Beyond the Clouds brings together Ishaan Khatter and Malavika Mohanan on the big screen for the first time, both together, and as individuals. The two play siblings in a film that is about the journey through life, with relationships in the centre of it all. The film has been received well at the various international film festivals it has been released at, and at the crux of it all are the two actors, Ishaan and Malavika, who exhibit sheer enthusiasm and humility through all of the festivals and promotions. I had the chance to speak to both of them together, and took a step back to enjoy a conversation with two actors who really do come across as genuinely kind individuals, along with being hugely talented.
Beyond the Clouds has received such rave reviews at all of the festivals it has been showcased at. Does that instill a sense of confidence in you, a sense of calm – that the film has a storyline that has a connection with the audience?
IK: As you did mention, it is certainly reassuring that it has connected with the audience of various nationalities. It is reassuring that it is a universal film and a film that would connect with people, regardless of the language. That does leave you with a sense of reassurance and confidence. This is the worldwide release of the film, and most of the audiences will be experiencing it for the first time.
But having travelled with the film, it has been to four countries now, I know the festival audiences seemed to have enjoyed it and film connoisseurs and enthusiasts liked it. So that is a really good feeling and does give us a sense of confidence.
Both of you have real life connections with siblings; the two of you have siblings yourselves as well and you play brother and sister in the film. Did you reach back to your real life experiences or personal anecdotes or feelings to connect with your characters, although you didn’t actually spend a lot of time together on set together?
MM: I have a younger brother so it was easy to connect to that feeling of having a younger brother and how it feels to care for somebody because I care for my brother very deeply. It is a very similar feeling that needed to be shown in the film. I think the relationship with a sibling, it is such a pure relationship. You know the person can be there for you, they’ve got your back – at the same time, it is also a fun relationship. We have secrets we keep from our parents. It is a very cute relationship, so it definitely helped relating to this character and this particular relationship and bond that Aamir and Taara (characters in the film) shared.
I think Ishaan and I bonded as well, although we didn’t have a lot of workshops. We didn’t really rehearse our scenes beforehand. Majidi sir likes to really go with the flow. We bonded mostly on the sets; that’s how we got to know each other even as Ishaan and Malavika. It has been such a great journey, even working with Majidi sir together.
Majidi sir has a very distinct style of direction. There will be days that you will come on set and he will give you very specific directions and other days when he leaves everything completely up to you. Malavika, this is your first Hindi feature film, and Ishaan, this is your first film ever. On the days that he left you to contemplate your scene on your own, how did you manage that?
IK: It can be fairly unnerving when you are left on your own, especially when you are working with a filmmaker who is extremely strong in his vision of the film. Having experienced being directed by him for a very specific moment - it almost leaves you feeling like you are there completely on your own when he chooses not to give any instructions.
At the same time, it is very liberating. He also allows his actors to be creative and gives you the freedom to explore yourself as an actor. It is a wonderful thing. Most importantly, this method of working, it keeps you on your toes as an actor because you don’t know what to expect – whether he will give you specific instructions or leave you on your own. You need to know the scene, the history of the moment, and know where you are coming from. If you understand the film as a whole and you understand your character, it can be a very liberating experience when you are given that certain amount of freedom.
How do you cope with the pain and anguish that your character is going through, when you have to return to your own life – are you able to separate what you are going through as a character from when you return back to your hotel room or your home?
MM: For me, I believe that I became so consumed. I came on board about ten or fifteen days before they began filming and I had very less time to prepare. I dived right into it. I prepared for those ten days and then the film began. I felt I had to make up for lost time and I really had to get into the character. I think I cut off everything and really just became completely consumed by the character. When I would get back home, it was really late. It was just about the film, the character – it was about completely surrendering myself to Majidi sir. I was very grateful to even have the opportunity to work with Majidi sir, so I went all out.
IK: In the days leading up to the shoot, I isolated myself from everyone, including my family and I was just sort of living on my own. I would read the scripts and completely prepare. It was a very emotionally demanding part and you feel the need to stay in that world so you can bring a sort of harmony with you and the director and the unit you are working with. Because the background of the character is that he is an orphan, both he and his sister are orphans, it was important to feel an innate sense of loneliness. It wasn’t really a conscious decision. It just happened. I mean, I’m very close to my mother, I live with my mother, and I almost didn’t speak with her for the three and a half months of shooting this film. I think it was important to live with the character for that period. Then, when you do a scene that is emotionally taxing or exhaustive, it can also be a very cathartic experience. So while the character is experiencing these emotional things, it can actually be relieving for the actor to go through an intense, emotional scene. Sometimes, you can play through the emotions on screen, and realize that you then feel lighter as an actor.
Beyond the Clouds releases worldwide on April 20th, 2018 .