“The most significant film to have come out of India in a long time,” Shekhar Kapur agreed with Shyam Benegal, as they chatted about that one film that is making every Indian movie buff around the world proud.
Imagine an Indian film that competes with the best films around the world (most of them official Oscar entries) and wins the award for Technical Excellence at the Mumbai Film Festival, the Best Artistic Contribution Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Special Mention Jury Prize at the BFI London Film Festival, all over the past month.
Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, a finely crafted anthology film that “questions identity, justice, beauty, meaning and death through the stories of an experimental photographer, an ailing monk and a young stockbroker,” is sailing around the world, winning acclaim at every festival it has been to. Toronto, Tokyo, London, Mumbai and to Dubai and Brisbane, next.
Very rarely does everybody rave about a film they have seen. Anand Gandhi, the director of Ship of Theseus, has found himself in the bad books of many for consistently maintaining that Bollywood and most of Indian cinema embarrasses him.
But wait, don’t judge him already. Watch Ship of Theseus to understand where he comes from. The film charts a territory that Indian cinema has rarely explored — intellectually, thematically and artistically. Despite the layers of philosophy and content that triggers off a thousand thoughts, it’s also a surprisingly accessible and simplistic film that breaks down any preconceived notions of what the term ‘arthouse’ constitutes.
But is Anand happy to live with the tag of being so arrogant when he’s just starting out? “It’s not arrogance. I say it with utmost humility and out of my love for cinema,” explains Anand. “It depresses me and disturbs me when I watch bad films. Unfortunately, no peers are making cinema that excites me. I expect the same kind of honesty and criticism from my peers. I’m not being on a high horse.”
Does this mean he hasn’t ever enjoyed a single Bollywood film? “I have been raised on it. I have enjoyed it till I was 15 or 16, but stories that fulfil my intellectual and emotional needs have not existed in Bollywood and I have always been disappointed. Name any film and we can argue about it. I can tell you why it didn’t work for me.”
We name a cult gangster film that would’ve been a great choice for India at the Oscars. “I did enjoy parts of it. I did laugh at the jokes. But I do laugh even when my friends crack jokes. That doesn’t mean they are great filmmakers.”
“I really hope I have peers who can challenge me. I’m just saying Aisa Mat Karo Yaar because I love cinema deeply. Kharab hai toh kharab hai... I have felt like this for many years, even before I had any talent. As an audience and lover of cinema,” he says.
Cinema for the soul
Does he really think that his brand of cinema for the soul really has any chance at the box office that’s driven by star power and marketing spends?
“What we are trying to do is invent new systems. Existing systems are not enough because a film like this has not been made before. We don’t have many strong predecessors. We have to invent something,” says Anand.
“Over the last one year, independent cinema has got some attention but not been able to reach out to an audience because of the lack of a viable model. We need to create an ecosystem that exists outside of the theatre chain. We decide which theatres will show our film, why go for a worldwide release? We start with a small release... maybe one in Pune, then Bombay. We have the manpower to do one city at a time. We are tapping into databases we have access to in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore… people who have been attending screenings. The idea is to tap into very specific demographics. Recyclewala Films [Anand’s banner] is also looking at investing in an arthouse theatre space for independent films.”
How did he manage to take Ship of Theseus this far? “I have to give the credit to my producer Sohum Shah for the support and for believing in us. I have to thank Anurag Kashyap for putting us on to Fortissimo last year. I make it a point to mention this at every possible occasion. I’m really thankful.”
The one film that he is excited about is the period horror drama Tumbad produced by Recyclewala Films and directed by Rahi Anil Barve. “Tumbad is going to be so exciting in terms of craftsmanship. It’s an eerie, moody, dark film that will make people say aisa hona chahiye (a film should be like this!)”
Anand plans to release Ship of Theseus in India by January before he moves on to his next. “I will probably be starting my next in February. It’s a small film that I am making for my grandmother... Something she would enjoy. It’s a simple emotional story in Hindi.”