He walks in dignity
Actor, screenwriter and director Ananth Mahadevan is disappointed with the content on TV, the films being sent to the film festivals and the lack of development in theatre. By Ramya Palisetty
The regional cinema is certainly more interesting to watch and path-breaking. Our bravely produced Bengali and Malayalam films and filmmakers have been world beaters in the past. Bollywood can never ever match up to that because the more regional it gets, the more real it gets and their cinema is far superior to Hindi cinemas,” says Anant Mahadevan, actor, screenwriter and director who does digital imaging and cinematography as well. He feels that a lot of regional movies which have enthralled the audience are being re-made in Bollywood. The director feels regional cinema is more localised, focussed and specific to a region.
Mahadevan has donned various hats like that of a director, actor and a screenplay writer. He believes that there is no point in knowing just one aspect of the art as they are all allied fields. He is glad that he got a chance to learn all the chapters for creating a film.
And since he has studied each aspect deeply, Mahadevan wants to frame and light up his own shots and is keenly interested in editing his own films one day.
As an actor who has been appreciated for his portrayal in films, theatre and television, he is often asked to choose his favourite among the three mediums. “It is like asking an individual if he would like starters, main course or dessert. Each medium has its own charm. In cinema, an actor appears unreal and larger than life and the close up is magnified to 100 times on screen. On the small screen, an artist is smaller than life. The writing and subtle performances make a difference on television. Theatre is like life itself. You have to adapt to a different body language for theatre, muted language for television and a completely different approach for cinema. All three mediums co-exist in different shapes”
However, Mahadevan is not happy whether it is the state of content on television or the kind of films that are being made in Bollywood and the battle that theatre is fighting to keep it afloat.
Mahadevan is passionate about theatre. “There is nothing like a live performance. Holding a stage and the audience enraptured for more than two hours is probably the most satisfying experience. That is the reason I might never ever not do theatre because it keeps me going and keeps me alive as an actor. I have been doing theatre since 1980 with more than 40 productions but my bread and butter comes from cinema and television.”
But carving a niche and creating an identity in theatre is still a difficult task as theatre is still not considered a full-time activity in India neither by the acting committee nor by the audience. It is a weekend pass-time. “Except for theatres like Prithvi or NSD, I don’t think theatre is performed on a regular basis throughout the week anywhere. When you compare this pattern with UK or US, you will see they have a National theatre where actors actually live off the theatre. In India, theatre is only done when there is nothing else to do. In rare instances, it is done with passion. I feel theatre is relegated to backstage here and the audience are interested in watching an entertaining play rather than a thought-provoking one. The same thing plagues cinema here as well. The viewers prefer a potboiler. Theatre, in spite of all the natya shastra rooted in our traditions and with the likes of Habib Tanvir and Girish Karnad hasn’t had a revolution. In the end, I guess we should just be grateful that we have it in this form and it is not dying. “
Mahadevan was part of the pioneering movement of television. During that time, filmmakers were creating classics on television. He dominated the small screen with serials like Bhanwar, Ghar Jamai, Aasmaan Se Aagay and Miss Mary. “Since 2000 when the trend of daily soaps began, I don’t think television has done anything original except turning every episode into a really obnoxious family drama which is unbelievable and unrealistic. Television has sunk to its lowest depths. It can’t get any worse. People’s minds have been corrupted by the kind of content that is being dished out. Consumerism has brainwashed them into watching television that is unwatchable. Until they get filmmakers back to the fore and wipe this memory out by re-educating the audience, I am afraid television is a lost cause.”
Currently, he is not happy with the kind of films that are going for international festivals. In the land where greats like Shaji Karun, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Bimal Roy and Shyam Benegal and Chetan Anand made a huge market in the International festivals and brought in a new wave of cinema which was treated with respect, it is sad to see the kind of cinema that is going out now. “For the last six years, I have been going to festivals because of my films and when the audience views the film, they realise it is not Bollywood. Nor are they even the kind of cinema that one would expect to be selected to be screened at a festival of repute. I am trying to speak a global cinematic language in my own little way, fighting a war to get Indian cinema into international spectacle arena,” said Mahadevan.
Mahadevan is not happy with the way the multiplex system works currently. “Multiplexes were meant to reserve seats and screens for the kind of cinema that does not get an outlet anywhere else where the tickets were priced lower. For instance, I wouldn’t want my films to be priced for more than Rs 200 or Rs 150 because it is only then that you will get 100 people in an auditorium whereas when you price it at 400, you will only get 10 people. This rational escapes the multiplex owners or maybe they don’t want to see it. This system is slowly killing cinema.”
His suggestion to change the system is to reserve the smallest screens with lower rates for films that deserve to be seen based on merit. “They would be doing Indian cinema a great favour because more producers would want to invest in small budget, high concept films knowing that they would have an outlet even if they don’t have a distributor. I’ve been shouting it from the rooftops but nobody seems to be listening to it.”
The actor feels that the Delhi Film Festival has been a great initiative. The selection of plays and actors is a dream come true for theatre enthusiasts. With seniors like Pankaj Kapur, Naseeruddin Shah and Paresh Rawal, Mahadevan felt honoured to share the platform. “I think Delhi theatre festival, within a short span of time is getting together the best theatre presentations. We need to do this every year because we have film festivals to represent the best of films in the world but we do not even have theatre festivals that represent the best in India. Though it is only a beginning, this festival will grow. I am elated that Delhi, the cradle of Hindi theatre which has nurtured so many great talents is doing it in the capital of India.”
The journey for the actor has been tumultuous. It has been rewarding since Mahadevan has been able to carve an identity for himself and has achieved it without anyone holding his hand and helping him.
As an actor, Mahadevan always choose roles that give him a certain dignity. He feels it is very important for an actor not to lose respect even in the portrayal of negative characters on screen. “Once, I remember when I had just stepped into show business, I ran into Dilip Kumar and I was surprised when he told me that I conduct myself with a lot of dignity. It is at that moment, I realised that people do notice you once you are in the public eye. It is the sole responsibility of every artist to maintain dignity as you become someone people look up to. I am fortunate enough to select films of my choice while doing theatre with a certain amount of respect. I have not resorted to any vulgarity or gone against the norms of performing arts to entertain the audience.”
Though these are the positives, there are negatives as well. “I am unable to do the kind of work I want to do. Today, if I bring up a concept, it would not even be accepted because the producers or the corporates feel that it will not fetch them money. It is miracle, I survived for 30-35 years considering the system and the sharks amongst whom I am swimming. I could have been eaten and vanished a long time ago. It is just my sheer determination that has kept me going.”
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