I was reading somewhere that Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse inspired you to such an extent that you got his sound designer to do the sound for Ship of Theseus. In Turin Horse, the howling wind almost becomes a character in the film. When I’m viewing Ship of Theseus especially in the first story, the sounds of the streets are very important and then in the second story there’s a certain placidity. So could you elaborate on the sound of the film and what kind of a brief did you have for the sound?
Just to kind of clarify something on the situation of the sound designer, what happened was, when my film went into post production and I was looking for a good sound designer to come on board, I had seen the Turin Horse towards the end of my edit, and I did not even imagine that I would be able to get to the sound designer of the Turin Horse because it was such a huge thing for me, the movie had such a great impact on me. What I had thought of was a film I had seen years ago, a film called Katalin Varga and I remember again in that film, the sound design was absolutely stupendous, it was just so beautiful and I remember not having liked the film on the whole. I saw a lot of flaws in the film but the film stayed with me because of the sound design that had a direct continuum with the sound design of the Turin Horse. It has that sense of howling wind, it has a sense of nature destroying, the wind destroying the atmosphere of the world and the characters were getting wiped off constantly by them and I remember the sound design of that movie very clearly.
So I went online and looked up to see and that also seemed like a low budget film, it was a first feature film made by a group of young people who would be more accessible to me. So I went online to find the sound designer of Katalin Varga and I landed up on the page of the designer and it turned out to be a happy co-incidence that the same sound designer had also done the Turin Horse ( Gábor ifj. Erdélyi). So I thought let me take a shot at this and I sent him a mail and he replied immediately, he replied in an hour or something and then we talked over phone. So that’s how it started really.
In Theseus the brief was firstly to create a world for the blind photographer which is not tautological, to not try to do something in the sound design that has already been done in the mise en scene ; so not kind of readdress that has already been addressed in the cinematography and acting. So that was the challenge to kind of do something that is in continuum with and at the same time not repetitive of what was being done in acting and cinematography; to create her world but not in an intrusive way, to have her view on the auditory atmosphere surrounding her but at the same time, give it a certain pathological distance. So that was the long brief for my sound designer that I wanted it to be simulating her experience but only in a way of triggering it and not in a way of replicating it, not trying to imitate it.
The brief for the second story was to create increasingly a space which moved from spontaneous to design. The idea was to go towards a completely inner space because a spontaneous sound design is only a recreation of a certain kind of reality, a sound design that kind of mimics spontaneity. It just upholds the realisation of complete realism. But as we go ahead in the story, the sound design becomes more and more meditative and it becomes an invitation to go with him, so the sound design of the second half of the second story draws heavily upon 2 sounds – one is the sound of the wind mills, once he goes past the windmills, the sounds of the windmill almost kind of continues throughout the story. The second was the sound of the cave from the last shot of the film. That is a certain sound design meta-structure that has been employed. For example, the first moment in the film when you get to the epigraph where you read the Theseus paradox, you get to hear a certain sound in the background and that sound is the sound of the cave and that sound goes pretty much around the midway through the film, in the monk story and then it comes in the end when we see the cave shot.
And the third story was completely the simplest. There was absolutely no brief there. The only brief was to clean up the sound, make it as simple and as real as possible. In the third story the attempt was to make it an absolutely realistic sounding sound.
Yes, in terms of structuring also the third story is more linear than the first two stories…
Yes, I mean the film gets increasingly narrative driven. In the first 20 minutes of the film, there is very little narrative and the film becomes increasingly narrative based. So there’s a meta-structure at the time employed and there’s a micro-structure. The micro-structure for me was an interplay between dichotomies, between order and chaos, between design and spontaneity, between thesis and anti-thesis. So in one shot or scene, we attempt to create order, then we attempt to propose a thesis, we attempt to propose an idea. In the scene following that there’ll be chaos, there’ll be disorder, there’ll be anti-thesis etc. So there’s a micro-structure that goes through the film and then there is a meta-structure. It starts in a very sparse orderly space and increasingly it moves towards a certain chaos.
