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Washing off the soaps

05/05/2009 10:58 PM

Some may tag Indian independent filmmaker Anand Gandhi as a player who can navigate the art house and commercial entertainment circuit with equal ease.

How else would you explain his association with popular emotionally-charged Hindi serials on one hand and gritty, critically-acclaimed short films on the other?

Consider this: If his short films Right Here Right Now and Continuum have won rave reviews at prestigious film festivals - including the Tribecca Film Festival - then his dialogues penned for Hindi tear-jerkers such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi [translation: Because the mother-in-law was once a daughter-in-law] hit the right chord among the television soap junkies.

But quiz Gandhi about his early stint in television and he hardly cuts a picture of a consummate juggler.

Squirming in his seat, the 28-year-old filmmaker's face contorts and his awkward body language could easily be mistaken for a teenager caught in an act of petty crime.

In Dubai to screen his two short films last week, it becomes abundantly clear Gandhi considers writing dialogues for more than 90 episodes of Kyunki a blot in his stellar career.

"I was 19, I was naïve and stupid. I was so stupid, man. But at that time I did not think it was such a bad idea.

"In my defence, I think the serials these days are worse and show women in poorer light," says Gandhi.

Hindi soaps grab viewers attention with a formulaic mix of holier-than-thou daughters-in-law, conniving mothers-in-law and a catty mistress or two on the side. A palatial home, well-heeled protagonists and pancake make-up come with the territory.

Surprisingly, Gandhi did not stray away from the established order and did not try to think out of the box for serial producer Ekta Kapoor's pet project. In his case, economics played a vital role in bastardising his creative quotient.

"At that point, I was starting out and it made sense to me financially. I stuck to the formulas. I was never dishonest while doing it. But from then on, I decided never to make any creative compromises.

"You will never find me directing a commercial Bollywood film," Gandhi says determined.

Being brought up in an all-female household by his mother - a single parent - also gave him adequate training. "If you were to step into my house, you will meet women who are die-hard Bollywood junkies, and as a rule most of them over-react to situations just like in the serials.

"So I had my hand on the pulse of what a woman looked for in a good serial," says Gandhi.

"His cracking of the code does not end with serial screenplays. Apparently, there is a stereotype in art-house cinema too. "If you are an independent filmmaker in India, all you need to do is to make a movie on repression and bang, you have made it big on the art house circuit.

"Many people identify with repression - say freedom of thought, speech - or poverty any time," says Gandhi.

Fortunately, Gandhi did not stick to the tried and tested stereotypes while making Right Here, Right Now or Continuum.

"I look at these movies with pride. I don't cringe while watching them and I am proud to be associated with such creative content."

Gandhi's take on:

Indian soap queen Ekta Kapoor: "As a human being, I may not admire her. But on the professional front, she is a pleasure to work with. She is a great business woman."

Slumdog Millionaire: "I hated it at first. The narrow lanes in India, the abject poverty in slums, the s*** holes - [Danny] Boyle tweaked on the stereotypes plaguing parallel cinema.

Formulaic art house cinema: "Repression, repression and more repression."

His most memorable moment: When legendary poet Kaifi Azmi walked up to him and kissed his hands after watching Ghandi's award-winning play Sugandhi.

His most oft-repeated question: "Are you related to Mahatma Gandhi?" [For the last time, No!]

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