He’s a wonderful acting chameleon-Entertainment News, Firstpost

In an interview with Subhash K Jha, Mahadevan talks about his new biopic about unsung heroes, social activists Jyotirao Govindrao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule.

Actor-filmmaker Ananth Narayan Mahadevan is a seasoned trouper. Distinguished stints as an actor and stage director to director of various original and often outstanding Hindi films such as Dil Vil Pyar Vyar (a tribute to the songs and music of RD Burman), Staying Alive (in which he also gave a notable performance as a man watching his death) to notable Marathi biopics Mee Sindhutai Sapkal and Dr Rakhmabai, Mahadevan is an exciting and significant voice in Indian cinema. In an interview with Subhash K Jha, Mahadevan talks about his new biopic about unsung heroes, social activists Jyotirao Govindrao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule.

What motivated the Phule project and why did you choose the two Ps, Pratik Gandhi and Patralekha?

I had first thought of the Phules when I was offered by the Ekjute Theater group to direct veteran Nadira Zaheer Babbar in a one-woman show on Savitribai Phule. For some reason the show was not staged, but the topic of Jyotirao and Savitri Phule grew in me. As India’s first social revolutionaries in a trying period of British imperialism, their characters struck me as powerful pioneers of India’s social future.

Then, by serendipity, producers Ritesh Kudecha and Anuya Kudecha approached me with the concept of a web series about Phules. I convinced them it was an epic big-screen movie on the scale of a Gandhi, a Lincoln, or a Mandela. And they happily agreed to produce it with Dr. Rajkishore Kaware, Pranay Chokshi, Saurabh Varma and Utpal Acharya who were all convinced of the magnitude of the project.

How did you focus on Pratik and Patralekha?

The casting had to be, in every way, correct. Fortunately, Hansal Mehta’s web series Scam brought me closer to Pratik Gandhi, who I had never worked with before, but who felt like putty in the hands of the director. Here is a wonderful acting chameleon and it didn’t take me long to transform his face into that of Jyotirao Phule. Patralekha has an earthy, grounded quality about her, much like Savitribai Phule. The image of the pair crystallized in my mind and we knew we had found an unusual but perfect couple.

In your time, you made outstanding biopics about real heroes such as Me Sindhutai Sapkal and Dr Rakhmabai. In telling the stories of these unsung heroes, do you see a great responsibility, a mission?

Whenever a lived story emerges as a startlingly human document that needs to be told, I see the warning signs. They are either living people or people who are part of history like Doctor Rakhmabai, but oddly enough they have been eclipsed from public view as they have chosen to effect change in society without attracting attention. attention of the world. So whether it was Sindhutai Sapkal, Gur Hari Das, Doctor Rakhmabai or Prabhavaty Amma who fought for 13 years for justice for his son who was killed in custody, it burdened me with the responsibility of being a filmmaker socially honest. There were people who initiated social revolts, not because they hoped to be immortalized on celluloid, but because they brought about changes for the good of humanity. All the more reason for me to maintain their dignity and not use popular ingredients to sugarcoat their accomplishments or even unduly revere them. Unsung hero stories are more difficult to present to uninitiated audiences, but I’d rather pick them than play it safe with “legends” from various fields.

There is a biopic boom in Bollywood. Do you see this as a healthy sign?

The biopic boom is like a baby boom after a night of blackouts. The theory seems to be this: give the public heroic epics in the name of realistic public figures. I am not against the dramatization of these lives, otherwise we would rather make a documentary. But the traditional exploitation of these lives through exaggerated footage is dishonest to the subjects’ cause. But most filmmakers seem to have discovered the biopic as a new formula for success. They get ready-made material, they’re absolved of being unrealistic, and they can conjure up the true story in the name of “creative freedom.” This is what has infested this thrilling and educational genre. And that is precisely what I avoided, despite what some misguided critics say.

Personally, I think we have to stop glorifying gangsters and asocials in the cinema. What do you think of movies that turn criminals into heroes?