A critic said that if Turin Horse is the question, Ship of Theseus is the answer. Turin Horse takes off from Nietzsche’s descent into madness. There’s this apocalyptic feel where the mundaness of life becomes claustrophobit. It becomes bleaker and bleaker with each passing day and there’s this suffocating feel but at the same time what shines is the individual struggles and their tenacity to lead on with their lives. Whereas when I view your film, there’s this huge openness, for instance the relation of self with the world. So was Turin ever a counter point for Ship of Theseus?
Well, it wasn’t because the film came out after Theseus was completed. The Turin Horse came out after the first script of Ship of Theseus was ready but in a way I kind of engaged with that comment and I thought of it myself and I kind of did a bit of deconstruction for my own understanding and I kind of starting thinking about what are the two worldviews that play here. If you get a chance to see my bullet note on Turin Horse, it’s on my blog, I’ll read a bit to you:
“If nightmares are our mind’s way of preparing itself for eventualities, this one prepares us for the worst – the end of the world, the suspicion that daily rigmarole is indeed absent of purpose, and the realisation of the complete absence of meaning. The tragedy of day to day existence is the other side of the inch by inch destruction of the world. From the haunting images by Fred Kelemen to the hypnotic score by master composer Vig Mihaly, the genius of Tarr and Hranitzky is in setting up the right triggers for every member of the audience to have their own personal enlightenment. If there is such a thing as a peaceful, soothing death, Bela Tarr’s masterpiece is an insight into what that might be like. (At the risk of committing blasphemy, may I suggest that you hold a loved one’s hand, as you walk on this edge of the world).”
The function of The Turin Horse was to transmit the realism of nihilism. The central conceit of Ship of Theseus actually is in wanting to transmit the last hope, is in wanting to kind of transmit that, yes we are the children of the great existentialists, the great nihilists, hedonists, of the great philosophers, of the great scientists of the past who have given us an increasingly fullable purposes in the world you know. Increasingly we have more and more data that tells us that life is not teleological, evolution is not teleological. It did not start off with an end purpose in mind. So with that, I think the central concept of Ship of Theseus and one of the reasons why this kind of working with very wacky groups of people today is in transmitting a certain hope in the light of all that data.
In saying that yes let us for a moment agree and accept that clearly there cannot be a creator, that clearly we do not have much ways to prove any kind of transcendence because all forms of transcendence have been systematically and categorically disproved now. Let us accept that and let us see where can we go with that complete collapse of purpose and meaning and let us hope one last time with whatever we can gather from that. So there is a bit of a Sisyphean hope there, thus the central concept of Ship of Theseus is the Sisyphean hope in the acceptance of belief that yes you are pushing the rock up and down the hill, but let’s do it while we are at it. That I feel becomes at an experiential level, at an individual level, one becomes an answer to the question in that way.
To that extent it also reminds me of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker, because as you speak about the Sisyphean journey… these films also speak about the endless journey through a conundrum.
Certainly… yes yes… and Tarkovsky again is very hopeful, I feel. I think Tarkovsky, in all his existentialism, there is a lot of humility which is very attractive at the end of the day. Tarkovsky’s biggest transmission is that of humbleness. Again using a similar philosophical construct what Solaris or what Stalker are transmitting to me, at least in my experience, is that of humility I believe, that in that meaninglessness, in that circular construct, we are cogged in. And Tarkovsky again is also very spiritual. He’s very convinced about transcendence.
(Pauses) I’m lesser convinced about transcendence (laughs).
Coming specifically to the 3 stories. I was reading this essay on blind photography and the central point of that essay was how blind photography breaks free from the limitations of sight because for blind photography, specificities, dates, places are not as important as ideas, processes, the experience, the relation that the photographer has with the subject and how it is conveyed. There is no tyranny of detailing. Is that why Aida is always shooting in black and white?
