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Interview Hindi

Amman Advaita: You can’t make a film if you’re not constantly reinventing yourself

The director of the upcoming film Kosha, starring Prachi Desai, spoke to Cinestaan.com about his first film and the musical inspirations he’s inherited from his grandfather, Master Sonik.

Courtesy: Amman Advaita

Sonal Pandya

Next year, Hindi cinema will see a different kind of filmmaking with the fantasy adventure film, Kosha, starring Prachi Desai. Directed by Amman Advaita, produced by Karan Raj Kanwar and written by Abhay Raj Kanwar, the film is a collaboration of the next generation in the industry. Advaita is the grandson of music composer Master Sonik and the son of author Seema Sonik Alimchand, while Karan and Abhay are the sons of late filmmaker Raj Kanwar. 

Cinestaan.com spoke to the articulate and poised young director during the film’s post-production process about making his first feature, his filmmaking inspirations and why Kosha will be the fresh perspective Indian cinema has been waiting for. Excerpts:

How did the opportunity to direct Kosha come up?

My grandfather was into music, Master Sonik of Sonik-Omi, so I’ve always been trained in music. Initially, I wanted to be a music composer, but it’s like an amalgamation of the skills that I have imbibed since childhood that have defined me. It was destiny since I knew the producer Karan Raj Kanwar from primary school. I am grateful for the immense faith he has in me. Karan and I would always be thinking about how we want to do a movie together. We wanted to come in with a fresh perspective and new ideas to shake things up.

Bollywood (Hindi film industry) is continuously evolving. And I think we’re very proud to be part of the new generation of filmmakers who are ready to take things ahead in a progressive fashion.

Karan, Abhay [Karan’s brother] and I are all fans of fantasy movies. And also the kind of films we see abroad that are visually stunning with subtle acting and yet challenge the audience. We wanted to make a film that we could be a fan of.

Abhay had conceived the idea for Kosha a few years ago. We started writing the script last year and it went through many, many variations. We, as filmmakers, have to evolve as society evolves.

Earlier you mentioned your interest in music, how did the shift to direction happen then?

I’ve been learning music since the age of four and I still play and practice music. It’s only one viewpoint though, like looking at one grain of sand on a beach. That grain of sand has everything within it, it’s incredibly complex.

It has emotional value and the power to make us feel something, but then when you just take a step back and you see the sea and the beach, you realize that ‘Oh, wow, I see it now’. It’s a combination of so many beautiful arts coming together and that’s like life, right? Many different people with different ways of thinking and practices and skills come together into this random world that we live in.

To have that unique viewpoint on that random world is very important to me because I come in as a person who has a background in music, martial arts, and theatre. I’ve done my film course [abroad]. Last year, I worked as an associate director on a movie. And now here I am.

You can’t make a film if you’re not constantly reinventing yourself. And the film is you. It’s not only your soul, it’s the souls of hundreds of people who are putting their creative effort into making something beautiful with the hope that it flies.

At that time, when you went abroad to study, you knew that direction is what you wanted to do?

Yes, it came to me when I was younger. I just saw myself doing it and it came with a certain kind of clarity and focus. I was 17. [The] pieces of the puzzle of your life before have all joined together and now they make this painting. And all you had to do was place the pieces of the puzzle together.

You realize that everyone around you, the way you’ve led your life has all led to this point. It was pretty much a natural evolution into moviemaking.

Now that you’re making your own film, who have been the filmmakers who you have watched that you’ve looked up to over the years?

I love [David] Lynch, I love the way he conceives his art in a surreal fashion. It’s engrossing, but at the same time, the performances and the camerawork, it makes you think. You’re constantly wondering what these characters are up to. You’re not sitting passively. It’s not there to bombard you. Lynch, then Guillermo Del Toro, he’s fantastic... Pan’s Labyrinth.

That was something that influenced you?

Oh, yes, and I mean, it’s not only filmmakers and movies. People always talk about that. But it’s often life and how certain aspects of the life around you can be exaggerated or made hyper-real.

For me, it was also that I love reading. I read a lot of fantasy novels, it’s one of those things from childhood that I have continued. Back then it was children’s fantasy, now it is epics.

The fantasy not only of abroad but also the mythology of India, these are the things that I feel that are part of me. And the artistes and authors who have created it many years ago, our Vedas and our ancient stories and texts. So from those epics to the newest form which is movies.

It’s a full understanding of where art comes from and where it might go that drives the thought process of an artist and makes you want to keep learning and exploring because there is so much in this world and you’re so small.

Your debut film has been described as a ‘dark, urban fairy tale’ and it’s being adapted from a comic, is that right?

Yes, Abhay is a fabulous artist and writer and he has worked hard to design this emotionally gripping tale.

In the olden days, there used to be a lot of mythological films, fantasy and costume dramas. That’s lost, somewhere along the way, are you trying to bring that back? Is that what you can tell me about the film?

In the way that we have gone about it, it’s all mostly practical effects. There’s not a ton of CGI. In that way, it kind of looks back at what has come before it. But otherwise it's a very new concept.

The morals of the West, I think Prachi’s (Desai) character represents those morals. Her character is forward-thinking, strong, and rebellious. And we have managed to accomplish this all thanks to her. Her humbleness, the way she took on the role of this character and the way Prachi really evolved the character to a standard I would have never imagined possible. I think it’s fantastic when an artiste manages to take your character and your film to the next level. When they even surpass the original blueprint of it.

And when you see this strong character face trials that have to do with the darkness that exists in our city. She’s constantly facing challenges and trials in a city that's very much like the one I was born in – Mumbai.

Advaita on the set of Kosha. Courtesy: Amman Advaita

Was the shooting process what you envisioned?

There were trials no doubt, a couple of tough situations came up, but I think as long you’ve got a good team; a good producer, and good actors, any obstacle can be overcome. You have people who know your vision and you have people who are ready to evolve it. It’s not about any one person. We all do it for the movie. That's my school of thought.

Did you have any jitters since it’s your first film and you want to give it your all?

I think the nervous excitement drives me and pushes me to exceed limitations.

It’s your grandfather’s birth anniversary on 26 November, do you have any memories that you can share with us?

When I was one year old, he passed away. So I didn’t know him, I’ve only heard stories of him.

You learnt music because your grandfather was a composer?

Yes, I had always been told of this man who had come to Mumbai city blind and he got into such a tough industry and I’ve heard stories about how directors would come and narrate the movie and he could magically visualize it.

He had an accident and lost his eyesight when he was small, but still for a man to envision the world in that way using his senses to create an image of what could be, when he didn’t know for sure. Using those senses to such a level to be able to create music that reflects it, I felt, ‘Oh, wow, if he could do that, I can aim to be 1% of that’.

The visuals are like music to me. I imagine a scene and its rhythm, sounds, and treatment are like a beautiful piece of music.

What instruments do you play?

I started off with the piano when I was four. I learnt the piano till I was 11, then I moved to the guitar which I still play. I indulged a bit in Indian classical and Western classical singing too. The more knowledge you have, you’ll have more viewpoints on it and an all-around language from which to speak about, a musical language. I did a couple of other things musically and it was a natural transition.