The debutant filmmaker explains that he has ensured that the science used in the film is authentic.
Last Updated: 03.54 PM, Mar 09, 2023
Sci-fi as a genre is uncommon in Kannada cinema; it is so rare that it is difficult to come up with even five titles. This is strange for a state that is home to the Silicon Valley of India – Bengaluru - which houses multiple science and technology hubs. This was the first thought that crossed the mind of techie-turned-filmmaker Ajay Sarpeshkar, whose film Mandala: The UFO Incident will be in theatres tomorrow. A science aficionado, who also enjoys his fair share of Hollywood sci-fi flicks and the infinite possibilities the genre offers, Ajay was also amused how every near apocalyptic event, including those involving aliens, almost always occurs in the United States.
“I’ve always been a huge sci-fi fan, so when the Matrix released, it blew my mind. It really opened up our minds to alternate realities and what could be possible. Science fiction is a genre that opens up your mind and your imagination – you can create new worlds. It is so fascinating and the possibilities are endless. That is something that appeals to me quite a bit. From a very young age, I have had a technical mind in terms of fixing or building things, which I then applied to photography and the end result is my first sci-fi film, Mandala: The UFO Incident,” he explains.
A Bengaluru boy who moved lock, stock and barrel to Houston, Ajay wanted to marry his love for science, films and his ooru with a film. He wrote the basic outline, which one of his early cast members, Prakash Belawadi, rewrote and has now been presented as Mandala: The UFO Incident. The film, he hopes, will be the first of many more to follow in a ‘universe’ that he’s trying to create. On the surface, Mandala: The UFO Incident is about the case of a missing aerospace engineer, Maya, who, while working on a significant project is presumed abducted by none other than aliens. But is Maya really the victim of an alien abduction or is something more sinister at play? That is what the film is about.
For the sci-fi loving crowd in, say, Bengaluru, the genre has always been Hollywood driven, so Ajay’s target audience is likely to expect the visual grandeur that those productions have in his film. “Filming for Mandala… began way back in 2018. We then took a long time to get the visual effects at par with Hollywood standards. I can confidently say that my film is just as good as a Hollywood sci-fi flick, as far as the visuals go. Even though we have had constraints of resources, we still took the effort of designing our own spaceship, instead of grabbing a template from the internet. Our research was on the lines of, say, if a ship has to travel interstellar distances, how will it look and what is the shape it should have? If you have a gravity drive on the ship, a thruster or a viewing screen, where would these things go? We used ISRO and NASA metrics and designed the satellites that we show in the film. Even if these shots are all of 20-30 seconds only in a scene, everything is authentic and scientifically correct. In fact, even the science that Sharmiela Mandre’s character Maya employs – that detects gravity ripples in space and time - exists in reality. I have used a modified version of the technology (LIGO), for the film,” says Ajay, adding that Maya then uses this to detect the presence of a UFO, which has a gravity drive.
As a first-time filmmaker, Ajay is preparing himself for any scenario at the box office. “This film belongs to a new genre and sensibility of integrating a lot of science into the narrative and not just using it as a small little plot device. It’s been a long time with this film for me. It is a start – I wanted to make a film that I would want to watch,” he adds. But with so much science packed into the story, isn’t it a little too high-brow for regular moviegoers? “Honestly, I made this film with the hope of inspiring younger minds into space exploration, science and technology. Eventually, depending on how Mandala… performs at the box office, we are looking at turning this into a trilogy, as well as a series that runs parallel to the film. All of that banks on this film and how it is received,” says Ajay, adding, “The story has also touched upon heritage, so, it is not only about looking up, but also inward. I think that somewhere it is a reflection of my struggles to find my roots back in India.”