Hmm… I mean one of the reasons she states is control. If you remember in the film when she is asked “Why black and white?” and she says “so that I can have more control over my images.” Having that particular physical limitation of being visually impaired, she is not engaged in detail. In fact she’s almost hateful towards detail. If you remember the conversation with her boyfriend where he says “yellow pillow cases” and she is agitated with that and at the same time she wants intention, she wants control, she wants to play a very active role in her work. She has not yet acquired the humility of a mature artist, of half knowledge, maybe not full admittance on this but at least of a half acceptance that there are a lot of images that move through you. That there are lots of ideas that you come upon, move through you in a way. So I think it’s her young need to have total and absolute control and have a very intentional engagement with her work where she’s playing a central role in everything she’s producing. For me it’s also, one of the things it triggers for me is also the evolutionary function of beauty, that’s something I’m deeply interested in and I’ve been increasingly interested in the evolutionary function of beauty. What could have possibly been the function of beauty in the first place? Why did an experience like that evolve in human beings? And I’ve found some wonderful answers.
One of the answers again relates to the story very well. One major function of art, science, math that binds all is the need to maximise content density per unit. For example, a great metaphor is a metaphor that opens up and unfolds into a huge vast landscape of experience. A great scientific equation is one that has a huge amount of content density per equation. You have one equation like E=MC2 and you have the entire science connoted in it. If you look at genetics, memory has evolved. Several experiments have been done.
A mouse was given a square and a rectangle, two positions, two objects. Each time the mouse went to the square, it was given some food. Each time it went to the rectangle, it was given a little more food. Now having established that the rectangle is more incentivised than the square, the square was taken away and was replaced by a narrower and a longer rectangle, which is narrower and longer than the existing rectangle also. So the mouse stopped going to the original rectangle and started going to the narrower and a longer rectangle which replaced the position of the square. Which means the mouse didn’t remember the geography or the atmosphere or the object. The mouse remembered only the essence of the object that the narrower and longer the object, the more the potential of finding food there. So memory in evolution has one Holy Grail. The Holy Grail of memory is maximising content density per unit and the experience of beauty, comes from incentivising that kind of an experience.
For the last few years, there has been a discourse between science and beauty, about how there’s a certain beauty about the great equations of science, about the great theories of science. There’s a certain poetic beauty about it and the reason again that experience of beauty happens is that there is a great amount of condensification, there’s a great content density per unit that happens and for me in the blind photographer’s experience, that is one of the central themes in her experience. This vast experience that she’s moving through, this vast landscape that she’s walking through, she has a need to capture the entire essence of the landscape in one or two photographs and hence keep aiming for a great amount of content density per unit, great amount of condensification per image. And in that she invariably ends up creating beauty.
But then again when we first see the point of conflict between her and her boyfriend, that’s over an image which is filled with details and she isn’t sure…
Yes… Because again she’s not sure of this theory herself, because this theory is my theory. I think if she were aware of this theory, she would be more confident that she’ll invariably end up creating great art.
That’s the dialectics…
(Laughs)I didn’t indulge in that dialectics, you have to give me that. I didn’t make anyone around her give her this theory. I could have, I should have but I didn’t(laughs). I didn’t indulge in being dialectic or being didactic.
But you made the audience think…
Yes it triggered off this conversation and hopefully after seeing the film some neuroscientist would say “oh here!” (laughs).
We see her using a lot of enabling technology, so I was just wondering wouldn’t the whole process be more organic had we seen her without such high end aids?
See, I think it is all technology at the end of the day. What we use ourselves and what we use outside of ourselves is all technology, either biological technology or mechanical technology or electronic technology. The difference between mechanical technology and electronic technology is that in mechanical technology you can see the parts but using the camera itself is technology at the end of the day. Using a walking stick is technology, to be able to locate the hindrances on the way, on the pavement, that’s technology that she’s using. So Denett puts this argument very nicely. He says if a beaver dam is a product of humiliation, then a Hoover dam is also a product of humiliation (Laughs) and if the spider web is a product of evolution then the World Wide Web is also the product of evolution.
What about the question of affordability?
