‘A film is a moment in culture’
He faced a lot of problems convincing friends and others in the films fraternity that something as complex and thought provoking as Ship of Theseus could catch the imagination of the young. Yet, Anand Gandhi, a filmmaker who loves to experiment, went ahead and turned it into a beautiful film which won the National Award for the best film. In a conversation with Hardnews, he discusses his disillusionment with the new government, the problems facing independent filmmakers and the need for better films
Sadiq Naqvi and Lily Tekseng Delhi
How do you look at the new government?
I have switched myself off. I am not too excited the way it is shaping up. I feel I can continue making any relevant contribution by doing very little very well. I have been trying to focus on my films. As a filmmaker I have a set of concerns, and as a citizen I have another set of concerns. I feel nervous about the lack of a strong opposition. I feel nervous that we don’t have strong watchdogs in Parliament. I was not imagining that we would fundamentally change the way people are going to vote in this country but I was hoping that there would be enough movement and enough need to have strong individuals as watchdogs who would be out there just to make you feel a bit safer as a citizen. I know free speech is going to be increasingly difficult, as I sense from a day-to-day basis from the little news that comes my way. It is going to be difficult to question. It is going to be difficult to challenge the notions that are being manufactured on a daily basis. Newspapers from page one to page 10 are splattered with the same kind of PR that won the elections. I am extremely disillusioned. This machinery is so well established. For example, how to use ridicule as a weapon to completely destroy an idea that might be noble and honest. When you can’t attack an idea with facts, attack it with ridicule. That strategy has been adopted for years by all kinds of regimes and you see that in action on a daily basis. So what I am left with is inability to participate in that dialogue actively. While that is happening I have to find ways how to facilitate any dialogue and that I can do by making films, by producing the kind of films where we can have the conversations that we want to.
The last time we met, you spoke about how you want to take the film to a larger audience in small towns and so on. Has that happened?
Just the bandwidth of what Recyclewala Labs produced in the last two years, produced Ship of Theseus, released Gulabi Gang in theatre, produced Proposition for a Revolution, New Borns and Tumbad, is actually a bunch of eight people. We are doing a huge amount of work with a very small team and practically no resources. There is a lot which is happening. For example, the open source idea for Ship of Theseus, where the entire 50-hour footage will be available free to download for people to do whatever they want , make new films out of it or make a new Ship of Theseus out of it. We thought it will be easy. But it turned out to be a humungous project. It took us eight months to put it together. So every small thing takes so much and we don’t have that much. As a start-up we are still at a very nascent stage.
I think, once Tumbad comes out we’ll probably step into the next phase of our collective existence where we can push these things even further, follow those dreams of taking our material to small-town India and villages in India.
What kind of films actually get funded, when it comes to Bollywood?
The kind of films that have a track record of selling, have markets in place, have consumption in place, the kind of frivolity that sells everywhere else in the world, the kind of easy, pulp fiction that sells everywhere. Pulp fiction sells, we know that sex and violence sell and in India it becomes a euphemised version, becomes gangster violence and romance of sex and violence; but that’s what’s going to sell at the end of it, these are the two primitive instincts that we carry in spite of our civilised behaviour, these are the simulations that people find most engaging. Any kind of introspection beyond that is going to demand a lot of intellectual resources from the community.
There is a serious dearth of scriptwriters…
Which is not the cause, it’s the consequence, it’s a consequence of decades of discouragement of good writing, there’s absolutely no incentive for innovation, there is a discouragement towards innovation. A Salman Khan film doesn’t really need sharp writing, it needs a certain kind of writing but it doesn’t need informed intellectually engaged writers, and hence it’s discouraged heavily and we now have a generation of writers who have been informed by a certain incentive system that is completely detrimental to this cinematic culture.
What are the problems that you face as an independent filmmaker? Has there been any attempt by the state machinery to look after you?
Probably, in another two decades. It’s early to ask that question. We won the national award, if that’s an encouragement, but after it won we were hoping that Doordarshan would buy the film as it’s supposed to. It’s been a good six months, probably more, nobody from that part of the world has spoken to us and we are not expecting their call anytime soon. The machinery works in a certain way and there are these agents, there are these middlemen who take a big cut. The way to get in touch with Doordarshan is to go through these middlemen and they get all the forms done and all the paperwork done and keep a big cut. We don’t want to do that. They should buy the film because it’s the same stage that gave us the award, the same stage should be showing the film. So again, we don’t have the bandwidth to go after the channel, we are hoping that the state would participate only to that extent. The government needs to start looking at the possibility of giving tax redemption to films of cultural value, or films below a certain budget with cultural value. They can have very simple parameters, and some silly films would also end up benefiting but that’s fine. So, the government can ask NFDC to list 15 international festivals that are of any relevance. The moment a filmmaker gets past any of these festivals, it should become tax-free in India. A film is a moment in culture, it’s an intersection in culture and that’s how it should be addressed.
There were expectations that Ship of Theseus would be India’s entry to the Oscars. What
I have really no idea about the machinery. And I want to stay away from such a conversation. I really don’t know what happened. Although I think the whole procedure needs to be re-examined. To begin with, it is strange that the Academy has this hierarchical structure where they have invited countries to have their representatives send one film to them. It is one nice place where a lot of people get to see the film, it is nothing more than that. The film has been received well everywhere else. This year has been really good. The last few months have been totally focused on Tumbad, it is turning out really well.