Interview: Bhavan Rajagopalan, Vivesini

Vivesini, written and directed by Chennai based Bhavan Rajagopalan, takes the audiences on a journey of educational self-discovery, emphasising the importance of relationships, science and nature, but most of all, evolution.

The film’s apt title, Vivesini, the Tamil word for ‘thinker’ or ‘enquirer’ has already triggered much worldwide discussion amongst the academic, political and film community. It wowed UK audiences for the first time earlier this year at the Arc, Stockton Arts Centre with more screening set to pop up later this later.

The narrative follows three individuals, from Chennai, London and New York, who trek through a forbidden forest, seemingly for an innocent research trip. Aside from our protagonist, Shakthi, the group are blissfully unaware that the reason they are trekking through this particular forest is to debunk myths that evil spirits haunt those who trespass through them.

The truth is soon revealed however, as the group witnesses a series of inexplicable and haunting events that leave them desperate to get back to more familiar soil.

Each character touched by the spirit in the forest, experiences a very personal and intense attack, which opens up the question of a spiritual awakening, yet further scientific research hangs a big question mark over longstanding belief systems and forces a sense of reality on the mind.

Still the question lingers…is there something else out there amongst the trees?

The film stars acclaimed actor Nassar, who has delivered a fantastic performance alongside actors Vanessa Stevenson, Kavya and Suraj. The film has an age rating of 15 and is in Tamil and English language, with English subtitles.

Interview with Bhavan Rajagopalan

What inspired you to write and direct Vivesini?

A self’s wellbeing is never a priority in the society that I come from. An individual’s free thought and free will are curtailed by numerous factors like superstitious beliefs, religious dogma, social stigma or a continuing pressure to please the extended members of the family or the society. These elements oppress the individual and hinder him/her from taking decisions or even stop him/her from showing dissent. This micro pattern reflects the macro civil structure of the country I live in. Resistance is the key to unlock the path of survival and evolution. To question the state or the authority that stems out of religious backing and majoritarianism, you not only need the stamina but the will to keep on hitting your oppressor with facts and truths. That was where Vivesini was conceived.

Why release the film now? 

I think art acts as a frontline battalion during tough times. They often start the wave of questioning against inequality, injustice and oppression that most of the time end as mighty tsunamis. We have seen this right from the renaissance era. Inequality in the name of religion, caste, gender and so on are on a rising trend in the recent past. So I feel it is the duty of the frontline to safeguard the interest of humanity. We the artists who are on the frontline don’t have mechanised rifles in our hands. Painting, writing, sculpting, performing, camera; these are our weapons.

Why do you think the film has triggered such a global conversation? 

I think Vivesini has a transnational connect with respect to various topics that are discussed in the film. Though the film’s conflict is rooted in Tamil Nadu, the branches have spread across the globe connecting issues beyond one single geography. With respect to our film industry and the kind of films we have been producing, I see it this way, post globalisation, the money from the developed countries keep getting in through various investments. The money from the west should also mirror elements like progressive thoughts, free speech, lateral thinking and so on. But I don’t see the European enlightenment’s energy being reflected here. So when a film (Vivesini) reflects these ideas at a time when the majority of the industry is going back towards pre-modern times, that will certainly trigger a global conversation. The world as we know has shrunk so small that there is no such thing as regional conflict. So if I hit a nail on the trunk of a tree that is rooted in a small village in Tamil Nadu, you will see a reaction in one of its branches in a far western country. Also another main reason I see is the atrocities against rationalists and freethinkers across the globe. They see Vivesini as a film that brings to light the importance of rationalism in today’s political setup.

What was the biggest challenge you experienced whilst shooting the film?

Well ,being an independent film, funds, obviously. But then covid made ‘fund issue’ look puny. We started the film in 2019 and got hit by Covid wave. It was a terrible two year period that we had to endure. But we overcame that successfully.

What do you hope the audience will take away after watching the film?

I hope they realise standing up against oppression is what will save any species. Humankind has survived so many onslaughts only through fighting back.

What’s next?

I am working on getting Vivesini to theatres here in Tamil Nadu. I want to communicate with a larger audience, especially the mainstream audience. If you want to make a change in society, then you have to reach out to the masses.  

The film is awaiting its commercial release in India, keep an eye on the website for more information:

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