Lonely but not alone, this film showcases how living a life of neglect can challenge one’s own sanity and safety. Catch this horror flick on JioCinema on October 2
A man, going through a bitter divorce, finds his kitchen ransacked every time he comes back home. He installs CCTV cameras thinking he has a pest problem. But what he uncovers instead is far more bizarre and macabre
What becomes of a space your beloved has chosen to abandon? Filmmaker Arkish Aftab explores the depths of this existential quandary through his debut film – ‘Rat in The Kitchen.' Set to release on JioCinema on October 2, the film is inspired by a real-life plot weaving a web of mystery and unfurling a strange climax of an urban life marked by neglect.
“We have set the film in Mumbai. Having lived here for the past six years – I relate to the urban isolation that tends to get under one’s skin at times. Despite being surrounded by people, there is a staggering sense of loneliness which comes with living in a city that never stops to ponder,” shares Arkish who came across the original story while surfing Reddit and decided to turn it into a screenplay.
Taking cues from the true incidents, Arkish and his team devised a depressed protagonist, Vikram (Mantra Mugdh), who is undergoing a divorce from his wife, Riya (Aishwarya Desai). Vikram lives a life of despondency and chooses to neglect his health, the condo’s hygiene and incessant calls from Riya. He particularly neglects this one room at the far end of the house – that echoes Riya’s enchanting voice.
Starring Mantra Mugdh and Aishwarya Desai, the film is making waves with nominations at prestigious film festivals like the International South Asian Film Festival Canada, Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival and Bengaluru International Short Film Festival
Loneliness, a lack of sense of belonging and emotional bereavement become the ongoing motif of the film’s universe. Grappling with the new normal, Vikram is survived by alcohol and fond memories of his departed love. By now, the sense of neglect has seeped deeper on multiple levels – emotional, mental, physical as well as moral, and he seems to be losing the grip on his own belongings.
The film takes a dark turn when Vikram realises he is not alone in the house. When he returns home from work, he starts to notice a pattern of his kitchen being burglarised, and his food vanishing day after day. This sets the tone of this eerie thriller which is mounted with the interplay of lights and shadows. The paranoia gets fueled further by cinematic elements of low-key lighting, towering frames and dark hues.
“We have deployed Mumbai Monsoon as a character in the film. Deviating from the norm of romanticising rains – we have used it as a tool to reflect Vikram’s internal turmoil,” shares Arkish. In a seemingly suspended state of time, the gloominess of the weather personifies a desolate man living his life on the edge. Rat in The Kitchen evolves as a neo-noir dance of elements gradually plunging into darkness.
Mantra Mugdh received the award of 'Best Actor' for the short film, at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival (2023)
Skillfully interspersed audio and visual elements run as a common thread providing a cinematic feast for viewers. When it came to the location, the team scoured a house with a certain depth – a pivotal element in unveiling the ultimate discoveries. Together, the Director of Photography – Yash Kamat and Arkish settled on using moonlight and TV light for interior shots, enveloping the scenes in an aura of suspense and mystery.
Another crucial element comes into play with the integration of CCTV footage. The voyeuristic perspectives granted by the footage aptly suit the film's genre, delivering an unsettling insight into who really was stealing the food. This isn't your run-of-the-mill horror; it's a disturbing portrayal of true events that does justice to the build-up with its sterling climax. The discovery of the real rat in the kitchen becomes the revelation of Vikram’s own psychic destitution.
The film is a collaborative effort erected by creative minds of varied expertise. It started off as a reading session between Arkish and the creative producers – Afroz Khan and Purvi. “When Mantra came in, he had his own take on the character which was enriching to the film. I sponged on everyone’s brain to extract flavours, and that’s how the film came to life,” tells Arkish to Midday.
Arkish Aftab, Afroz Khan and Mantra Mugdh (L-R)
The OTT platform lends itself to the film, effectively creating a personalised immersion of atmospheric horror. Although the makers of the film didn’t consider platforms while shooting, it blends well with the intimate style of consuming content. In the director's opinion, the creative flow of the story is more important than optimising frames for OTT vs. big screen. “If one messes with this trajectory – they are not being true to their craft," remarks Arkish.
He belongs to the trailblazing alumni of AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia – Delhi. His filmography began in college with an experimental project – ‘Kirdaar’ where he got the opportunity to write, shoot and direct the 54-minute long thriller. A big fan of the American film director and screenwriter – M. Night Shyamalan, Arkish enjoys writing a plot thick with a twist. Six years ahead, he continues in his element to write another screenplay dense with unexpected turns.
Negligence laced with eerie suspense, becomes the running theme of Rat in The Kitchen. Whether it’s Vikram’s detached life, the inattentive security guard, or the widespread rodent problem in Mumbai – laxity strikes the audience repeatedly through subtexts. Employing the symbolism of rats, the filmmakers illustrate how living like a desolate, has challenged Vikram's sanity, safety and self-reliance.
Arkish remembers feeling an instant connection with the original story. “It’s a reality that I identify with. Living in Mumbai taught me how nobody really has any time to pause and reflect upon their lives. The infectious pace keeps us distracted from the muck, as we keep looking ahead,” he adds.