Long-term goal is to set more stories in India: Anand Gandhi opens up on Hotstar series OK Computer – Firstpost

Posted: March 31, 2021 at 5:45 am

Before the release of Ok Computer, Gandhi sat down for a short conversation to reflect on the decade gone by, the present circumstances, and what the near-future might hold for us.

We might be living in uncertain times right now, but it's nearly impossible to remain cynical about the future while talking to the multi-hyphenate, Anand Gandhi. And that's because Gandhi has always lived in the future.

At a time when the country was still coming to terms with the World Wide Web in 1996, Gandhi was teaching Adobe Photoshop. Starting out writing dialogue on two of Indian TV's biggest K-serials (Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki) at age 20, Gandhi used the earnings to experiment with an interesting short film, Right Here Right Now, in 2003. He backed a young, unknown voice called Chaitanya Tamhane, with his first play: Grey Elephants In Denmark in 2008.

At a time, when streaming services were a distant dream, Gandhi made his directorial feature Ship of Theseus (2012) available for download... for free. Running a lab called Memesys, Gandhi is now at the forefront of India's VR technology initiatives, trying to integrate it into day-to-day storytelling.

"Anand is an awe addict. His sole aim is to inspire awe and wonder, he's most excited by creation," says Neil Pagedar, his co-creator on the brand-new futuristic show, Ok Computer,now streaming on Disney+ Hotstar. Starring Vijay Varma, Radhika Apte and Jackie Shroff in prominent roles, the show is a comical take on the future where AI (Artificial Intelligence) is investigated in a murder case.

A promotional still of Ok Computer. Twitter @sachin35308302

Varma tells me how he was 'arrested' for the part by Gandhi "Anand and I go back a long way, he was a mentor for the selection process at FTII. I developed a very unique and unsaid bond with him. He had ideas that no one talked about, he has an enthusiasm that can be really infectious. He's in a very evolved state of being right, and it's something he's been harnessing and cultivating for a while..."

Before the release of Ok Computer, Gandhi sat down for a short conversation to reflect on the decade gone by, the present circumstances, and what the near-future might hold for us.

Edited excerpts from the conversation:

I'm sure filmmakers don't like to discuss 'market forces' but tell me how did the industry react to Ship of Theseus?

Ship of Theseus, according to all of us who worked on the film, was as successful as successful can get. One story I would like to share about it, is the Film Critics Circle based in London, which is the oldest critics body in the world, had invited its members and other film scholars to make a list of the films that changed their lives. The only film from the last 30 years (also apart from the fact that the only Indian film) in that list was Ship of Theseus. Around that same time, Ship of Theseus was also made it to the cover of Box Office India. I think we achieved what we set out to achieve, we made a film that was warmly received and got India the interest that we deserve as a culture, and that we could represent India in a way that's not been done on the world stage for a long time. Meanwhile, it also got an incredible response in India too. It wasn't a couple of days or weeks, but we started out by releasing the film in six cities, and by the end (around the sixth week), the film was playing in 46 cities. So it was a massive success, even in terms of box office too, led entirely by an audience's demand for quality content. It was a complete, audience-driven distribution model of cinema. Immediately after the film's theatrical run, the film was acquired by Netflix. I think it was probably the first Indian film to be acquired by Netflix. After that, there were conversations with HBO in Latin America, Channel 4 with Australian and UK partners, all of that happened later. We got a massive worldwide distribution, but I think it opened up possibilities for us. It was a pilot project that fructified our belief that there is an audience (in India and abroad) that are hungry to look at deep, meaningful conversations being represented in cinema.

Did it have any material effect on your career as a filmmaker?

