Editor Marissa Carruthers speaks to director Amit Dubey about psychological thriller, Mind Cage, a new film is throwing the spotlight on the fragility of mental health issues and the lack of understanding surrounding it in Cambodia.
Cambodia is a country of contrasts – rich and poor, traditional and modern, urban and rural. As the country continues to develop at a rapid rate, the gap between these divides can often widen as society struggles to move forward at a unified pace.
This couldn’t be more apparent in Indian director Amit Dubey’s latest release, Mind Cage, which tackles the country’s complex understanding – or lack of – and attitudes towards mental health issues and the treatment of those battling them, a subject that is often ignored in the Kingdom.
Three years in the making, Mind Cage follows Phnom Penh-based psychiatrist Sarin, who stumbles across traditional healer Mony working his magic in a rural village. Using methods passed down from generations of ancestral healers, he is keeping a young girl plagued by psychological problems tied and bound in a wooden cage in a bid to rid her of the “evil spirits” trapped inside.
Disturbed by what he sees, Sarin intervenes, urging the family to use modern medicine to help their daughter instead of these aged practises. With the healer left humiliated, what ensues is a tortured tale of revenge and destruction, as Mony’s mind games cause the family to plunge in a downward spiral, relationships disintegrate and their sanity is picked apart, eventually pushing them over the edge.
“I was born and raised in a small town in South India, where I witnessed many similar situations of traditional healing and superstitious beliefs,” Dubey says, adding the idea for the film came about while making short videos for the Centre of Child and Adolescent Mental Health in Takhmao a few years ago.
“It sparked curiosity and conversations on the fragile situation of mental health in Cambodia. This gave birth to the idea of a film about a psychiatrist. As the discussions went deeper, we created the antagonist, who is a traditional healer. I hope the audience can reflect on the reality of mentally challenged people being locked up in cages.”
Shot in Cambodia in 2015, scenes take place in Phnom Penh and surrounding areas, such as Arey Ksath and Put Mondol, near Kian Svay. Stunning cinematography uses vibrant colours to showcase pristine rural landscapes that sit in sharp contrast to the cityscapes that follow. A dramatic score moves the film along at a rapid pace, and the twists and turns along the way mean the plot is packed full of surprises.
“My inspiration comes from films that make you think and not everything is made obvious,” says Dubey. “Although the story is quite simple, there are various dots and clues behind most of the scenes that I hope the audience will think about.”
Having previously worked as a crew member on several Cambodian feature films during his six-year stint in the country, Dubey was able to pick up the nuances of the Kingdom’s industry and the elements involved in production.
“This led to creating a small team of skilled people who also became good friends, which made the production an exciting collaboration,” he recalls.
Working with a limited budget, Dubey set about researching and writing the script with co-writer Michael Hodgson, recruiting the actors and scouting for locations.
“A lack of experienced producers in Cambodia meant taking up the roles of directing as well as producing, which can get very overwhelming,” Dubey says. “Besides making decisions on all creative aspects, to worry about logistics and finances at the same time can be a daunting task. However, it is a great environment working on the set with a team of dedicated people, and the possibilities are immense for creating quality content. The difficult part is post-production, which still has a long way to go.”
Despite the challenges, three months of pre-production helped in planning the shoot, and Dubey says filming went smoothly, with the crew wrapping up a day ahead of schedule, managing to squeeze in 25 additional scenes that were not included in the original script.
The result is a powerful film that is beautifully shot, with the storyline achieving Dubey’s ultimate goal of challenging the audience’s view on psychological illnesses and sparking a debate.
Rous Mony pulls off a convincing performance as Mony, portraying his character’s demise as he wreaks his vicious revenge. Acclaimed actress Sveng Socheata puts on an astounding performance as the tormented psychiatrist’s wife. Her strong beliefs in the superstitious serving to highlight how entrenched this remains, even in modern Cambodian society. Keo Ratha projects the traumatised doctor’s demise with conviction, and Sarita Reth and Savin Phillip play Nila and Vichea with precision.
With the film making its debut at this year’s Cambodia International Film Festival, followed by a second screening at Bophana Centre last month, Dubey has submitted Mind Cage to a string of international film festivals and hopes to release it locally within the next few months.