Mumbai-based Ananth Mahadevan is fast turning into the wonder kid of Indian cinema. Following the success of his Marathi
film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, this award-winning and multi-lingual filmmaker, with
20 years experience in Indian television
and on stage, is now gathering fame with
his Hindi films.
Two of his films, Gour Hari Dastaan, a
black comedy and Rough Book a harsh
look at the Indian education system were
shown at the New York Indian Film
Festival. He was the only director to have
this honor apart from Vishal Bhardwaj.
Many distinguished regional film makers
fail when they make a Hindi film. What is
lost in translation?
Satyajit Ray said, after making Shatranj
Ke Khilari that he would still not be at
home in the Hindi film industry for several reasons, in spite of Shatranj Ke Khilali
being a success.
So, somewhere, when the great masters
like Ray have spoken, (what can others
say) very, very small fry like me, who have
been fortunate enough to be in the city of
Bombay, now Mumbai, because we have
had the opportunity to showcase cinema
not only in Hindi but also in Marathi, the
local and regional language... I’m looking
forward to making a film in Malayalam
Somewhere I realized that the local flavor, which people capture when (they) do
a Tamil film, or a Malayalam film, or a
Bengali film, or an Odia or an Assamese
film, you try and come into a language
that is considered more widely appreciated
or widely known and then you falter
because you try to cater to too many
tastes. In India, language is so generic that
you do not know whom to cater to. Even
popular mainstream cinema used to actu-
ally have several distinct scenes. The rea-
son why the masala world came because
there were so many ingredients put to
please everybody from the north, south,
east and west.
So, when you come into the Hindi world,
you either have a subject that is strictly to
be made in Hindi, the national language;
like I made Gour Hari Dastaan which is
actually about an Odia freedom fighter;
but he had settled in Maharashtra a for 50
years. So the film had to be made in
Or, like Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, my previ-
ous Marathi film, which was about this
lady who picks up abandoned infants from
the street and gives them shelter. She was
from the interior region. I would not have
been doing justice if I had made the film
in Hindi. I had to make it in regional
Marathi, very, very colloquial Marathi.
So, if we claim to be making authentic
films, and claim to do justice to the char-
acters involved, then the language plays a
very important part in India because there
are so many languages. When we try to
make a movie work in a different lan-
guage, it is like making an English born
(person) speak in Hindi.
What is your spoken language?
My mother tongue is Tamil. Having been
born in Kerala, my ancestral home, I know
Malayalam also. I am called a Malayali
from Kerala, who speaks Tamil, who lives
in Mumbai, writes and speaks in English
and makes Hindi and Marathi films. That
is my national disintegration.
How did you get into the movies?
I seek to really, really raise the bar for
myself (because I’ve self-taught myself) in
cinema. I am basically a science graduate.
But cinema has fascinated me so much
that I’ve watched all the great masters,
especially the European masters and the
Japanese like Kurosawa and the Russian
I think cinema in India, unfortunately, is
not cinema. We are not doing cinema. We
are filming circuses.
Anybody who has a
camera and can run a
film role thinks that
he makes cinema. It
We are in the basic
We are still strug-
gling with the alpha-
bet ABCD, whereas
others have written
essays and great poems. That is the com-
parison. We are in the very elementary
stage in India, except for masters like G
Aravindan and Adoor Gopalakrishnan and
earlier Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen and Ritwik
Ghatak and all these greats, who have
actually inspired us to continue fighting
for good cinema in India and raise the bar
for other film makers.
We want all our films to sell tickets —
and even if we sell one ticket, it is called
commercial cinema. This whole thing
about commercial and art cinema — I
think these terms have come only because
our cinema is so bad, that anything that is
a little unusual is now termed art cinema.
This is very sad. I would like to call all the
circuses and all the so called mainstream
films. I would like to call Adoor
Gopalakrishnan’s cinema as real cinema
and the rest of it as parallel cinema. It
should be the other way around.
Tell us about the excitement over Rough
I was given this very grand brief by the
(present) director of one of India’s most
reputed coaching institutes (Aakash
Educational Services Limited) for IIT and
medical entrance exams, Aakash
Chaudhry. So Akaash Chaudhry calls me
up and asks me to make a film that
addresses the education system in India.
It is a very tall order. How do you relate
education with a visual medium? I would
relate it with, say, a literary medium or a
reading material. But how do you relate it
with visuals? This really stumped me
because it was so wide and generic: educa-
tion in India.
How do you address this? It took about
three months to crack the code and then I
realized that there was so much happening
when I spoke to teachers and to institu-
tions and principals, right from the mafia
and the bureaucracy in the education sys-
tem, to the basic triangle between the par-
ents, the student and the teacher, where,
the parent today is really unaware of what
is happening because of the technology
that has built up. The student who says
why do we need teachers because we have
Google? And the teacher trying to sort out
and bridge the gap between the parents
and the student.
So, I thought this was a very interesting
conundrum, that could be tackled through
the emotional journey of a teacher, who
tries to be on her own terms and takes the
bull by the horns, ie the educational sys-
tem by the horns and tell people that it not
about studying, it’s all about
A rough book is what we
had in school. But today, the
entire educational system is
like a rough book which
needs to be ‘faired’ (made
fair or finalized). So, all over
the world, I think, education
is undergoing a change and
we need to take a look at
education very differently.
( Tackling) a subject that I
had never done before — or
one that Indian cinema has
not seriously gone into —
excited me. I don’t remember
any films that have really
tackled the education system
at the core. Are we really educating our
students or are we just making them into
automatons who will get a job and get into
the rush hour of life? Are they really learn-
ing something and applying it and becom-
ing better people?
That is what contributes to a country’s
innovation and success… People who
actually learn rather than study.
I’m really flattered and humbled because
probably I am the only director who has
two films at the NYIFF. But, both these
films — I’m using a cliché — are works of
passion. But, they really, really matter to
me and they are honest films that come
from the heart.
What is up next?
There are a couple of interesting sub-
One is a film which I want to make on
the first ever practicing Indian lady doctor.
Her name was Dr Ratmabhai Rao. She
lived from 1890 to 1940 during the British
rule. Dr Ratmabhai went to England, got
her medical degree and became the first
practicing lady doctor in India. She met
the likes of Alfred Lord Tennyson and
Bertrand Russell in London. That was her
stature. She was India’s first feminist rebel
and she was the person who really created
a revolution in the social system in India.
It’s called Ratmabhai The Odyssey. It is
in Marathi, she was Maharashtrian. But,
of course, we will have a mix of English,
Hindi and Marathi. n
CINEMA WITH A SOUL/NYIFF
M3 THE MAGAZINE ‘We are not doing cinema. We are filming circuses’
Ananth Mahadevan discusses
with Arthur J Pais/India Abroad
the language of films and the
myth of art cinema in India
Ananth Mahadevan, inset, takes a hard look at the Indian education system through his film, Rough Book (above).