Anand Gandhi talks about working on Helicopter Eela, Tumbbad and directing a biological sci-fi drama next

Devansh Sharma

October 12, 2018 11:48:20 IST

Five years after making the Hindi film industry stand up and take notice of his directorial venture Ship of Theseus, Anand Gandhi has returned as a writer (of Helicopter Eela) and director (creative director of Tumbbad). Firstpost got in touch with him for an interaction about the two films that release this week, his upcoming project as a writer-director, and why he is hopeful of virtual reality making it big in India.

You have adapted your Gujarati play Beto Kaagdo into a Hindi feature film Helicopter Eela. How difficult was it to translate theatre into film and Gujarati into Hindi?

In Helicopter Eela, I am only the writer. It was a very interesting experience as the play I had written many years ago, I was also the director. There I had a very different kind of authorship. In translating it to film, one aspect that I kept gravitating towards was how to invoke how I felt about my mother. I was influenced by my mother deeply as a child. I was raised by a single mother, which was partly the inspiration behind the play and hence, the film. My constant desire was to try and replicate what I used to feel and the reasons I used to feel so for my mother. So I tried to focus singularly on the character and to create a character who is inspiring in her presence, in her range, in abilities to do things that are not expected of her. She is inspiring as a young ambitious person, an independent woman, a mother, who takes her rights very seriously and claims those rights without ever feeling ashamed of doing so. I've taken all these aspects from my mother's life and used them in the film in ways that weren't even plausible in the play.

Kajol in a still from Helicopter Eela. YouTube

Kajol in a still from Helicopter Eela. YouTube

Aanand L Rai said that Tumbbad is a horror film that scares you, but only from greed. With films like Pari and Stree, what do you think about Bollywood warming up to horror films with social commentary?

I approach horror in an academic way. During the making of Tumbbad, I fell back on a huge amount of literature of horror as allegory of social evil, whether it's greed, patriarchy or shift of power structures. On a daily basis, we are 'horrified' by news. We use this word a lot for the realities that 'horrify' us. These horrors remind us that the worst in us still exist and need to be countered with forces of civility. Increasingly, Indian cinema is warming up to the idea that horror films are basically a manifestation of the worst part of humanity.

What is your next directorial about? Why did you feel the need for it to be an American co-production?

It's a science fiction drama. It's been something that I've been writing for years now. What's exciting is that it's a biological science fiction drama. There is an emergent movement in the zeitgeist in understanding how our behaviour has been formed by the co-evolution we've had as a species for the last hundreds of thousands of years. I had hinted at this casually in Ship of Theseus. Given that it was an English language film, given that it had actors from around the world, and given that it is based in parts around the world like the US, Europe and China, we planned it as an American co-production. A really wonderful American co-producer, Larry Brilliant, came on board and the project got accelerated.

Anand Gandhi. Facebook

Anand Gandhi. Facebook

AR Rahman said that his directorial debut Le Musk will not have an India release as of now because we do not have the infrastructure to optimise a virtual reality experience. As a pioneer of virtual reality entertainment in India, do you feel Indian creative minds have the vision, but not the infrastructure to materialise the world in their heads?

From AR to me, everyone who has been involved in VR, has thought about this. In fact, Rahman and I have met a couple of times to discuss the scope of VR in India. And we do agree that there's an infrastructural issue that is being dealt with. I have always been radical in my optimism, in doing things that aren't infrastructurally possible in this part of the world. From the couple of films I've worked, neither Ship of Thesus, nor An Insignificant Man, nor Tumbbad have been considered comfortably producable films in this ecosystem. I've always been excited about creating new infrastructure possibilities, along with creating new kinds of experiences. Dissemination is a massive challenge. It is not a trivial challenge by any means. If people like AR, me and like-minded minds come together, we can put in place an infrastructure. For example, when Ship of Theseus was considered unfit for dissemination, Kiran Rao came on board to facilitate deployment. Similarly, we were told that a pure documentary like An Insignificant Man won't get a wide theatrical release in India, but we managed that. And for Tumbbad, Aanand L Rai came on board and created the infrastructure.

Since your filmmaking interests range from indie films to VR experiences, do you feel the boom of streaming services will limit theatrical experiences to only the event movies?

A part of what you're saying is right. But I think there will always be space for a cinematic experience. I don't think it's about big and small. It's about the density of a cinematic experience. There will be films that are meant to be enjoyed in the theatres. These will be films, the experience of which will be maximised when you're sitting in a dark hall. It has nothing to do with the scale. What kind of a visual auditory experience the film will provide is the major factor that will govern whether the audience wants to go to the theatres. So a wide variety of films will co-exist in theatres, and not just superhero movies. A good example is the perception that the video would destroy the radio star. It did happen for some time. But the radio made its way back in a grand way as podcast, which is a very important tool of cultural dissemination today. So films will also co-evolve with various forms of media.

You have said you always looked out for projects to direct through which the audience can experience a sense of 'awe'. Is that also the primary yardstick in choosing the films you want to back as a producer?

Absolutely. That is the central principle of my films. One of the key things that I was moved by Tumbbad was the cinematographer Pankaj Kumar's vision on how the film will produce an experience like any other. That is again answering the previous question. Would it be the big films? I think it'll be films that inspire a certain kind of awe in people. And awe can be inspired by using a variety of strategies. Visual auditory experiential narrative strategies can be synthesised to provide films that make the audience experience awe. Those are the films that people will keep going to the theatres for.

Updated Date: Oct 12, 2018 13:56 PM