There are many aged people in all your films. They seem to be a permanent feature remaining in the background of the protagonists life?
In ANANTARAM, the presence of the three old men is striking. In a sense the film is about the impossibility of youth. The impossibility of the youth in comprehending a world that is too old for him. He is in constant awe of their world that looks magical to him, and over which he gradually loses grip.
No one really knows for sure what causes mental illness, and why it happens or what is its cure. Similarly no one knows why one becomes a writer or artist. The reasons are mysterious. Is it genetic, social, circumstantial, sheer grit or something else? No one really knows. A madman has no method with his materials. When there is a method to madness, it becomes creation.
Maybe a madman is not able to extricate himself from the quagmire of his experience, whereas the artist is able to come out and make creative use of it.
And I have always thought that cinema is a medium that is ideal for such probing. Cinema is after all a series of frames and the reality within them. But then there is a reality outside it as well. Which one is real, the one within the frame or outside of it? When the camera changes angles, lenses, or alters positions, the frame also changes. So here the reality is altered, qualified or even negated.
Because cinema has a dream quality to it as a medium.
ANANTARAM is actually about the multiplicity of selves within us. Ajayan has various talents that seeks expression but are snubbed by the society. He is a lover, a loner, a dreamer, and also an over-smart boy during schooldays.
The film is structured like a monologue. I actually titled the film Monologue in English. The sequences of events are arranged in a manner following the logic of a monologue. It is in fact a visual monologue. Ajayan, the main character is a young person in an irrational state of mind. He is trying to find the rationale to his irrationality. His attempt is to narrate how he became what he is now. There are two versions in the film, each supplementing the other and not contradicting. There can be many more stories though.
The creative process takes place in three stages: one is that of the actual experience of the author. The second is the recalling of this experience, the third its arrangement. How one arranges it would depend on the theme, what one wants to convey. On that basis he picks and chooses those high points of his experience to make up a story in faithful pursuance of the theme. The first story he narrates says that he was too smart and too bright for a society that was mediocre. It always tried to stifle him. So he withdrew into himself. In the second story, he goes further back in time and states that his childhood was confusion striven and it was impossible to tell real from the fake and the imaginary.
Everything is ambivalent about his upbringing. The doctor whom he calls his father is not his real father, but is like a father for him. His brother is not his real brother, but like one. There is a certain duality about his perceptions.
Remember those sequences with the three old men at home. There is an element of magic to these sequences. It is night and it is raining outside. But the old man is thirsty and is drawing water from the well even as he is getting drenched in the torrential pouring, When he gets back to the verandah, there is no trace of rain drops on his person. His clothes are dry and he gulps in the water collected in the vessel that came out of another vessel of the same shape and look.
On another rainy night, a woman walks across the verandah and vanishes into the rain outside. The old men make the child believe it was a 'yakshi' (an enchanting spirit).
The three old men there are essentially contradicting what they are there for. One is a driver but we never find him driving the car. The car is stationed inside the shed and it stays there immobile. The second is a pharmacist in the dispensary who shoos his patient clients away preferring his cosy afternoon nap. The third one is the cook who eats most of what he cooks. And they are always weaving a web of lies around him. He doesn't have anyone else to refer to. So may be he gradually loses the faculty to discern the real from the false.
There is another scene in which the three old men appear before him as apparitions. He wakes up screaming, and when they open the window, it is already noon. They had come to say goodbye to him. The change in lighting changes the whole perception of reality. Similar is the case with the car, which we first find moving, the driver at the steering wheel. We have no reason to suspect how the car moves. But then, with a slight panning of the camera, we are led to see that the car is being towed away by a tractor.
So, as soon as we start making sense of reality, it turns into something else, which is what is happening in Ajayan's case as well. The reality outside the frame is continuously correcting the reality within it.
It has a very complex structure. That film should be seen in theatre, sitting in the dark. Then only will its magic work.
But my experience is that it was not properly appreciated outside India. May be, they do not expect any complex treatments from us. Or rather, they are not prepared for it. Either it has to be erotic or at least exotic to find a wider audience in the west.
At home, it was popular with people who are literate. The more sophisticated, the better was the appreciation. Many young people liked it too. It has happened in the case of two films of mine. In the case of case of ANANTARAM, it was the youth who were deeply touched by it. MUKHAMUKHAM moved people of a certain age. Both invited very intense responses. Many people came and told me of their own lives, many personal problems that they normally would divulge only to a doctor, a psychiatrist. Both films are of course very genuine and authentic.
There is a universality that comes out of minute details.