See that is justified in this particular character because she as you can see from her environment, from her language, she comes from a certain social context , she comes from a certain economic background that allows her to extend herself using all these technologies available. It’s a privilege of course. If you see the film moves from the highly economically privileged to lesser and lesser economically privileged areas. There’s very clear movement in that respect. So there’s an economic story that’s in the backdrop of the film. The kind of individual problems in the film are also moving from first world to developing world. It’s such a personal problem to begin with “Ki aapka problem kya hai ki aap achhe photographs nahi kheench rahi ho?” (Laughs). Now that’s a very economically privileged problem. The amount of privilege you need to have in your life for that to be the central problem of your life is huge! (Laughs).
Yes… so your casting director ultimately became your actor…
No no, my casting director didn’t become my actor. She wasn’t here to be the casting director, she was just helping me with some bits of casting. She was like kind of assisting me, helping me. She’s a young filmmaker from Egypt. She had come here to work and help, visit the country etc.
So to incorporate her into your text, what kind of changes did you have to introduce in your original text?
Not too many because the original text I had written keeping in mind an expatriate. So I had in mind either a Hungarian actress or a German actress or an American actress etc. I was looking at actresses everywhere for this part.
And given the fact that she’s from a different country, obviously she would be viewing her surroundings through the prism of a different culture and that could possibly complicate her photographic text as well…
Yes exactly…I wanted that and I also wanted to kind of explain the economic background that she’s coming from.
In the second story, there’s this satirical vein where we see one of the monks urging the devotees to invest and kind of reminds one of the several cults that we have and in such a setting we have someone like Maitreya. So where exactly do you locate his politics and his ideologies?
So Maitreya, I feel, has made certain compromises. He made certain social compromises I would say, you know. Maitreya as a very young man, must have been a more dynamically curious young man and must have taken up monastic life being most convinced about him. Maitreya clearly looks like a man of convictions. He clearly looks like somebody who would live up to his convictions. So he must have been convinced about it and taken a leap to become a monk. After taking a monastic life, you know some had disagreements that he must have isolated himself from, which we see in the film. Like he does not engage in the rigmarole. He has taken the best that he needs to take from the tradition and he clearly believes in the tenets of the tradition which are sung out in the song, which are laid out in the Naham Janami song. So he is married to the philosophy and not to the ritual, which he also kind of mentions once again when he says it’s a spiritualistic theatre, you don’t have to engage in it once you’ve got out the essence of it.
I think he’s also driven by reason, action, like direct implementation of ideas. He engages in discourse only because he can infer and implement. The place that he’s found himself in is clearly a place that is not evolved and also it’s a place that is not a manifestation of the philosophy that it’s been built up on, like all religions. All cults, all religions end up dissolving and evolving into institutions that have very little link left with its original ideology. So Maitreya in that way is a man who is as moral and as much a man of the part who is also kind of driven by the text.
You know it’s also another reflection on the psychological traits of people who are fundamentalists. They have this aura around them which is they are very driven, very committed, very engaged with the discourse and they don’t shy away from implementing the discourse in a completely physical way. Whereas the moderates are those who engage with the discourse but only with some interpretations and that’s more than enough for them. But it’s also people like Maitreya in every religion who are the fundamentalists, who kind of adhere to some of the fundamental principles of the social behaviour, of the social contract that they have signed up for and that could go in either directions. That can go in a benign direction or that can go in a completely dangerous direction.
So ultimately he agrees to a liver transplant. Is he in fact agreeing with Charvak that since there are millions of bacteria constituting us and they keep dying and therefore we cannot really avoid killing animals?
No… it’s not as reduced as that. It is not about bacteria dying and hence we should indulge in violence. The idea that is actually at the centre of that conversation is not that trillions of bacteria are dying constantly. If you look at the idea at the centre of that conversation, it’s the idea of free will that is being discussed. That what is the agency that makes the free choice? What is that agency that at every crossroads allows us to choose one choice? Choose one road over the other? And is it genetic memory? Is it the memory that we contain in our DNA that engrains within it an entire response that has evolved over 3 billion years? Is it the experiential memory that we gather within our lifetime of experience?
