A lot seems to be happening in Aavasavyuham: The Arbit Documentation of an Amphibian Hunt, as the title suggests.

Krishand’s Malayalam-language film, which won the FIPRESCI award and NETPAC award for the best Malayalam film at the International Film Festival of Kerala this year, is equal parts mockumentary, fantasy drama and superhero film and entirely “environmental propaganda”, the writer-director told Scroll.in. The film will be streamed on SonyLIV on August 4.

In 2015, researchers are looking for an exotic frog in the Western Ghats. Two years later, a shrimp worker in the coastal town of Azhikode is trying to get his daughter married. In 2018, amid protests against a liquid natural gas plant, a fisherman gets rich quickly.

Connecting these events is the mysteriously quiet Joy (Rahul Rajagopal) who can communicate with amphibian creatures. Joy’s connection with nature is spiritual or supernatural, depending on who’s doing the talking. One character observes: “He has a peculiar scent. He smells of dried fish”.

Rahul Rajagopal in Aavasavyuham. Courtesy Krishand/1830 Films/Zhinz Shan.

Krishand’s Aavasavyuham unfolds with frenetic energy. The narrative includes fantasy sequences, interviews with actual individuals and traditional fiction, lensed by cinematographer Vishnu Prabhakar in a cinema verite style, Krishand explained. His directorial debut Vrithakrithiyulla Chathuram: A Minor Inconvenience (2019) followed a more conventional style.

“Our mission statement was TikTok and spectacle,” Krishand explained. “I designed the film like how you experience social media, where every minute, the layout, background and music changes, and your attention shifts from one thing to another. Unlike my first film which was slow-paced and sombre, I wanted to grab attention with this film using popular communication techniques.”

Among Krishand’s themes is the precarious balance between humans and the environment.

“I am trying to communicate that we should live in harmony with our ecosystem, and we shouldn’t destroy it,” he said. “I have injected guilt activism into the film purposely. It’s a propaganda film, but not in the negative sense. I want people to watch it and wonder what impact their decision to build a home somewhere can have on the other creatures living in the area.”

Vrithakrithiyulla Chathuram: A Minor Inconvenience (2019).

The influences on Aavasavyuham are as disparate as possible. It emerged mainly from a story Krishand wrote after hearing tales about mermaids from a tea shop owner in Fort Kochi nine years ago. By the time mermaids appeared in the Mohanlal-starrer Koothara (2014), Krishand, a lifelong fan of graphic novels, had decided to turn his story into a superhero film. Realising he could not match the scale of Hollywood blockbusters, he decided to “write an ethno-geographically rooted film”.

The idea of introducing the mockumentary element came from the Chuck Palahniuk novel Rant (2007) and the Hollywood film Chronicle (2012). While Rant follows the biography of a deceased man through oral interviews, Chronicle is a found-footage film about high-school students who develop superpowers.

For his Malayali Captain Planet-like superhero, Krishand took inspiration from the comic book character Swamp Thing, the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon, and werewolf stories.

The film’s final chapter was inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as well as the Gabriel Garcia Marquez story A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.

Aavasavyuham’s strong anti-industry and pro-environment tone emerged from Krishand’s experience of shooting Waterbodies, a 15-minute documentary commissioned by the Stanford Law School, about the Narmada Dam Project’s effect on Adivasi settlements.

Filmmaker Krishand.

An early draft of the script was set in Munroe Island. But Krishand’s actor and co-producer Zhinz Shan, who plays the important role of Susheelan Vava, asked him to check out the controversy surrounding an Indian Oil Corporation import terminal in Puthuvype, to which Shan belongs.

Krishand had found a real-life case corresponding to his fictional script, which led to the documentary aspects of Aavasavyuham.

If viewers find sections of his film preachy or didactic, Krishand argued that that’s the idea: “Abstraction for propaganda won’t work. I want to ram my ideas into people’s heads but enveloping it with comedy. I am not trying to reach to people with visual privileges who have seen Tarkovsky and Kieslowski.”

Krishand’s film follows a series of Malayalam productions about climate change, including the experimental Prappeda and the recently released Malayankunju.

“Climate change is quite apparent in Kerala,” Krishand said. “It’s not supposed to rain in July and August but it does. The 2018 Kerala floods had a big effect on us, as did the Pettimudi landslides in 2020. The Malayalam new wave which had started around 2010 has now gave way for a post-new wave where we are no longer re-brushing old classics but moving to global topics.”

Aavasavyuham (2022).