National award-winning actor-writer-filmmaker-author
ANANTH MAHADEVAN talks to SAURABH TANKHA about his book on Indian television, of content not being king anymore in the entertainment industry, on why Bollywood should be renamed Follywood, his life and more…
Your book, Once Upon A Prime Time, you say is “part memoir, part history and a lot of documentation, research and facts and interactions with very important people along the way”. When did the idea first strike you and how much time did it take you to finish it, cover to cover?
I realised that there has been no documentation of nearly 40 years of Indian television. Considering I had virtually run the entire gamut of 38 years, I decided to pen it down as an autobiography which eventually covered everything and everyone who had practiced during these years. It took me nearly two years to record, recreate and research.
Why is that the filmmakers do not turn their attention towards the small screen now as it happened in the 80s?
The 80s invited filmmakers to the medium of TV. They created mini classics that are still remembered. The new millennium TV became regressive with the dailies that were a far cry from the initial years. So the filmmakers found themselves being gradually sidelined as the new system was not their cup of tea.
You have worked with the stalwarts of the industry. What were the learnings during that phase which you later implemented in your professional and personal life?
It is not everyone who is fortunate to work with such stalwarts. Hrishida was an institution by himself where I first learned the ethics of editing. Farooque Shaikh was a great inspiration all my life while Sai Paranjpye was like a godmother who gave me my first break. Watching the works of Yash Chopra, Kundan Shah, Basu Chatterjee and MS Sathyu was the best education one could get in filmmaking.
What is the reason behind the content not being the king anymore in the entertainment industry?
Lack of good writing and thinking. The programming too is lackadaisical.
The founding fathers of television had given it a special identity. Today’s inexperienced programmers are at a loss to figure out how to handle this monster of a medium. They grope in dark without any definite goals
How has the face of Indian television changed since you started working?
The founding fathers of television had given it a special identity and purpose. Today’s inexperienced programmers are at a loss to figure out how to handle this monster of a medium. They grope in the dark without any definite goals.
In an interview you said “Bollywood should be renamed Follywood”. What made you make a statement like this
Bollywood, the word itself is so silly and humiliating. Add the pedestrian stuff being churned out and you get Follywood.
Your take on the web series being aired these days…
The web series are, if you notice closely, a mutant of the limited series and seasons that Doordarshan started off with. They seem to go overboard with the sex, violence and abuse quotient, thanks to lack of censorship. But a few good ones are now cropping up. Like Bandish Bandits, Avrodh and Scam.
Why is that movies like Doctor Rukhmabai and Gour Hari Das (which you made) do not get the recognition they should? Is there a communication gap between the filmmaker and audiences, lack of understanding among the audiences or is it something different altogether?
Discerning cinema still has to find its audience that has been numbed by mindless keep-you-brains-at- home plots in the name of entertainment. But that will not deter me from continuing to pursue a global cinema approach and try and lift Indian cinema out of a certain formula and even pretentiousness.
Discerning cinema still has to find its audience that has been numbed by mindless keep-you-brains-at- home plots in the name of entertainment
How successful have you been in the journey of learning that you embarked on in 1980 – of choosing the path which was challenging and not where success came to you overnight?
Success is very evasive. I’m still struggling to make myself heard. There are some discerning voices and minds who do acknowledge but most of the time you find yourself sidelined almost with a vengeance. But I’ll continue my personal artistic endeavours till I die.
Is OTT the future of entertainment in India?
If the deplorable standards of TV programming continue then digital platforms will rule.
Theatre vs small screen vs movies vs now, OTT. Your favourite and why?
There is nothing to beat the grandiose big screen theatre experience. All others are backups to preserve your work for posterity.
What can we next expect from Ananth Mahadevan?
More challenging subjects that will stretch me to the limit and make a footprint in global cinema.