And that brings us to the age old Heart v/s Mind conflict which is essentially the conflict between 2 different environmental response systems – a response system that evolved in a very relatively old environment in a primitive forest or a savannah environment and another response system that has evolved in a relatively modern environment that has been completely reshaped from a primitive environment but the response system has continued to remain the same giving birth to a great amount of super stimuli. Synthetic sugar, synthetic fat, junk food, junk culture, majority of films revolving around sex and violence or romance and violence are all a super stimuli. So the can of worms that it opens up has not to do with the dying of bacteria as much as the possibility of being able to take a free choice. The possibility of being able to make an informed decision because the concept of stimulus is that one fundamental spore can invade the ant and make the ant go up on a plant and bite on the leaves infiltrating a way… thereby manipulating its entire set of emotions.
What can a cumulative being be driven by? What are the forces that drive us? There are genetic forces, there are neural forces, and there are experiential forces from our contemporary interactions with our environment. There are primitive forces from a history of 4 million years and then there are forces that are symbiotic where we take actions which do not have direct consequences for us but for the agents who are in a symbiotic or in a parasitic relationship with us. So an idea that makes a man go and blow himself up, what is that idea doing? That idea continues sustaining through it. The dream sustains through that death. If I want to believe, it’s solidified and crystallised through that death.
It’s the fitness consequences of the idea and not the loss of individual. So why is that individual making such a choice? So the can of worms the conversation opens up is to do with that not as much with the simplistic bacteria dying in our body but a far bigger discourse of free choice, free will and responsibility.
Is there also an ultimate zest for life that could possibly govern some of the choices we make?
I’ve kept the choice non prescriptive. I’ve not completely deconstructed the exact nature of the choice that he takes. The reason for that is there is an invitation for the audiences to have a relationship with the character and with that choice so that each person can have his own interpretation, so it could be anything. It could be fear of death, it could be realisation from Charvak’s conversation that I am indeed not making a free choice and I’d like to make an informed choice before I die. It could be the realisation that his death would not make any difference but his life can make a difference – there could be a practical, political realisation to that, he has made so much difference, he’d continue to make a difference if he continues working in that direction. So it could be several reasons. All the reasons are there in the narrative but not spelt out so that people could have several interpretations at that point.
You shot Neeraj Kabi through his physical transformation. So could you just take us through those shooting days?
Well it took him about 4 months to lose that much weight. So we’d shoot with him every month for about 4 days and each month he lost about 4-5 kgs. At the end of the 4th month he had lost 17-18 kgs and before the physical transformation began, he started working on a lot of other things, he started working on his emotional and intellectual journey. That also contributed to the physical transformation somehow because we changed his diet and then his diet became extremely stringent. So we had a very good dietician working with him and we had regular medical check-ups, we had a physical trainer working with him. so we had a team of experts working with him on his physical transformation.
As far as his character preparation goes, that started months before the physical transformation. There he started reading everyone from Kundkund Acharya to Peter Singer, from many Jain scholars and Buddhist scholars to works by Richard Dawkins. He read a lot; he turned vegetarian in the course of rehearsals. He walked long distances. So all of that was the sort of preparation. Then we had a lot of rehearsals, lots of conversations.
So emotionally and physically he became the character…
About the final story, I was having this conversation with a friend and we were discussing the cut from Bombay to Stockholm and we talked about how we as an audience are used to being spoon fed every single detail….
Haha…yes. It was a very deliberate decision on our end. We had shot at a screenplay level. This was the shot I had imagined but I had not articulated it that clearly so when we shot, I was a little insecure. I did take a few shots, I did take a shot of a flight from inside and outside, of him landing in Stockholm, there’s a scene of Rupesh coming and picking him up at the airport and they have conversations where Rupesh says how Sekseria had him connected to Rupesh (who plays the character of Ajay) so I took all of that out on the edit table because I thought it was unnecessary explanation. In cinema we have arrived at a point of cinematic evolution where that can be expected of the audience to understand cuts like this very easily. It seemed a bit radical to some of our friends when we were ready to show the film and people were like “What! That’s just too radical!” but we felt convinced about it.
