Incognito

Incognito Ravi Muppa

Ravi Muppa's short film, Incognito, offers a unique perspective on sex trafficking by narrating the story from the third person view of a lonely motel receptionist. The receptionist engages in selling hidden camera footage of unsuspecting guests to supplement his income. However, a shift in his conscience occurs when one of his customers becomes involved in sex trafficking. We see the shift in moral compass of the receptionist as tries to save the gil who is being trafficked. The film was a contender at the 96th Academy Awards in the Best Live Action Short category and is now being developed into a feature, with Anurag Kashyap serving as one of the producers. In our conversation with Muppa, we delve into the evolution of the film and his insights into its narrative.
 

Tell me about the origins of this story.
Well, it's a combination of a couple of things. Firstly, there was a news article about a flight attendant who rescued a young girl from human trafficking. The intricate details of the rescue intrigued me, as it felt very cinematic. The entire rescue happened without a single word exchanged between the flight attendant and the girl, who couldn't speak freely due to the older man accompanying her. The flight attendant ingeniously created an excuse for the girl to go to the airplane bathroom, where she slipped in a note asking if she needed help. The girl nodded, and the flight attendant promptly alerted the police. I found certain aspects of this story captivating, particularly the idea of communication without using words. So, I envisioned a story set in a motel, which I find incredibly cinematic, especially at night with its neon lights and heightened quietness, creating an almost eerie atmosphere. This setting adds an intrusive aspect of CCTV too.

The choice of a motel also stemmed from personal experiences shared by some women, highlighting issues of invasion of privacy, such as hidden cameras in trial rooms and motels. As for the protagonist, I wanted someone morally ambiguous, challenging the audience's empathy. Creating characters that are initially hard to empathize with and gradually revealing more about them is a compelling challenge for me. The short film may not fully convey the depth of this character, but it adds an element of mystery, prompting the audience to think about what drove him to such actions—a topic I plan to delve deeper into in the feature.

Incognito

Now that the short is turning into a feature, what can we anticipate?
I'm thrilled about it, and it all came together in the last couple of weeks while I've been in LA. The feature will be a Hollywood production, not an Indian one, with Anurag Kashyap as one of the producers. The narrative will be set at the border of the US and Mexico, exploring the trafficking that occurs in that region. The girl will enter the US from Mexico, while the main character will still be an Indian man plucked from a small village in India. These individuals are often placed in motels. Many of these people are undocumented, and their passports are often confiscated once they enter these work roles. The feature will delve deeper into the lives of two individuals trapped in their circumstances, forming an alliance as they seek freedom. The storyline will unfold over several days, introducing more characters, with the motel serving as one of the settings. The short film will serve as a midpoint in the feature, providing context to the broader narrative. It's an exciting prospect!

Why did you choose to tell the story from the perspective of the hotel manager?
Well, I'm drawn to characters that are complex, even controversial at times, and this character fit the bill perfectly. While I initially considered telling the story from the girl's point of view, I felt it had been done before, and shifting the perspective to the receptionist—the one watching her—added a layer of mystery to the unfolding events. This choice engages the audience, making them participants in the narrative rather than passive observers. If the story had been told from the girl's perspective, it might have taken a more emotional turn, potentially evoking sympathy. Shifting to the hotel manager's POV allowed me to explore the bystander effect, where people notice something wrong but may choose to remain passive. I wanted the audience to contemplate what they would do in a similar situation, making them part of the unfolding events. Switching the perspective brought the story to life.

Incognito

The film has minimal dialogue. What was your rationale behind this choice?
The limited dialogue is a result of the film's premise. The hotel manager prefers to remain incognito, spending his time observing others. Engaging in conversation would draw attention to himself, something he actively avoids. In the context of the plot, when he encounters the situation with the girl, he must act quietly to avoid arousing suspicion from the older man. The character's "superpower" is voyeurism, the very tool he uses to invade privacy. This aspect is integral to the plot, and the hotel manager's familiarity with this tool adds authenticity to the unfolding events. The limited dialogue aligns with the character's nature and the events in the plot.

How do you perceive the evolution of the Indian film industry on global platforms?
I believe that the landscape has significantly transformed, especially with the advent of OTT platforms. Initially, television was dominated by soap operas, but now there's a broader understanding of content. This shift has created more opportunities for individuals who may not have fit into the traditional film or TV soap formats. OTTs offer a platform for diverse and interesting work. In terms of streaming, India had to make a leap from producing soaps to prime-time drama series. Unlike the U.S., where streaming evolved after decades of established television dramas and sitcoms, India had to adapt quickly. This transition requires not only content creators but also those who commission the content and the audience. Despite the relatively short time frame, the progress has been commendable, and I anticipate further improvement. I'm optimistic about the future of films and shows in India. During my time in Los Angeles, I've overheard numerous conversations about Indian films. It's not just because of my Indian background; Indian cinema is becoming a topic of mainstream discussions in North America. Films like "Animal" and "RRR" have become part of the global cinematic conversation. While we may have initially competed in the foreign film category, I foresee Indian cinema becoming an integral part of global film culture, similar to the success of Korean cinema with films like "Parasite."


Words Paridhi Badgotri
Date 01.01.2022

Incognito