INTERVIEW: Mystery Thriller Film, PADMAVYUHA With Director Raj Krishna Explores Complex History of Hinduism

PADMAVYUHA is Raj Krishna’s latest thriller film starring Nikhil Prakash, Ross Turner and Pooja Batra, which is set to hit the film festival circuit in 2020, starting with the North Carolina South and East Asian Hollywood Film Festival (NCISAFF). Krishna delves and pulls inspiration from faith and mythology for the setting of his story’s mystery. Find out more below.

Hello Raj, thank you so much for answering our questions. Can you tell us about your film, PADMAVYUHA. What is it about and what inspired the whole premise of the story?

Padmavyuha is a unique Indian-American production, a mystery thriller. It’s about a mysterious phone call that draws a religious studies professor into a dark labyrinth of mystic puzzles– the answer to which could shake the foundations of the world’s religions. I wanted it to be a trippy, edge-of-your-seat thriller, whilst also being a comprehensive, balanced lesson in Indian history. I followed the good old-fashioned filmmaking advice and made the movie I would want to see on opening night.

What drew you to creating a mystery thriller within the scope of religious exploration? What was the most challenging part for you when you were writing the movie?

I’ve always been interested in the general notion of faith. The power faith can have over people and societies, to lead them to do both good and bad. I figured it would be cool to package these ideas into a Zodiac or Indiana Jones style of a historic, mystery thriller rooted in Indian mythology, which I had not seen in Indian cinema before. Writing the film was tough, to be honest. It took weeks of research to find the right mythical historic references that were real, and would blend into the narrative seamlessly, without calling attention to themselves. It took fifteen drafts to find a way to make the story about an actual Padmavyuha (a military formation in an ancient Indian text)– not just the symbol, but the essence behind it, reflecting the character’s journey physically and emotionally. We had to search high and low to find the cipher we used (which we eventually discovered in the Kama Sutra). The other tough part was developing the main character’s emotional arc, to make sure he came across as a fully fleshed human being caught in the middle of all of this. Nikhil Prakash, the lead actor, was instrumental in crafting this– he was with me every step of the way, giving me detailed notes from the first draft that really helped us create an amazing character journey.

How do you hope to make people feel after watching PADMAVYUHA? What do you hope they’ll take away from watching it?

I hope it prompts a conversation about faith, and the power of faith to bring about certain outcomes. I also hope people see the beauty in Hinduism, are intrigued by some of the assertions in the movie about how the West has corrupted certain Eastern narratives and parts of Indian history, and are prompted to learn more about ideas like Orientalism.

In delving into the complex history of Hinduism, what aspect challenged you the most and do you think you will explore more on the same topic in your future films?

The level of depth I had to go to in my research was challenging– pulling up actual images from the original Vedas, English translations of the ancient texts, and finding this all online through Wikis. It is dense stuff. And my goal was to create an easily digestible, thrilling narrative that was also a learning lesson, an overview of this deep mythology. There are no easily digestible formats for reading and watching mythology that I could find that disseminate this kind of information in this format. But I think we achieved our goal– to convey a lot of the richness of Hinduism and Indian mythology. I don’t know if my next movie will be about religion directly. Probably not. I think my next work will hopefully be a little more commercial and mainstream. 

Tell us about yourself and your journey as a filmmaker. Where did you begin and how did you know you wanted to create? What has been the biggest lesson for you so far that you would want to share with other aspiring filmmakers?

When I went to UCLA, I shadowed some filmmaking classes. My dad was into American and Indian films and I grew up watching a ton of them. I’ve always thought that good narratives have the ability to move us, to open our mind to the realities of life. I think books, music, movies, art, these are all great ways to explore who we are as humans, and more importantly, inspire us to be better. Since I’ve been obsessed with films for like 25 years, I figured it was time to experiment and make one of my own. 

What are your own personal favorite movies right now that you would recommend to most people?

This is a tough one– for me it’s probably tied between Christopher Nolan’s Memento (a lot of elements of which you’ll find in Padmavyuha– the ambiguous protagonist, the chronological puzzle), and Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat (a Hindi film), which is probably the most haunting love story I’ve ever seen. Raincoat still sends chills down my spine, just how heartbreaking and how real it is, and the way it’s crafted with its colors, realism and sadness

 Lastly, if you could have one superpower, which would it be and would you be a superhero or a supervillain?

Super speed. To get more done. To be able to write, plan, and direct and make films more quickly.. it all takes so much time. You’d be lucky to be able to do 1 film in 1-2 years. That’s not enough time in life, my friends!

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