And the long composition of the third protagonist trying to locate the house of the man whose kidney was stolen, the narrow lanes, the going up and down, so take us through what did you think while composing those long sequences?
Well the idea was nothing but to manifest the internal atmosphere for the surroundings so that has been the idea throughout the film. There has been an attempt to take order and chaos, take design and spontaneity, take thesis and anti-thesis and keep juxtaposing the two, to create a meaningful experience to create a sense of unification.
Here was this man who was economically privileged going through a neighbourhood where he was quite uncomfortable, so that discomfort had to come through. The discomfort of the possibility of having received a stolen kidney had to come through, the literal metaphor of being stuck in that situation had to come through for people to understand – the car gets stuck, Mannu gets stuck between extremely narrow walls. So there was a literal work of metaphor over there and to create a constant sense of discomfort, to create that sense of chaos that was happening inside Soham (who plays Naveen in the film). That was the idea to kind of cinematically transmit that experience.
Ultimately this victim settles for money and not the kidney, so there’s this question of class, the question of basic necessities of life against ideals and so this sort of comes across as a setback for Naveen and I would take it as he has been hit by a stark reality and probably this act of benevolence will not be a one off for him and will start off a new journey for Naveen’s character…
I feel it does have an end, the story ends when the grandmother says “itna hi hota hai!” where there is hope, and the hope is that change is incremental, the hope is that change is not revolutionary. That Ship of Theseus is not going to change the face of Indian cinema (laughs), Ship of Theseus is going to create a certain incremental change, that evolution, that growth that well-being in society happens incrementally and does not necessarily happen overnight.
Since you talk about Naveen’s grandmother, I was guessing this must have been the role for which Spivak auditioned?
Yes yes. (laughs)
So how did it come about?
Well it was lovely. I mean we were looking at everyone. The only brief I had for everyone working in the film was to find me individuals with vast journeys. I didn’t care if they were actors or not, I didn’t care if they were artistes or not. The only brief I had was to find individuals with extremely vast journeys because that is one thing that manifests into their characters. When you see Neeraj, when you see Soham, when you see Aida, you see deep profound individuals, you don’t see strugglers. You don’t see people who have been wearing a saffron headband and going from one producer’s office to another looking for work. You see individuals with great dignity, with great integrity, with great journeys and experiences and great failures behind them. Failures of a profound kind and not individual failures, not with “arre mujhe kaam nahi mila!” kind of failures. That is what I was seeking from the people when I was casting for my actors. So we started looking everywhere, we even auditioned Subhashini Ali for that part.
So Spivak didn’t work out because of the Hindi?
Spivak didn’t work out only because of the Hindi. I would have loved to work with her, it would have been so nice if I could cast her. To begin with she was lovely to talk to, she was so encouraging, she was so wonderful and she threw statements which were so charming. Once she was like, “Yes it is a lovely script and I would love to do it. Of course I would love to do something in cinema. My very dear friend Derrida is prolific in that matter.” (laughs) Wasn’t that reason enough for me to be attracted to that glamour?
You had a very limited budget for this film and in spite of that the film looks gorgeous. The wide angle shots, for instance. So how important was the look of the film for you?
It was very very important because the look of the film was not in isolation of the meaning. The look plays an important part in creating meaning. In India it has been one of the least recognised aspects of cinema that the lens that you’re looking at the world through is just as important in creating meaning as incident, acting and discourse. So the lines that are spoken, the acting that has been done, the intention that is coming out etc. etc. is important but if that is not backed up with a strong view, strong vision that you’re looking at this world through, then it can fall apart. Pankaj and I work together like that you know we work extremely closely. We kind of overlap in our responsibilities and kind of understand from each other, learn from each other constantly and are able to paint something that has both our views in it.
Did you not have any misgiving that the beauty, the look of the film might distract one from the text?
