Currently on holiday in Australia, the Sita Ramam actor spoke to us about how she got the film and how it all came together with the effort of her friends
Rukmini Vijayakumar, the dance choreographer, Bharatanatyam dancer, and actress from Bengaluru, is currently on holiday in Melbourne, Australia.
Since Ugadi and World Water Day fall on the same day this year (March 22), the dancer tied in the message of both occasions to shed light on an important issue: respecting the world that we inhabit.
Shot in the Maldives, the short film, titled Matsya, is shot mostly underwater. It is based on the story of Matsya, a tiny fish that grew to reveal the truth of the universe to King Satyavrata when the world was going through a period of dissolution.
The film features Rukmini, dressed in a simple yellow saree, as she becomes Matsya. Rukmini’s captivating moves underwater and the soothing, melodious soundtrack, directed and produced by Ambi Subramaniam, entice viewers to become part of the story.
Speaking about the film earlier on, Rukmini had said, "As we start afresh on Ugadi, our new year, it becomes important for each one of us to consider how we live with respect to the world around us. Indian culture has always revered nature and all creatures that inhabit this planet."
She added, "One of the most beautiful stories is of Matsya. This tiny fish grew to reveal the truth of the universe to King Satyavrata when the world was going through a period of dissolution. Once we begin to see ourselves in everything around us, we begin to empathise with all life. March 22nd is also celebrated as World Water Day, a day to pay our respects to this life force that we often take for granted."
Rukmini took some time out from her Australian holiday to speak exclusively with OTTplay about the film. Snippets from a conversation…
Where did the idea for this film originate?
I started diving two years ago, and I found that the creatures of the ocean and being underwater were very meditative and beautiful. I saw a part of our world that I'd never seen before, like the manta rays, sharks, and fish. I had only seen them on TV before, but I got to see these creatures up close and personal. It's a part of our world that we've left untouched because we're forced to leave it untouched. When I saw all that, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of it.
I'm always reading and thinking about different things. The story of Matsya is not just about the fish growing bigger and bigger and taking a king over the ocean of Paleo; it’s more about how Matsya reveals the truth of the universe to King Satya Rata. And the truth is the oneness that exists in the universe, where there is a non-separateness in every creature.
How long did you work on this idea?
Like any of my ideas, this was also very sudden. It was something that came from my imagination and thinking about the stories that I had read. My ideas are always very sudden, and I have two friends who I share them with. One is Anup (J Kat, director of photography), and the other is Vivian (Ambrose, editor). So, I told Anup the idea, and he said, ‘Yeah, it's a good idea. Let's shoot it.’
We all dive together as well, so the next time we went diving, I penned out the shots that we needed, and then we just shot them. We shot a good amount of the film, but there were still some bits that we needed to finish. That's when we asked if Cycle Brand could support the film and help us finish what we'd started.
How did the whole film come together?
This is a very artistic film and was not made with big production budgets. It's just a few friends trying to make things happen. Some of our diver friends had a drone, so two of them helped take some drone shots. Some others who were on the island (in the Maldives) brought a fish for us that they had found. So, there wasn't a lot of planning. I knew in my mind the kind of shots that I needed. But there wasn't a huge production or a lot of planning in this film. It was just some friends saying, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. Let's make this happen together.’
What about all the underwater shots, as well as those of the wildlife?
A lot of the shots of the turtle, as well as the whale shark, were taken by Vivian on his earlier dives. So, what you see in the video is footage from multiple trips of ours. In all, it's taken over a year or so for us to go multiple times and take the videos.
What challenges did you face?
Our primary difficulty was the lack of resources and support, and we were trying to do everything on a shoestring budget. That meant that I was wearing my own saree, and we had only one person to help me swim in it from the shore up to the edge of the reef. And that’s a long swim — almost a kilometre long! I had to wear my fins and swim out. We had only one person who would come with me on rescues, and many times that person was Vivian!
It wasn’t easy for Anup to swim with a heavy camera all alone. Vivian sometimes helped Anup with the camera, which is when my husband did the rescues. We had two other people and one of our friends who came diving. So, there were a lot of people trying to help us. Looking back, I think that's the beautiful thing about this film. In some ways, it is every single person's effort because we couldn't have done it otherwise.
Dancing underwater couldn’t have been easy...
I can hold my breath for a minute and a half, after which I need to go up for air. So, we had to take the shots quickly. I couldn’t wear a mask or snorkel underwater, so I almost stepped on some stonefish once. I was in salt water, and I literally couldn’t see anything when I was swimming. Although in the video it looks like I'm a fantastic swimmer, I'm not a great swimmer. I actually started learning some free diving after we shot this film.
Everyone had to do their best. It's really hard to keep the camera still, and people don’t understand how it is to take shots underwater with the currents. If Anup wasn't so fantastic, we would never be able to film this. It was very hard to keep the camera steady, especially when there was so much turbulence. The water was moving, I was moving, and I couldn’t really see anything. In such a situation, getting a good shot is really difficult.
The music is an integral part of the film. How did the collaboration with Ambi Subramaniam happen?
We tried multiple times with different composers,and we really needed someone to get the music just right. And Ambi did that for us. Ambi's music is just fantastic, and his music perfectly fits the film. The film wouldn't look the same without Ambi.
Rukmini Vijayakumar was last seen on the big screen in the 2022 Telugu film Sita Ramam, which also stars Dulquer Salmaan, Rashmika Mandanna, and Mrunal Thakur. Last year, she was also seen in the Diganth and Anant Nag Kannada film Thimayya & Thimayya in a cameo role.