The digital platform has made manufacturers take off. Does freedom of creation mean showing and saying it as it is? Have subtlety and innovation gone out the window? The censorship-free atmosphere seems like a haven for digging into stories of gangsters, murderers, and marinating the dialogue with abuse in hopes that the sensational treatment will shock audiences, especially in mofussil areas. This resulted in gross and revolting dishes that initially seemed to appeal to the public, but the rejection came sooner than expected. Soft porn, violence and foul language are now shunned by savvy viewers who are pushing digital heads to rethink their programming. Idolizing crooks, gangsters and killers only mirrors the pedestrian, even barbaric thought process of those who seek to make a quick buck by corrupting the minds of three generations. This is precisely why I kept the brutal police torture sequence at Mai Ghat off-screen, leaving it to the imagination and leaving a stronger impact. Police brutality, on the other hand, seems to be a favorite pastime in recent South Indian cinema.

The market and the means of making films have changed rapidly over the years, especially in the last two years. Does a conscientious filmmaker like you find it difficult to make films under these circumstances?

Gone are the days when independent filmmakers had their say. The latest new wave of Hindi cinema has faded with Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani. Today, business systems with impressive administrative capacity but little cinematic knowledge dictate what and how to make movies. The result is that filmmakers like Sai Paranjpye and Aziz Mirza have sworn never to attempt cinema again. When multiplexes became fashionable, we welcomed the improved projection and sound. It was even thought that one screen of the 7 to 14 of them in each complex would be dedicated to critically acclaimed substance cinema. Much like the old Akashwani and Lotus cinemas in what was then known as Bombay, which were dedicated art cinemas. But the growing thirst for moolah robbed the independent maker of that outlet, and in the process drove him to frustration. Even my request to reduce ticket prices and give the “parallel” cinema the smallest venue in the complex fell on deaf ears. The pandemic has created a wavering within the plexes. They saw death at their doorstep. Won’t they still give independent cinema a chance to survive? Or is this country just minting money in the name of entertainment? The dreaded situation of a film being lit solely on star power and not the content itself bodes ill for conscientious directors. Young Turks who start judging the artistic merit of scripts and insisting that they are indeed looking for content strike us as absolute hypocrites.

How and to what extent do you think the OTT platform has changed our view of our cinema?

The OTT….how I hate that word!…betrays the over the top approach of most of their content]was a progression waiting to happen. With some deplorable television content and the pandemic inducing a confinement of cinemas, this medium has found a golden opportunity. Not that it’s totally new. Television has premiered films and many cinema chains are screening films, old and new. But digital networks are now offering “Originals” as they are called. Just look back at Kamal Haasan’s decision to create Vishwaroopam on television at the same time as a theatrical release only to realize that the digital exhibition format is just a variation. But Haasan was denied the right to pioneer and shouted in protest. Today, every major star worth their salt is proud of an “Original”. The line between movie theaters and home entertainment has blurred. But if you ask me, I prefer the big screen. Movies are visually exciting, and the darkness between the big screen and your seat is what cinema is meant to be. Not on tablets and phones which kill the technical aspects of the film.

You are a remarkable actor and filmmaker. What do you appreciate the most? Actor or filmmaker?

I was lucky enough to ride two boats without shaking either of them too much. When you read a good role/character, the actor in me comes alive and yearns to play it. When I read a good concept/story, the director in me awakens. I appreciate this process. Once an actor, always an actor. And once you’ve tasted blood as a director, you start killing again.

Thinking back to your brilliant film career, what do you think are the milestones?

I started with mainstream movies like Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, Dil Maange More, Aksar, Aggar and the remake of Victory 203. But then I found my true calling. All these years as a product of the film society, where I had educated myself on the cinema of greats like Bergman, Truffaut, De Sica, Kurosawa, Godard, Fellini, Ray, Sen, Adoor, Ghatak and others could not not be wasted. I started out tiny with an experimental film called Staying Alive, and then honed my passion for an international language of cinema, albeit partially, with films like Red Alert – The War Within, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, Doctor Rakhmabai, Rough Book, Mai Ghat, Bittersweet and now It’s time to go.

Proud of your repertoire?

Today, I watch these films with love. They helped me grow as a filmmaker despite little support from producers or funders. The producers of all these films, I am extremely grateful to them. It’s their faith in me that helped me make the cinema I believe in. But believe me, it is a rare species. How we covet the support of Ravi from General Pictures who tirelessly supported Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Aravindan in their projects!

When do you start Phule?

Phule begins principal photography towards the end of 2022 and we are looking at a worldwide release in mid-2023. In the meantime, I will film The narrator based on an original story by Satyajit Ray with Paresh Rawal, as a tribute to his centenary.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based film critic who has written about Bollywood long enough to know the industry inside out. He tweets at @SubhashK_Jha.

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