No no never, I never felt that. I thought it could only bring it out. It cannot take away from it.
The film is multi lingual and in a globalised world this is extremely important. Did you always know you would be dealing with so many languages?
I have always dealt with so many languages right from the start of my writing. So if you see my short films, the short film I made 10 years ago Right Here Right Now, there are 9 languages spoken in that film. All my plays were multi-lingual, even the small bit of television I did, I tried to push in a multi lingual agenda in it. It didn’t completely work but I did make an attempt. But absolutely, I think it’s extremely important for characters to show through language the context of where they’re coming from.
Now that the film has released and it has garnered such a lot of attention, how attached do you feel to Ship of Thesues? In the sense that if you come across any “misguided review”…
(Laughs)I did come across 2 or3 reviews that I disagree with ,that I found very limiting in scope. So yes I did feel disappointed in reading those reviews. I mean 99% of those responses have been very warm and welcoming to this relationship that is happening with the audience and I’m glad that it happened. I just feel that more than the film, I’m attached to the possibility of what can happen because of this film. If this film continues to do well at the box office like it has done so far, then the incremental change will become the lead. There’ll be a huge headway for a cinema of introspection in this country. So for me, I’m attached to that possibility now, of this becoming a moment of some sort, a certain evolution of cinema, a certain growth of cinema, a certain experimentation in cinema, it’s these possibilities that I’m most attached to and that’s why I found those misguided reviews even more irritating because it’s no longer only about the film for me.
So is there any pitfall of too much mainstream attention?
Mainstream attention has only mainstream pitfalls, there’s no academic pitfall to it. The pitfall of mainstream attention is scandal. Just for the scandal of it, some people would want to have controversial reviews and some people would make a statement of not wanting to see the film but that’s again the nature of mass consumption, of anything that becomes a bit populist, but I don’t see any academic pitfall.
When I went to see Ship of Theseus and as the title credits were rolling, I was rudely jolted by the sound of the vacuum cleaner by the cleaning staff in the multiplex.
He was just doing his job but at the end of the day, it makes me wonder whether for a film like Ship of Theseus, a museum or an art gallery would be the ideal place where I could sort of engage with the text in a rigorous way and the silence of the museum would really enhance the appeal of the text and probably where the film would go on playing in loop throughout the day…
But what to do ya? It’s a double edged sword. Filmmaking is a very resource heavy art form unlike any other art form. It’s most difficult to make an open source for this platform. It’s possible to make literature open source, it’s possible to make art open source, it’s possible to make music open source. But the resource consumption and the commitment towards making a film is so huge, it’s not easy to make it open source. I don’t think it’s impossible, I hopefully think that we can get that opportunity in our culture, in our society wherein a high resource heavy media can contribute and make it open source at least and be projected in completely non-corporate environments. That is an ideal thought and we can try working towards getting that environment .We’re committed to making a chain of theatres and taking it throughout the country where we can create an ideal environment for a cultural experience in a contemporary space. But till that happens, we have to rely on multiplexes because the basic projection technology that they have is amazing in most of the screens, it’s just state of the art really. So you cannot really match up to that. Even if we have screenings elsewhere, to create an environment that can’t happen, it’s a great challenge.
So, these chain of theatres that you’re talking about, they’ll be solely dedicated to such films?
Yes. We’re starting one in Bombay soon and let’s see how that goes.
And “we “as in? A group of filmmakers with a similar outlook?
Well it’s actually Kiran’s (Kiran Rao) brain child. Kiran has been wanting to start a cinema hall, start a cultural centre which can be focussed around cinema but can also be a cultural centre really where you can chill out, have some cheap coffee, read books and then you can have people from all over the world in the residencies etc. I’ve had this similar dream for a very long time. So some of us are coming together and thinking about it.
Since you mention cheap coffee, Anurag Kashyap wrote that money should not be a factor while watching a film like Ship of Theseus. It was a good intentioned statement but isn’t it a presumptuous comment in a country like India?
