The Xpose came when I needed it the most. I had fun doing it

Last week, I had given Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s The Xpose a negative review. While many filmmakers would have sulked, Mahadevan invites me to watch his play Blame it on Yashraj on a Sunday evening.

As The Father of the Bride in this desi adaptation of the Hollywood film, he is absolutely brilliant in this 45 performance of his 33 play. The veteran of over 4000 performances and over 75 TV shows, the director of over 3000 episodes of TV and 12 feature films was dancing with the energy of a 20-something on stage.

Given that the play has been on for about a year, there were days he would wrap up the day’s shoot for The Xpose by six in the evening and rush to the venue to perform at seven and then wake up again early to start shoot at seven the next morning, Mahadevan tells me when I meet him at HR Musik for an interview the next afternoon, sporting an orange Hitchcock’s Vertigo T-shirt.

The Xpose had done a Rs. 11 crore weekend at the box-office and had already broken even, recovering Rs. 8.5 crore with satellite rights, fetching Rs. 4 crore with music and another Rs. 3 crore from overseas markets. “The theatrical revenue is all profit,” says Mahadevan as a matter of fact.

Yet, this is not the kind of cinema he is associated with.

Having started off his film career with the musical Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar, Mahadevan had made some daringly different films such as the National award-winning Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, Red Alert (about a farmer who finds himself on the side of the naxals once he starts cooking for them) and an experimental film called Staying Alive (a two character film entirely set in an intensive critical care unit).

“Unless a brook goes through marshy land, it doesn’t open up to the sea. Films like The Xpose have helped me make the kind of films I want to make. I had come to do something else, to do the cinema I’ve fed myself upon — Bergman, Godard, Fellini, Keislowski, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Adoor, Aravindan, Ray… Even after 30 years here, I’m still an outsider. I don’t subscribe to a lot of thinking and work patterns here. All they (corporates) are bothered about is the star. They don’t even want to read your script. I’m a survivor and very lucky to be still working, under the circumstances.”

His passion project Gaur Hari Dastaan, his next, stars Vinay Pathak, Konkana Sen Sharma, Tanisshta Chatterjee and Ranvir Shorey. “Gaur Hari Das fought from when he was 14 to 19 for independence and from when he was 35 to 70 for a freedom fighter certificate.”

“Imagine you are doing your studious research work and your friends call you for a game of gully cricket. You go out, play and have fun… and when you come back to your study, you can’t take the result or the game seriously. But what is important is that you had fun. I was doing Gaur Hari Dastaan when Himesh called me to do The Xpose. And it came when I needed it the most. I had fun doing it.”

He seemed to have a lot of fun on stage too with Blame it on Yashraj. Mahadevan had diligently rehearsed his dance steps with choreographer Hormuzd Khambatta. “When you do things with a lot of love, it shows. I love my theatre,” he says.

Don’t theatre actors make as little as Rs. 750 a show?

“I get a little more. Enough to cover conveyance and other stuff but I would do anything for the live response I get from the audience. It’s rewarding in another sense. You go home and sleep well. You don’t even need to have dinner. That’s another high. Not everything can be measured in terms of money or income. I rather be enriched here (head) than here (stomach).”

Mahadevan has just bought the rights to Satyajit Ray’s story ‘Golpo Boliye Tarini Khuro’. “I’m getting into a space ambitiously called global cinema and I want to make it uncompromisingly. So if I have to sell my soul to the devil to do that, I want to do it without losing awareness. I knew what I was doing with The Xpose. I don’t consider it the greatest film ever. What attracted me to the film was that the killer had no motive. It is not a Whodunit. It is “Whydunit”… Even at the end, you can’t say who the killer really is. It is not a Teezri Manzil. This was about people on self-destruct mode, living in a fantasy world, taking their larger than life images seriously… like it really happened in the sixties.”

Did casting Himesh Reshamiyya work against the film? “Critics are weighing him against his image. If this was his first or second film, he would have been viewed differently. How many “wooden” actors today have become comfortable actors? Let him evolve. He has come a long way since the last film.”

Mahadevan himself has evolved since his early days in Bombay. “I started with theatre, then TV and then made the jump to films… from acting to writing to direction. I didn’t jump the queue or the gun. Sai Paranjpye had seen me in The Good Doctor, the Neil Simon play and she was impressed. She cast me in Ados Pados.”

He worked with the best of directors in the eighties when TV content was stronger than film. “I did Ados Pados with Sai Paranjpye, Ghar Jamai with Shridhar Kshirsagar, Kirdaar with Gulzaar, Hum Hindustani with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Khazana with Yash Chopra, Darpan with Basu Chatterjee, Circus with Aziz Mirza and Kayar with M.S. Sathyu (Malayalam) and I got to direct Farooque Sheikh in Chamatkar and introduced R. Madhavan with Ghar Jamai.”

He has documented his journey of 30 years in Indian Television in a book called Being There that should be out later this year.