It opened up windows in my life, wear multiple hats like I did after that. I see my responsibility as a storyteller first, I think we should look at the greatest ideas at our disposal, as a civilisation. Ideas that come to us from Philosophy, Economics, Politics, Sciences, Biology, Neurosciences about our existence, about the idea of the human self and its relationship with its environment. The more we develop such ideas into rich, intuitive, seductive stories, (we may discover) audiences that were previously not exposed to these audience, but ones that they might thoroughly enjoy. That's really my responsibility as a storyteller, hence, I don't limit it only to writing or directing. I love to produce, I love to seek out talent, cinema-thinkers, who might not be fulfilling their potential in the present infrastructure. I can probably help expedite their dream, and that's where I've had the good fortune to work with the brilliant filmmakers under one umbrella, to be each other's peer reviewers, to challenge each other, to question and constantly inspire each other. Filmmakers like Neil and Pooja, who are now being launched with Ok Computer, Vinay and Khushboo (who made An Insignificant Man), Rahi Barve (Tumbbad), my good friend Chaitanya Tamahane, I've had the privilege to work with some incredible filmmakers. Chaitanya, obviously I haven't worked on a film with, but I helped produce his play Grey Elephants In Denmark long back. Pankaj Kumar, obviously our brilliant cinematographer, I've had the honour to collaborate with incredible talent. I find it incredibly challenging and even exciting, to invent new markets, to discover new audiences for content. I've realised that if we can afford some dignity to the audience, if we can acknowledge that our audience members are thoughtful beings with meaningful pursuits, then the relationship between these new-age creators and the audience becomes and exciting thing to forge.

We've seen plenty of movies about singularity, it's been at the heart of most modern sci-fi. What intrigued you about this sub-genre of movies, what sparked your curiosity?

That's a great question that we've been asking ourselves for the last six-seven years. I've had the good fortune to be deeply engaged in conversations around Singularity, around longevity. My good friends at Future of Humanities Institute at Oxford, have been advisors and participants to pretty much everything we've tried to write. Many years ago, I had the honour to speak at Singularity University about the future of the human consciousness, I had the privilege to be a mentor at the XPrize Visoneers Forums (in 2016). Pooja, Neil and I have been deeply embedded into these conversations for a while, and there's an incredible legacy to this genre (like you rightly pointed out), which dates back to a century in modern science-fiction. I think it's been exactly 100 years since the Czech play Rossum's Universal Robots was written, covering the exact themes that we're trying to uncover with Ok Computer. And then, coming from a legacy of names like Phillip K Dick, Asimov, Douglas Adams, and TV creators like Matt Groening, who have played around with similar settings and done their own spin on things, I think the one thing we did was to set and build it in India. Thanks to our specific POV, we can imagine how these machines would work in India. Second, to approach it with a lot of humour and joy. We wanted to pay homage to all the incredible literature behind us, but at the same time keeping things simple enough for someone being introduced to it. That was really important, that while many young Indians are exposed to many things from across the world, were still not exposed to some of the things here. We wanted to keep it light and delightful for them, so as to engage with them. We want these viewers to take these concepts and make it a dialogue. We look at this first season as an ice-breaker, and we're actually hoping that the audience will take it all and start a dialogue. We want this show to be a dialogue that India has with the world.

Do you have short-term and a long-term goals as a filmmaker, something you would like to share?

Short-term goal like I said, I want the audience to completely take to OkComputer. It's out there for complete absorption. Like all our previous projects, we're a group of community-first authors. We're here to play a tiny, humble role of sharing some insights, ideas, dreams and anxieties with our audiences. But that's only the beginning, we want the audience to own it, to adopt it, to make it their own, to share it, to rip it apart. To tell us where we went wrong, to tell us where they want us to go next, we're more than happy to engage with our audiences to create something great. The long-term goal is even simpler, we're one billion people, one-sixth of the world population. If you think that each person has at least 10 great stories to tell in their lifetime, then we're currently sitting on a goldmine of 10 billion stories waiting to be represented on screen. Just imagine... I'm hard-pressed to believe that as much as we would like to borrow from the West, we would also like to set stories in India. Something that has to do with our people's imaginations, their dreams, and their futures. In the next 10 years, I would like to see a world-class studio emerge out of India, and I would be very happy with myself if I sowed the seed for it to happen.

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Long-term goal is to set more stories in India: Anand Gandhi opens up on Hotstar series OK Computer - Firstpost

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