In an interview with Outlook, filmmaker Anand Gandhi talks about his upcoming project, Emergence, which is set in the post-pandemic world. “Emergence is the story of bit by bit building of resilience through human ingenuity as scientists and everyday heroes create solutions,” says Gandhi. Excerpts:
‘Emergence' is about the pandemic. Tell us a little about it? When did the idea of making this film occur to you?
I started working on the script in 2015 right after finishing the shoot for Tumbbad. The idea of a rigorously accurate biological science fiction had been lingering in my head since Ship of Theseus. Amid all the zombification and the Statue of Liberty splitting devastation, few creators have ever stopped to consider what an existential threat might look like at ground level. How would it play out over the course of days, weeks, months? Not in a post-apocalyptic desert ruin of a city, nor in a race to survival as the doomsday approaches, but in the slow creeping up of effects as the world adjusts and adapts to a “new normal”. Emergence is the story of bit by bit building of resilience through human ingenuity as scientists and everyday heroes create solutions.
Your films Tumbbad, Ship of Theseus, An Insignificant Man have fandom even after all these years. How do you react to that?
I feel all my work till now is only an icebreaker. I am glad that it has resonated with the curiosity of a very vast audience. The best, however, is yet to be.
Tumbbad has been called a masterpiece of Indian cinema. How challenging do you think it is to make content that breathes for such a long span of time?
All artists are willing to suffer for their work. Very few are willing to learn to draw. I try not to focus on the romance of the struggle, as hard as it may be, but on the rigour of learning. With this shift in focus, the only thing that matters to me is creating a deeply meaningful experience for my viewers who are paying me with three hours of their lives and attention. Everything else follows.
An Insignificant Man is a non-fiction political thriller that documented the birth and rise of the Aam Aadmi Party. What were some challenges you faced while working on it?
Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla are nothing short of being visionaries. They launched themselves at the story of an emerging democratic discourse at a time when most media looked at it with tired cynicism. In the process of producing the film, I have expanded my own understanding of the present and the future of democratic systems. We had to battle, among other things, uninformed and myopic censorship, but because of a fair jury, we won the battle. We are committed to making more and more of such films in the years to come.
Aamir Khan called Ship of Theseus a gem of a film. Could you talk in brief about your creative process and how the concept came about?
Aamir and Kiran have been extremely kind and generous to me with their time and ideas. The film’s concept had simmered in my head for years before it started distilling into a plot. The questions that the film takes head-on are questions I had asked my entire life and looked for answers in western philosophy, Indian DarÅÂÂÂana and practices. I found the most incredible answers in evolutionary biology. The film was an attempt to introduce audiences to some of the epiphanies I had arrived at.
Whose craft do you like the most? Your favourite actor and why?
Daniel Day Lewis, Cate Blanchett, and Hugo Weaving inspire the greatest awe in me. Irrfan was a rare actor in Hindi cinema. His ability for nuance came from the vastness of his being—he lived so many lives that he could bridge his way into the most disparate characters. Manoj Bajpayee continues to remain one of the most prolific and still underused actors of Hindi cinema. I am expanding my own ideas from completely new insights I am gathering from my partner Kani Kusruti about the craft of acting. She has exposed me to the relationship between breath and meaning—how the breath is indeed the string to puppeteer the rest of the actor’s self. Another actor who wields his breath in this manner is my dear friend Neeraj Kabi—he has a monastic rigour towards his practice.
As a filmmaker how do you feel about OTT? Is it the future of entertainment?
It’s the present of entertainment and it’s full of possibilities.
Are people going to fall out of the habit of theatrical experience?
Unlikely (laughs). The thing about human cultural experience is that a medium innovation expands the scope of expression, rarely replaces another medium entirely. You see, video didn’t kill the radio star, but video forced radio to innovate.
What is it that you enjoy most? Web shows, films, or plays, and why?
I enjoy shows, films and plays equally. It’s easier to find great cinema than shows and plays. I miss good theatre. When I travel, I end up watching three to four plays in a week.