It is not every day that one witnesses a conversation with a Bollywood filmmaker turn into a discussion on ants and God. But then again, not many people will associate Anand Gandhi with the mainstream Bollywood. His movie, Ship of Theseus (SOT), that released last year and won accolades in many international film festivals, is still widely discussed in film circles.
Sitting in the library of Annapurna Film School at Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, Anand Gandhi explains about his foray into films and his creative process. As a child he had an interest in a lot of things. He wanted to be a magician, a scientist but later he finally stepped into movies to create a space where he can be a jack of all trades. Growing in a typical Mumbai chawl till the age of 13 helped him understand life and people much better.
Talking about how he started, he says that his journey so far doesn’t actually have a linear path. Although he became famous as a scriptwriter for the much acclaimed primetime soap opera, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, he continued to work on plays and poetry as he had been doing ever since dropping out of school. Once his short films caught the attention of world cinema, many people showed interest in working along with him on SOT.
The movie, Anand points out, is the accumulation of all his work so far. The three characters in it of a blind painter, a monk, and a stockbroker exist in a constant state of introspection, trying to understand the events around them. As the paradox in the title suggests, their ideological stand gets questioned at the event of organ donation. “The challenge was to not be didactic and yet have smart characters,” he observes about the protagonists in his film. Charvaka’s character in the film celebrates the atheists’ ideology which is not mostly recognized in the mainstream Indian society. Through the movie, Anand also hopes that he can motivate people to donate organs by showing how many lives that small act can do.
SOT is filled with metaphors of spirituality, human constructs and understanding the nature of the self. Elaborating on the visual art of his film, Anand mentions that the visual elements of the movie take over during some of the non-prescriptive scenes which allow the audience to reflect upon them. “Ship of Theseus”, he defines, “is an intersection of all aspects of life along with a potent reflection of the universe from inside and outside”.
Discussing his future plans, Anand expresses his desire to venture into different types of medium. He reveals that his team and him are working on bringing out a web series and a feature film soon. Presently, he is producing a documentary directed by Megha Ramaswamy. The film is named Newborns and it focuses on the lives of acid attack survivors. He also acknowledges Sohum Shah, the stockbroker with the stolen kidney in SOT, as the central figure in his production team who worked along with him to get the movie made. Sohum is currently assisting Anand in his future projects as well.
Anand was in the city to attend the 4th edition of Hyderabad Literary Festival. He also delivered a lecture on the topic, “There is no free will, but you have a choice” where he discussed the philosophical aspects that go into his films with the audience. He mentions that “life is teleological and we are born here as an accident”. We support other living beings and not just our own selves and though we may think that are our actions are our own, that may not be the case always. He gives the example of the ant and the fungi and how the latter infects the former and controls the ant’s behavior for its benefit.
Anand Gandhi has truly opened up a new page in the language of modern cinema. He has published SOT free on the internet and also has plans to release more than six hours footage of the movie online so that people can download the raw cuts and re-create the movie with their own interpretation.
As a friendly advice to aspiring filmmakers, he says that it is not necessary to work in the mainstream at the very beginning of their career. He advises new directors to make short films encompassed within a script of enquiry and send it to film festivals. He believes that the Indian cineam at present needs a serious reformation and his contribution would be to “create a bubble outside the mainstream cinema that pushes art to change from the outside”.