See again here in this case we have to make certain assumptions. We can’t arrive at a point where we make cinema which can be very cheaply available to the rest of the country, it is a privilege, let’s not fool ourselves. At this point it is a greatly technological privilege that very few have. How many people in this country have that privilege? So we are a part of a system that is inherently unequal and we need to do everything to beat that, I agree with and we need to do everything to beat that, I agree with you but while we are in that system trying to fight it we cannot be expected to give a disclaimer of that kind every time we have a conversation. I cannot expect people to buy the ticket of my film with this entire long disclaimer!
So I do understand that we are living in a time where the economic difference is extremely huge between the haves and the have nots, the discrepancies are huge and great and all of us have to do something before it is too late but right now there is another battle that we are fighting. The battle that we are fighting is for the moneybags to open up their resources to this kind of cinema, so again we are coming back to the point of cinema because of film making being a very resource heavy medium and cannot be made without resources. Film unfortunately take 5, 10, 20 crores to make. We need money to half engage with an economy that you might have an ideological problem with. By the virtue of becoming a filmmaker, I am engaging with an economic system that I have ideological issues or questions with.
Like once this entire Ship of Theseus round is over, once we’ve made that point that it’s possible to make money out of this kind of cinema, the intention is very important. The intention is to prove the point that there is a huge audience in this country that has the privilege to go to the theatres to watch this kind of cinema and you can’t deny that. If the audiences are watching crap and some films are making 100, 200 crores, where is that money coming from? If money is the problem in this country and one cannot be presumptuous about the money in this country, then where is that kind of money coming from?
So let’s accept that there is a certain economic system we are a part of and once we accept that, we talk about being a part of a cultural system and we can fix the cultural system by economically making it viable. If we keep on expecting good culture to come for free and bad culture to be payable, then we’ll keep on living in this rat hole. So that is a discourse and hence the presumption that yes there are millions of people in this country who have the money to go to cafes and buy coffees that are worth 300 bucks and these people then complain about films likeShip of Theseus because they have been acquainted with the idea that good culture can be downloaded on torrent and bad culture has to be paid for. So there is a bigger resource at question over here.
That was my second question actually that what was your idea of piracy and copyleft?
That is the space I want to live in where all knowledge is open source. I don’t want to live in a Brahmanic environment where only the elite can have access to deep experience and deep thought and if you’re not economically eligible, you’re not eligible, I don’t want to live in that environment myself but that’s such a huge battle we’re talking about. I’ll engage head on in that battle, I assure you that.
I did this interview with Dibaker Banerjee and he made this very interesting point that “I would always want the Rowdy Rathores to do well because so long as they do well, my producers will pay me to do the kind of films I believe in.”
I don’t buy that, I’m not sure what context Dibaker said that in but I’m not sure I’d buy into that economy project because it’s as beneficial as it is detrimental and it’s not necessarily the same producers who are making these two films and I never want Rowdy Rathore specially to do well because it is regressive in the way it looks at women and the way it is accepted in the society and it’s extremely dangerous in more ways than one. But then again that might be possible I mean Dibaker has more experience…
He was talking from the point of view of commerce primarily…
He definitely knows, I mean, he’s made all these films and he’s convinced all sorts of people to invest in films that he’s made, so that’s sort of an incremental shift from what was going on. My experience has been different. I’ve lived on patronage. Ship of Theseus was made out of patronage, not out of a rich moneybag who makes money on Rowdy Rathore. It was made by a man who’s a great artiste, who’s a great actor and who happens to be rich (Soham).
Where does Ship of Theseus go from here, once it’s off the screens?
We have all sorts of distribution channels for it. We have videos, DTH, television etc. Gallery idea is a great idea. What we have in mind is to do another round of distribution but we will talk about it off record.
What’s next for you?
There are a couple of scripts that I’m working on. There’s a story about two people who start to live in which I’m really very interested in making. There are lots of ideas that are intriguing me a lot. There’s a story based in the US, it’s a completely American film. Many many ideas are exciting me right now.