Filmmaker Anand Gandhi finds cinema a fit medium to solve philosophical conundrums

Early this year, director Anand Gandhi made headlines with his debut feature film Ship of Theseus (SOT). What entered mainstream cinema as an unsuspecting entry from independent filmmakers, snowballed into a movement validating cinema as a mode for philosophical enquiry. Riding this wave, Anand and actor Sohum Shah have begun several projects under their production banner Recyclewala Films. Ahead of his INK 2013 speech today in the city, Anand talks about his future and that of cinema’s. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What has been your biggest takeaway from SOT? Also, in terms of distribution it tried something new by releasing a film in a city by an online voting mechanism. Will you be following that always?

The major lesson has been that of validation — keep doing it; it works. SOT won awards and was celebrated everywhere but the fact that it made it to the cover of Boxoffice India meant that we had cracked into something, entered a space that needed to be entered into and now we can foray further. In terms of distribution, we are constantly trying to evolve new paradigms for that. We believe there is a huge audience for our cinema out there. But we have to use a distribution system that has evolved for a very different kind of cinema, so we are trying to create new infrastructure of distribution. We will always depend though on audience participation.

What projects are Recyclewala Films working on now?

We’ve just finished producing a film named Tumbad directed by Rahi Barve with Sohum in the lead. It’s a period film, set from 1919 to 1948, made with the exact same team of SOT but creating a completely different feel — much larger budget and canvas. It will be out in July 2014. We’re producing several other projects which are at a nascent stage. Adhesh Prasad, editor of Tumbad and SOT, is making a film about the various kinds of social contracts between lovers that have evolved over the last few decades — monogamous, polyamorous, polygamous lovers, marriages, solo and dating. There’s also Rohit Pandey’s absurd impossible-to-describe, twisted reality of a film about an invented world where a man tries to change the position of the stars with a joystick. We’re also producing two documentaries: one by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla about the contemporary political scene and elections in Delhi. The second documentary is on acid attack victims in India. On a personal front, I’m writing a screenplay which tries to create a unity between the various sides of me; trying to manifest the ideas in my academic work in philosophy through films.

Besides being a producer, what is your role in the films under the Recyclewala banner?

We’re working with some of the most talented directors of our generation. Sohum and I work with them to get better scripts, better structure, facilitate their vision and bring people together. I also try and give the central philosophy, a base for all their projects to exist under one umbrella. We’ve also begun Recyclewala Labs which we hope will become a space for proliferation of culture in Mumbai, and hopefully later in Asia. The philosophy guiding us is to take the latest available to us from the latest inferences and conclusions from science, philosophy, technology and design and appropriate it into cinema and performing arts.

At Recyclewala, what is the process of developing philosophical ideas into films?

It’s a constant negotiation between intuition and reason. So everyday at Recyclewala, we come up with new stories. Many young, bright minds have joined us since SOT, and we have thematic similarities in our interests. We’re interested in the evolution of psychology, the evolution of emotions, the life sciences, how technological systems — social, political, scientific, economic and philosophical, those that we create outside of our biology, shape us, and shape our interactions, our relationships, our emotions.

You’ve said previously that your work with theatre has more to do with filmmaking now than your stint in television. Could you explain that connection?

One of my earliest plays, Sugandi, which I wrote when I was 19, won many awards in the theatre circuit then. That was a validation of the work I was doing because the themes that play was about, are those I’m still interested in: about organisation vs individual, about the continuum between polarities, between life and death, chaos and order, spontaneity and design.

After theatre and TV, is cinema now your chosen medium of expression?

Well, I’m very curious about a few questions which I want to resolve and I think cinema is a great medium for that. Because you can do everything with it — you can enquire, you can propose, you can philosophise, you can create experiences, create narratives, make it visceral and vibrant and palpable. You can create characters, situations and conflicts that are identifiable, and through identifiability you can solve strong philosophical conundrums. It’s a profound medium. Yes, I will continue to make films.