In Conversation with Filmmaker Ananth Mahadevan
Ananth Mahadevan on his film Mai Ghat - Crime No.103/2005
Ananth Narayan Mahadevan comes from English and Hindi theatre who graduated to Hindi cinema and then took to direction. His earlier directorial work was confined to mainstream films like Dil Vil Pyar Vyar, Dil Maange More etc, He chose to switch channels and make significant off-mainstream films beginning with Mee Sindhutai Sakpal and then went on to make both Hindi and Marathi films. This film won four National Awards in different categories. His latest directorial venture is Mai Ghat – Crime No.103/2005 in Marathi which has been selected for screening at the Kolkata International Film Festival this year. He opens up about his foray into direction and his choice of humane subjects in an interview.
What is the trigger that moved you to make a full-length feature film on the story?
An editorial in a prominent daily quoted a judge when he passed a historic death sentence on two policemen which stated, “it does not need a mother's lacerating pain to realise that there is no rationalization for torture. It is simply a human wrong". This happened in Kerala and the mother was Prabhavati Amma. I felt an urgent need that this was a story that had to be told. Mohini Gupta, a young producer was moved by the story. She came on board to produce the film.
What inspired the switch from mainstream to humane and social issues?
I realized that all the self -tutoring I had done on cinema watching masters from Europe, Asia, Russia and America was ready to be worked upon. Cinema is deeply connected to society and to the human race. events and moods that impact us make for dramatic transcriptions to screen. We may indulge in fantasies and potboilers but real cinema is a tribute to humanity and a mirror to society. The truth is what you carry home long after the auditorium lights have come on.
The choice of Suhasini Mulay as the committed and veteran lawyer is almost unique. How did the idea occur to you and how did you persuade her to do the film considering we do not see her at all?
Suhasini Mulay is a powerhouse of talent that I admired since her debut in Mrinal Sen's Bhuvan Shome. I got an opportunity to work with her three years back in my film on the Indian education system Rough Book. We struck it off wonderfully and extended our association with Mai Ghat. Thinking actors like Suhasini Mulay make a big difference to cinema.
(Still from the film Mai Ghat)
What made up you choose Usha Jadhav as the mother who ages over the film since she is very young?
Usha Jadhav who played Prabha Mai is a National award winning actress for her Marathi film Dhag. She is a natural born talent and learnt the technique of performing before the camera quite quickly. I had cast her five years ago in a series by Siddharth Basu titled "Lakhon Mein Ek" and she had impressed with her effortless approach. Mai Ghat is the result of that collaboration and serious brainstorming on how to internalize pain and grief. She struck all the right notes and the result is a performance that leaves you deeply affected. We worked on the squint eyes and minimal prosthetic application for her aging and she modulated her voice effectively to convey the broken mother.
The rest of the cast - the boy, his close friend who runs away, the police are all out-of-the-box. Please explain your casting and how you trained them - script reading sessions, workshops, rehearsals and so on?
Every character from the cops, the wife, the son, his friend and his mother were handpicked from versatile theatre actors who were faces in the crowd, helping us t make the film more believable and flesh-and-blood. Workshops helped in briefing them about how to pitch the characters by shedding all elements of unnecessary drama.
Where has the film been shot? The ghat plays a pivotal role in the story. Why?
Mai Ghat is an actual water body in Sangli. It uncannily made an appropriate title for the story. The protagonist is a mother. She is a washerwoman who cleans the dirt of society in the ghat. It all fitted in perfectly with the theme. The water is a metaphor for the soul cleansing that happens in the film.
As the director, where did you wish to focus on? - the story as a whole, the woman at the centre, the judicial system, the corruption in the system, or, did you work towards a harmonious balance among all these?
All the elements linked together formed a harmonious whole. The impact that one stray incident of violence has on several lives, and how it holds a mirror to social conscience is the underlying feature of the film that leaves one disturbed and tormented yet admiring the tenacity of a mother who fought grief and secured justice. We completed the film from conception to censor certificate in six months. I owe it to a well-oiled production unit and systematic scheduling.
Having been an actor, how do you keep yourself distanced from your film without playing any character?
I employ my acting skills in imparting to the players, the nuances of their roles. It is like enacting several characters all at once and the actors having implicit faith in you as they treat me more like a colleague than as director.
(Still from the film Mai Ghat)
The music and the sound design are very expressive and creative as well. Comments?
I was clear that this was a film of foley[sound design] that reflected natural elements. The background score was always to be minimal as I do not believe in intruding into moments that are self-explanatory. Silences speak loudly in this film and in keeping with the understated approach, the sound was carefully designed.
The unprecedented court judgement sentencing to death, two policemen who had tortured an innocent boy in their custody shook the conscience of all people concerned. Mai Ghat delves into the mind of the boy's mother who held on relentlessly for 13 years to fight for justice for her son. But the act of violence indirectly trapped others connected to the mother too. The film holds a mirror to our social system and questions moral values and conscience that impacts friends and foes alike. Caste discrimination and an economic failure precipitate such heinous acts and unknowingly destroy several lives.
Anything else you would like to add?
I have consciously striven to make the film speak a global language of cinema and the overwhelming reactions of the Singapore South Asian film festival jury led by Roger Garcia reinstated my faith in the approach.