You can’t keep Ananth Narayan Mahadevan away from filmmaking even during the ongoing pandemic. The short film he shot in the lockdown, along with critically-acclaimed features, are the official selections for prestigious fests. The filmmaker talks about these honours and his debut production. Excerpts: Excerpts:
Reportedly, you are all set to start work on a dream project, The Storyteller, based on a short story by Satyajit Ray, originally titled Golpo Boliye Tarini Khuro...
Yes, we roll in March 2022, with Paresh Rawal, Naseeruddin Shah, Revathy and Tannishtha Chatterjee headlining the cast. It will be made as a Hindi feature film and produced by Suchhanda Chatterjee and Shubha Shetty, with whom I collaborated earlier on Bittersweet, to commemorate the birth centenary of Satyajit Ray.
Incidentally, Bittersweet and a 17-minute short, The Knocker, are official selections for the Indian Panorama at the upcoming 52nd International Film Festival of India (IFFI). How does it feel?
Awesome, more so after being told by a jury member that it’s a unique distinction for one filmmaker to have two films being screened at IFFI, in the feature and non-feature film categories. That it’s unprecedented makes it all the more exciting.
The Knocker is almost like a cottage industry film, which grew out of the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing from not wielding or facing the camera for months during the coronavirus-triggered lockdown that confined people to their homes. Since I have a Sony HD camera, I decided to single-handedly shoot a film during the pandemic, doing everything myself — from conceptualising, writing the script, acting in it and directing it.
What kind of challenges did this one-man show bring on?
The primary challenge was to ensure it didn’t look forced or like an extended selfie. I broke all rules of filmmaking to come up with something out-of-the-box and The Knocker’s long shelf life and the appreciation it received has surprised me. I never imagined it would get a world premiere at the Four Corners Film Festival in the US and win Best Director and Scriptwriter Awards at the Rajasthan International Film Festival. The rules of selection for these fests are stringent.
Bittersweet also has enjoyed a long and successful festival run since premiering at Busan, with screenings all over the world...
And now IFFI, which is like the crowning glory. It’s my fifth film to be selected for our most prestigious film fest, after Red Alert, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, Gour Hari Dastaan: The Freedom File and Mai Ghat: Crime No. 103/2005. We couldn’t make the cut last year because we wrapped up the film only in August-September. After all the virtual fests that I couldn’t attend in person, it will be fun to meet other filmmakers, exchange thoughts on cinema, answer questions from the audience at the end of the screening and, hopefully, strike a few deals at IFFI.
With theatres opening up now, are you looking for a release for Bittersweet?
We will wait till January-February by when restrictions are expected to ease further. Also, by then the National Awards would be announced and I’m hoping for recognition in some category, maybe even Best Actress as debutante Akshaya Gaurav is exceptional. We will have a theatrical release, followed by an online one. Incidentally, Bittersweet is also one of the recommended films at the NFDC Film Bazaar, while Mai Ghat Crime No 103/2005, a film on Dalit dilemma and police brutality, is the official Indian entry at the SAARC International Film Festival.
Has all the recognition for Bittersweet helped alleviate the misery of the sugarcane cutters? They are forced to undergo hysterectomies by contractors and gynaecologists so they won’t miss out on even a day’s work during the harvest season because they are menstruating.
Things haven’t changed much yet, but at least our film has created much-needed awareness about what is happening in the interiors of Maharashtra. At the Indian Film Festival in Houston where it was adjudged Best Feature Film, the shocked audience drew parallels between these hysterectomies and the abuse of the womb across the world. CNN TV18 has done a show on it, at least people are talking about the atrocities in Bheed now, but the cops and NGO workers admit it’s not easy to break a nexus which is so strong and has such a huge role to play on the economy.
And what’s happening with your debut production, Time To Go?
We have submitted it for the Berlin International Film Festival, if we are unlucky there, I will try and take it to Cannes. We will launch it properly in January.