What is murder without a witness or two? A dull and lonely affair surely, or so believes the mysterious woman who traps a pair of aspiring actors into assuming responsibility for a crime they haven’t committed.

The young man and woman have been summoned to a producer’s house for an audition in Bengaluru. Once there, they find a body, a phone with a woman named Manasa on the other end of the line, and an eyewitness. A nicotine-addicted police officer gets down to work, interviewing the producer’s wife and digging into the background of the actors.

In Arvind Kamath’s Kannada-language thriller Arishadvarga, which will be premiered on June 23 at the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival, what you see isn’t always what you get, and what is said cannot be trusted. The festival will be held between June 20 and July 1 in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Arishadvarga (2019).

“We didn’t think that we had made a festival film – we wanted to make a mainstream and sensible film,” Kamath told Scroll.in in a phone interview from Bengaluru. “There is a huge diaspora audience that comes to Indian film festivals, which is why we felt we should apply.”

Arishadvarga – roughly “the sixth sense” – follows such recent Bengaluru neo-noir films as Pavan Kumar’s Lucia (2013) and U-Turn (2016). Kamath initially approached Kumar to produce the movie. Despite Kumar’s other commitments, he is supporting the production, Kamath said.

Although Arishadvarga might appear to be in the vein of Pavan Kumar’s films, whose plots make use of Bengaluru’s geography and local flavours, Kamath cautioned against reading too much into the setting of his film.

“The film could be set in any metro, although there are certain elements from Bengaluru that we have used,” Kamath said. “This is a very urban story about urban relationships and the changes that are currently happening, the loss of faith in institutions, the gender power play.”

In the movie, these changes are reflected in the shifting moralities of the characters and the lengths to which they go to save their necks.

Mahesh Bung (left) and Gopalkrishna Deshpande in Arishadvarga (2019). Courtesy Kanasu Talkies.

A former information technology executive who switched to theatre and, later, film, Kamath took three years to finish the screenplay of Arishadvarga. He had previously directed Innuendo (2012), which had three inter-connected stories exploring “communication issues, creative obsession & self destructive motives”, according to the official synopsis.

Innuendo was screened at a few festivals, but could not get a theatrical release – a fate that Kamath is hoping to avoid with his latest film. Arishadvarga is aiming for a release in July or August.

Innuendo was an ultra-low budget film – I don’t like it anymore,” Kamath said. “I have grown since, and have changed as a person.”

Arvind Kamath.

With Arishadvarga, Kamath attempted to make the wait worth it. “The casting process went on for a year, we auditioned nearly 300 people,” he said. “The actors had to fit the roles in terms of their physicality and characteristics. You can find faces, but it is difficult to find actors.”

A few known actors turned down the movie because they thought it would be a “sex thriller”, Kamath recalled. Others said they “loved the script and would love to watch such films, but could not be in them”. The final cast includes Avinash Yelandur as the producer, Anju Alva Naik as the producer’s wife, Nanda Gopal as the police inspector, Samyukta Hornad and Mahesh Bung as the actors, and Gopalkrishna Deshpande as the eyewitness.

Nanda Gopal in Arishadvarga (2019). Courtesy Kanasu Talkies.

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