
The film centres around Ishvaku who spends a winter in his maternal uncle's house after his mother is killed in an attack by the dacoits in Chambal.
The nine-year-old boy's last memory of his mother is her story of Ashwatthama, a prince from Mahabharata who was cursed by Lord Krishna to roam the earth forever as a punishment of wiping off the Pandava clan.
The director, who also co-produced and acted in the movie, uses black-and-white monochrome with sparks of colour—which navigate through the mythological legend—in some frames to channel the hyper imagination of the child to unknowingly escape the bitter reality.
The movie explores undertones of superstition and Singh says due to politics, religion has lost its purpose.
"I visit villages and see that people there have no idea of the politics in the country. They don't care which political party is in power or who propagates what ideology. I have seen that religion is a support system to them and also a reason of their backwardness. Instead of targeting the evils in the religion, they have made it into a fight of 'us versus them'. There are no reforms on the grassroots level," he says.
Shot in Pinahat town, near Agra, Ashwatthama is one of the few films that have been made in the Brij dialect, predominantly spoken in the Hindi heartland.
"I believe people may have made films in the dialect but they never released. Leave mainstream, I don't think indie cinema has seen a film in Brij. Dharamvir Bharti's 1954 play Andha Yug has references to the legend of Ashwatthama. And it was this connection to the similar narrative that inspired me to make the film," adds the FTII alum.
The film has done the rounds of Busan International Film Festival and the recently concluded Jio MAMI 19th Film Festival. But the prospects for a theatrical release release date appear bleak.
"Theatrical release seems a little difficult but we want to show the film in the Brij region. We are in talks with people who can help us with an independent release of the film in metros," the filmmaker says.
Singh adds they had applied for Busan's Asian Cinema Fund, which they received and that helped them in the post production of the film.