The O.P.E.N. 2017: Lizard on the Wall by K. Rajagopal

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Director K. Rajagopal has a strangely magnetic presence, and from the moment he opens his mouth, it’s almost impossible not to get drawn in by the sheer passion with which he speaks about his ideas and process. And his latest film sounds absolutely breathtaking.

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K. Rajagopal. Photo by Bakchormeeboy.

Titled Lizard On The Wall, Rajagopal will not only be premiering the short film at the closing of the 2017 Singapore International Festival of the Arts (SIFA), but will also be completing the filming and editing process over the span of the next two or so months. And guess what? You too could be a part of it!

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In line with SIFA’s pre-festival programme the O.P.E.N.’s aim of increasing audience engagement, Rajagopal will be inviting members of the public to star as extras in the film. Inspired by Balli Kaur Jaswal’s critically acclaimed novel Inheritance, Rajagopal will not be adapting the novel’s contents for the screen. Rather, he has taken the liberty of imagining a series of could have beens, in a wedding that never happened, encapsulating the novel’s major themes and main characters in what sounds like an extremely metaphorical work rife with symbolism.

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In the media preview held at the secret filming location, Rajagopal was joined by production designer James Page, along with four of his main cast members to shed a little more light on the project. Lizard on the Wall will portray the going-ons at a Punjabi wedding, and the chaos that ensues when the bride mysteriously disappears.

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Playing the runaway bride Amrit is Anvita Gupta, while her brother Narain will be played by Shrey Bhargava. Their goody two shoes adopted brother Gurdev will be played by Mayur Gupta, and his scheming wife Banu by Sharul Channa, better known for her stand-up comedy acts. All four roles are controversial and rife with a darkness that seethes beneath the exterior – Amrit regularly leaves the house in the middle of the night for seedy rendezvous, Narain performs an act of rebellion against his Sikh heritage, Gurdev hides a plethora of deep-seated insecurities, while Banu plots to get the family inheritance.

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Speaking to Singapore-based Delhi native Mayur, who works in IT by day but continues to pursue his passion for the stage, he expressed his excitement at Rajagopal making another film (Mayur has previously starred in Rajagopal’s short film Sanjay), and was determined to be a part of it due to his memorable experience with Rajagopal’s incredible on set presence and direction.

Said Mayur: “This film has such a huge significance for the festival, coming full circle by being made during the O.P.E.N. and finally closing the entire festival. With the limited time we have to get into character, I’ve been doing a lot of research on people in the past, and trying to find the connection that my character has with all the people in the family. For example, I considered whether he receives any respect at all since he’s so intimidated by everyone, and how it ultimately affects my portrayal of him.”

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Much of these events and issues will not be directly portrayed in the film, but rather, alluded to by the set, where almost every design element contains an additional layer of literary significance. A bed of mud, for example, represents Amrit’s midnight dalliances, while a backalley barber’s chair with hair strewn around it will refer to Narain’s rejection of his Sikh heritage.

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Production designer James Page, who has previously worked with Rajagopal on his short film Sanjay, explained that the set will double up as a kind of art installation for the audiences coming for the filming as well, where each room in the house corresponds to a character, filled with objects and setpieces that hint at their occupants’ darker backstories.

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As for audience members, coming to be a part of the process will be a truly unique experience that will reverse the gaze, turning audience members who are usually passive consumers into an active contributor to the final product, said Rajagopal. Audience members will be required to come dressed for a wedding and in comfortable footwear (no high heels). Audiences need not worry and dash to grab a copy of the book from their local library; on the bus journey from 72-13 to the film set, there will be a narrator to connect both the film and Balli’s novel together for them, readying them for the full ‘enchantment’ experience.

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Even if they have no prior experience on a film set, Rajagopal is completely confident of directing the participants during the limited time he has with them. Participants will be required only to interact with cast members, and possibly perform simple dance moves, as part of the traditions at a Punjabi wedding. Although in a sense, revealing the reality beneath the film set could be seen as a form of ‘disenchantment’, there’s a very different kind of magic that comes to light when participants become privy to the entire process, and finally see the fruits of their labour at the red carpet gala in September.

Lizard on the Wall is undoubtedly set to be one of the biggest highlights of this year’s O.P.E.N., and Rajagopal’s innovative approach to closing the gap between worlds of creator and consumer an act of sheer genius. Book your place early, because god knows there’s plenty of people who’ll be vying for their chance to nab this claim to fame!

Photo Credit: Jeannie Ho

The filming of Lizard on the Wall takes place on 30th June, 1st and 2nd July. Participants will gather at 72-13 for a shuttle bus to bring them to the secret filming location. The film will receive a red carpet premiere during SIFA itself, at midnight on 9th September at The Projector. Tickets available here.

On our Instagram page @bakchormeeboy, look out for our The O.P.E.N. posts and simply comment to answer the question ‘What is the opening event of The O.P.E.N.?’ (Hint: It’s this post!) and stand a chance to win a PAIR of O.P.E.N. passes! 

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