Interview Hindi

KIFF 2017: The fringe's whole purpose is to become the mainstream, says Anand Gandhi

The filmmaker and VR evangelist explains why he is supporting the indie film festival and speaks of the world of possibilities open to young filmmakers.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Filmmaker Anand Gandhi is a man of many talents. After getting enthusiastic acclaim for his film Ship Of Theseus (2013), he is now promoting India’s first and most important VR narrative platform — ElseVR — which has been brought to Kerala for the first time through the Kazhcha Indie Film Festival (KIFF).

Gandhi's Memesys Cultural Lab has been conducting sessions on the most radical change taking place in the world of cinema, Virtual Reality (VR), with his belief in its power to reshape cinema.

An Insignificant Man, a documentary on Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal produced by Gandhi, was also screened on the first day of the festival which was inaugurated by Gandhi.

Directed by Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla, the film tracks the rise of anti-corruption protests in India and the formation and rise to power of the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man's Party).

In a conversation with, Anand Gandhi spoke about Virtual Reality and the importance of a festival like KIFF. Excerpts:

You inaugurated the Kazhcha Indie Film Festival and have given it a lot of support. What made you come on board and support the festival? 

I am very invested in what Sanal [Kumar Sasidharan] is doing as a filmmaker. He has a lot of political clarity and he is taking up a lot of concerns and ideas that are dear to our peer environment at the moment. So that was one of the reasons. And I genuinely feel there is a certain kind of dogmatic stagnation that happens to all institutions however liberal and open-minded and self-evolving, and it’s always necessary to mirror the process and extend it in different directions by running these simulations to showcase what is possible and missing, so we can correct course collectively.

At the inauguration, you spoke of how KIFF is in dialogue with its 'mother' festival, the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). So it’s not so much about protest as moving away from the decision-making with the mainstream taking up the space of independent filmmakers at many festivals. But in your case, the mainstream did come in and enable a certain space for Ship Of Theseus. So do you think we need to rethink this relationship between independent filmmakers and the mainstream?

I think the emerging ideas, insights, voices, emerging cinema is the mainstream of the future. This is what is going to become the main conversation. A lot of things are going to permeate into or be reflected in the cinema of the mainstream that we will see in the coming years, and so that’s a constant negotiation between the fringe and the average of any kind, even at a biological or social level, and it’s the same thing happening at the level of policy or law, it’s the same thing happening at the level of social contracts where you are constantly nudging, where we take extreme directions that are highly sustainable for the well-being of many but may cause us emotional discomfort or discomfort to our dogmatic procedures, and soon these ideas start permeating into our social contracts, moral contracts and eventually into our legal systems.

I think that is the process of things. It’s not a question of isolating or alienating the mainstream and making a space for the fringe. I don’t think it exists that way. The whole purpose of the fringe is to become the mainstream. If you look at the politics of Sexy Durga, the idea is that this political discourse should become a mainstream conversation. Nowhere will you see the fringe admitting that it does not want to have any impact whatsoever on the larger community. 

I am a filmmaker who comes from the very outside, but if you ask me, I would always say I want to have the largest possible conversation and impact on the community. So I think there is no alienation. There is only synthesis. And younger filmmakers should be extremely smart in inheriting everything. It’s all theirs. So if they are inheriting any pipeline, any infrastructure, whether it is claimed by the mainstream or the arthouse, it’s all theirs, they just have to go and claim it.

So, the world is open for them. You spoke of Sanal also grabbing the opportunity that was made available to him and starting this festival. You have been working steadily in the VR space. Do you see VR as the next frontier for cinema?

VR is not the next frontier of cinema. It’s the next frontier of human expression. If you were to look at the evolution of our aspiration as a species, to record, archive, transmit information, insight and knowledge, it begins with the cave paintings and goes all the way to Renaissance paintings, where we discover the third dimension, the depth. From there it goes all the way to photography where it’s a replication of reality as seen by the naked eye. From there it goes to cinematography, motion photography and from the arrival of the train to 3D stereoscopic film that you would have seen in theatres. There is a constant evolution in the fidelity of the threshold of reality reproduced. What I mean by that is that the tool is evolving to replicate reality with greater fidelity, but that doesn’t mean it is overtaking the function of art.

The function of art is to transcend reality. The function of art is to propose ways of being through what is observed. The function of art is to speculate. It is to invent, innovate, create recipes, adventure. One of the artistic conversations that I spoke about today was that of Bob Williams turning the Hubble telescope to what was considered a dark patch and for the first 100 hours nothing came through it. And after that, images came pouring in that were from 12 billion light years away, giving us a completely new understanding about the origin of the universe itself.

So these are artistic expressions. These are artistic rigours where you take new steps, directions within existing possible media. You have the same challenge in cinema. The medium is quite capable of replicating reality. The medium is, in fact, quite capable of replicating the inner realities of dreams, but the transcendental expression of that medium is by artists who realize that the real work of the medium is not only to transmit data but to transmit insights, wisdom, knowledge and dreams and possibilities.

But what happens to narrative and emotion as, technology aside, it is deeply embedded in our cinematic form?

Certainly, but not just cinematic form. Human expression is about addressing a wide variety of behavioural experiences and human emotions and any tool that you were to invent will have to engage with our discourse and our narrative in that manner. It will have to become an emotional experience, otherwise it will never become intuitive. Just by replicating reality it will not create an emotional experience, because to create a true emotional experience it will have to create its own grammar, which we have done in cinema over the past 100 years. So virtual reality is at a very nascent stage right now and the grammar is just emerging.

There are several interesting connections between the documentary you produced, An Insignificant Man, and KIFF. Both are stories of the underdog, against the system, to reform the system. So it was fortuitous for the festival to screen the film and invite you to inaugurate the festival. What is the next project you are working on? 

I’m producing a lot these days. I worked as creative director, executive producer and co-writer on a film called Tumbaad which has been in post-production for some time. I have written a film which has Kajol acting and Ajay Devgn producing it. It’s a script based on a play that I wrote and directed some 17 years ago. Then we have the VR and AR [augmented reality] labs where we are doing a lot of work under Memesys and ElseVR.

Khushboo [Ranka, co-director of An Insignificant Man] is already working on her next script which I am producing, so I am producing a wide variety of films. I have been writing my next film as well which has taken forever and probably will take forever!

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