In conversation with Anand Gandhi

First Cut

Anand Gandhi’s very first feature-length film ‘Ship of Theseus’ has got phenomenal critical appreciation. After it’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was called “the hidden gem of the year”. As Anand Gandhi prepares for the film’s India release, he made a quick stop at our Bangalore office and told us why despite an unusual premise the film is not for a niche audience.

Excerpts from a candid chat:

Mira Nair told me in a recent interview that she found your work very interesting. What’s it like to get such recognition for your very first feature-length film?

It’s been very reassuring; the last 7-8 months since our September Toronto premiere have been constantly reassuring. Everyone has responded very warmly to the film, especially peers, senior filmmakers, who have been making really good cinema in the last couple of decades, have said really kind things about the film and that’s very reassuring.

Your film has a very unusual premise, do you think it will find a connect with the Indian audience?

I am pretty certain that there is a huge mass of Indian audience right now that is just not been catered to by cinematic culture in a long time. Though the stories are unusual but they are narratives, the film is not an experimental film; it’s not a formulist experiment of any kind. It’s a very clear straightforward classic narrative feature, it has a very clear storyline, it has a very clear set of plot points, conflicts and dilemmas.

I think that entire point has been forgotten in the longest time, the point that we go to a piece of literature or a piece of cinema not to see what we have seen a million times but to have a new experience and a new insight, to hopefully even expand our view of looking at life a little bit, that entire point has been forgotten for whatever reason. My friends and I are all cinephiles, we all love cinema and we have felt that vacuum for a long time.

Are you encouraged by the fact that non-formulaic films like ‘Paan Singh Tomaar’ and ‘Kahaani’ have also done well?

I am glad that all sorts of cinema are getting attention. I am really glad that really diverse kind of cinema is being made right now. The diversity of cinema is expanding and people are taking up kindly to that kind of expansion of culture, so that I am very encouraged by.

Is it true that you began your career writing dialogues for Indian soaps like – ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ and ‘Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki’?

It’s misreported; I didn’t start my career writing for soaps. I did write for ‘Kyunki…’ and ‘Kahaani…’ but I was 19 at that time when I wrote for them, I retired by the time I was 20. Again it was not the beginning of my career, it was one of the small things I did. I also did theatre which is much more relevant to me than the two shows I wrote, not just because of the genre of work or the space of work it is but also because of the concepts I started developing in some of these plays, have a much direct continuum, much direct relationship with what I am doing today than the television writing.

The ‘Ship Of Theseus’ has three different stories, which one is the closest to your heart?

It is impossible for me to make that distinction, I wrote these stories because these three stories meant something to me. Each of these characters meant something to me, each of these characters was a manifestation of my own internal dilemmas and conflicts in one way or the other. They are also manifestations of philosophical conflicts that my closest friends have.

What I have also begin to notice after having traveled with the film all this while, in the last few months…. I have begin to be able to pigeonhole people by the story they respond to the most. I can’t articulate clearly because its very intuitive.

How much has Kiran Rao’s association helped with your film?

Kiran has been amazing, she saw the film last year November, the film had been to a few festivals by then. We became very good friends and we started talking to each other about cinema. At one point I thought that it would be nice to distribute the film in India but we had not given it a serious thought till then, we were still reveling under the celebration elsewhere. I shared it with Kiran and she agreed to come on board and present the film.

When she agreed, I thought she would give a name to the film and that will carry it but instead she actually came on board to design the entire distribution strategy of the film. She sat with us on a day-to-day basis, got UTV on board, she made Ronnie Screwvala and Siddharth see the film, they loved the film, she made everyone in UTV see the film, she came on board with all her commitment to getting the film reach out to audiences, to building the infrastructure for the film to get to the theatres.

What are your expectations from the Indian audience?

I am expecting that the film will grow, my expectations are nothing less than a serious engagement from the entire country with the film. How long will that take? I don’t know, it might take this release, it might take another decade for the whole country to have seen this film but I want everyone in this country to see this film.

That’s why I made the film; I made it with the complete intention to engage with the entire community and not with certain select groups of people. The film is not for a niche audience, it is for everyone who is interested in enquiring, in thinking, in engaging with beauty, with conversation. Inferences of philosophical enquiry are never beyond the scope of any community. Cinema can be constructed with a sense of sophistication that presumes a certain kind of grooming on the part of the audience. If the audience has not been groomed for engaging in a certain aesthetic or conversational exercise, they would not be able to access the film at all.

There can be cinema like that and there could be cinema that is meant for mass consumption, which would not excite or interest people who have already sampled a certain kind of cinema but this film does not fall into either categories. It’s a film that is engaging with the most relevant questions of life, this film has a childlike curiosity, a childlike naivety and childlike ambition. All attempts of philosophical enquiry, all attempts of scientific enquiry are meant to be shared with everyone. The scope of philosophical enquiry is always open to complete community engagement.

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