A man from a small town in Maharashtra travels to Mumbai to avenge his father’s death. Maaran needs to find an enigmatic entity named Kamal who is responsible for his loss. Maaran finds that Kamal is running a renegade army of nihilists who are plotting mass-scale destruction. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel Demons, Rohit Mittal’s Megalopolis is a second attempt to understand violence after his debut Autohead (2016), about a psychopathic auto driver.
“Megalopolis is about a nihilistic terror group and they can stand metaphorically for the left, the right, or the centre,” Mittal told Scroll.in.
While Autohead was a mockumentary, the making of which helped Mittal understand his craft better, Megalopolis is a more formal exercise. “I learned a lot from the Autohead experience,” Mittal said, “After that, I got interested in the formal approach to filmmaking, that is, visuals and sound. All my ideas began moving towards that.”
The film’s trailer is a collage of seemingly unrelated shots held together by a hushed voiceover (“I was 18 years old when I arrived at the city to find Kamal. I wanted to find him and kill him.”) There are a few expository shots of Mumbai followed by a bunch of characters shot in bright hues of red and green. They talk about blowing up the city and speeding up mankind’s eventual destruction. And then, there is fish, a shot of a goat’s head and the butchering of a chicken.
“It’s not animal brutality at all, it’s just a real graphic depiction of everyday human meat consumption,” Mittal said about possible objections from the Central Board of Film Certification. He said he was ready to battle the censor board if needed – “They are just bullies hired by some uneducated class of incompetent people.”
Mittal’s first film, Autohead, travelled to film festivals across the world before being released on the digital streaming platform Netflix. The plot has similarities with Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) and Rémy Belvaux’s cult film Man Bites Dog (1992) – Mittal says he is “honoured by that comparison”.
Despite the festival buzz, Autohead did not move mountains in India, but it did get Mittal some attention from the Mumbai film industry. “People contacted me and wanted me to make a film on serial killers or autos,” he said, but that did not interest him.
Mittal was pursing another profession before he became a filmmaker. “I went to law school in Pune; I met writers, artists, folks from the Film and Television Institute of India,” he said. “I began writing short stories and poetry.”
Mittal worked at a law firm for two years before realising that he was going nowhere. He quit his job and sat at home for months till he convinced his parents to let him go to the New York Film Academy to study filmmaking. After graduation, he did a stint with B-movie king Roger Corman’s studio. “But what I really wanted to do was make a small, indie feature,” Mittal said. He moved back to Mumbai, wrote the script of Autohead and raised the money for the production.
Both his films feature protagonists who migrate from a small town to a big city, and both deal with violence. Mittal says he harbours a sense of alienation in Mumbai despite being a native: “The big city is a metaphor for the human condition, while the small town is something more primitive.”
As for the violence, Mittal said that in Autohead, he was channeling his thoughts through the troubled protagonist. Narayan, a Bihari migrant who drives an auto in Mumbai, goes on a killing spree without any apparent cause or remorse. Is Mittal a violent person or does he just study violence as a student? “I think it’s a bit of both,” he said. “Sex and violence is the basic essence of human nature. A lot of us have violent thoughts but we don’t act on them. So I put my thoughts into my character to understand them better. Violence is more cinematic than drama, in any case. After all, “all advertisements, news, television, et cetera is based on it”.