Fiction is always welcome when it is the likes of a story written by Satyajit Ray – Ananth Narayan Mahadevan | Exclusive Interview

28 . Jun . 2020
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Exclusive interview with Ananth Narayan Mahadevan on his recently released book “Once Upon a Prime Time” and his Marathi Film “Mai Ghat” being the official selection at Cannes 2020 this year! Read on..

Actor, Writer, Director and now Author! How did this transaction happen! 

I suppose it was a logical progression. In fact writing and acting were the initial indulgences  from the academic stage. In school and college  inter-school and inter-collegiate fests quenched the thirst for theatre. And writing for the school and college magazines was an annual ritual. So I would look at these departments of writing, acting, directing and now editing as core subjects for the complete creative person. From theatre to television to films was a natural transition too .Over nearly 4 decades, I honed my craft and imbibed one trait after the other.

Once Upon a Prime Time is getting great reviews! What prompted you to write a book? And why specifically on Television in this era of OTT

The book, ONCE UPON A PRIME TIME,  is a summation of 40 years, with the spotlight being television. I have been fortunate to travel the entire gamut of sponsored[commercial] television in India right from its inception in 1983 to this day, in the capacities of an actor, a writer and a director. There has been no documented footage, either video or print of all that transpired behind the scenes. The book takes you up close to the personalities who shaped our television and fortified the grounds for  the next generation to take-over. I am glad ONCE UPON A PRIME TIME, has been hailed as the first book of its kind on Indian television, with some critics even predicting it to be the reference book for times to come. It depicts the sea-change that came over a bland television scenario in the 1980s to the invasion of the satellite channels in the early 1990s to the metamorphosis of the medium to digital formats.

Your book tells the memoirs of the Indian Television through its times, what has been the most memorable moment for you personally, as an actor / writer / director in the television industry that is not mentioned in this book!

I have attempted to encapsulate every important moment in the book and my memory served me right as I played back the years in my mind. So as Aanand Mahendroo remarked after reading it “your research is extensive and you haven’t left out anybody”. So the memorable milestones from being an ubiquitous actor to a director of top heavy serials [the stars included Rati Agnihotri, Farouque Shaikh, Satish Shah, R Madhavan, Shekhar Suman, Rameshwari ,Mohnish Behl, Asrani and so many others], are all part of the book.The advantage of television was that , unlike films, I had all film and tv stars open to new concepts and shows.

Mai Ghat too has been receiving great reviews from critics, and now it’s the official entry by the I&B ministry for Cannes 2020! That’s a double whammy for you this year!! How has been it’s journey so far?

MAI GHAT  was completed and premiered in October 2019 at Singapore, New York, IFFI[Goa], Kolkatta, Keral, Bangalore and Chennai film festivals and picked up awards in several categories including Film, Actress, Cinematography and Editing. It has been a chequered journey in a short span of 3 months before the Covid 19 lockdown struck,. And now in the midst of the lockdown comes the news of its selection, by no less a body than the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting for the prestigious Marche Du Film section of the Cannes Festival. The festival had to shift online this year due to the pandemic. But the recognition cannot be undermined as MAI GHAT is only one of the two Indian films in Cannes, in any section, this year. The film has assumed more universal relevance with the shocking death of George Floyd and the world-wide outrage against police brutality and caste discrimination. Prabhavati Amma is the flag bearer of our own George Floyd situation and her true story is heart wrenching.

With films like Mai Ghat, Gour Hari Dastaan, Dr Rakmabai, Rough Book, Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, you have been writing and directing content driven films for the longest time, and it’s actually now that such films are becoming centrestage and being lapped up by OTT platforms. Do you think that with the popularity of OTT platforms, content driven films can breathe a new life?

I had educated myself in the art of films and their making by watching  the works of masters like Bergman, Truffaut, Godard, Fellini, Andrej Wajda, Tarkovsky, Eisenstein, Kurosawa, Ray, Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy , Shaji Karun, Girish Kasaravalli and others. I realised that Indian cinema was light years away from being world cinema and decided to shed the greed for gloss and glamour and concentrate on content, like the masters. I left the others to go for the pot of gold while chased the rainbow itself. I may have been a minority who chased these ambitious dreams of making the world sit up and respect our cinema. Many ignored, scoffed and refused to patronise my concepts[they still do]. But I stuck to my guns and managed to achieve a consistent record in each one of my previous 7 films being recognised on a global level. And suddenly with people looking at life in a different perspective, audience tastes to seem inclined towards more sensible and sensitive material. The dogged determination is beginning to see light, but I still have a long way to go.

Would you be writing Fiction anytime soon? And since you are a writer, what are your thoughts on the upcoming trend in India on adaptation of popular books to web series / films. 

Fiction is always welcome when it is the likes of a story written by Satyajit Ray. My next film will be an adaptation of an original story written by the master to pay tribute to him in his birth centenary year. The film THE STORYTELLER will feature Naseeruddin Shah, Paresh Rawal, Revathy and Tannishtha Chhatterjee in principal roles. We start later this year. After 6 true stories, it would be delightful to get back to fiction! We have a rich treasury of classics and literature in our country and a proper selection of the right ones to adapt for a web-series, could raise the standard of digital channels. Here is an opportunity to do what you shied away in cinema. It could mark the fusion of literary!