Lots of ideas that have fascinated me through my life came together in this film. I had just finished my second short film, Continuum (co-directed by Khushboo Ranka). I was nursing my grandmother, and the hospital environment threw up various emotional and existential challenges. I also found the time to focus, reflect and meditate on all the questions and ideas that had been relevant to me for years. That is when I felt that this is the story I want to make.
I am a product of all my experiences, learning, of work of the great thinkers, artistes and poets of the past, and of the interactions with so many inspiring people I have had the privilege to read or meet. What I did with all that information is who I am today. Yes, a part of my journey did include my stint as a TV writer as well (he was the writer of popular TV series ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’), which lasted for about eight months. I was just 19 then. I wrote for theatre too.
In between 1999 and 2008, I educated myself, travelled, met, lived and worked with amazing people and made two short films - Right Here Right Now and Continuum. So by the time I wanted to make Theseus, there was an excitement about what I had been doing. I went ahead and started casting and found these amazing actors - Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi, and Sohum Shah. Sohum decided to step in as producer when negotiations with prospective financers failed. The film would have not been possible, had Sohum not stepped in.
Perhaps, the most challenging part of filmmaking is to find a way to give coherent and stimulating narrative forms to all your thoughts and philosophies. The second challenge is to not be didactic. To not let the author invade the character’s space. I was conscious of these challenges, when I set out to make this film. But I have been doing this for an incredibly long time and so the process was slightly easier for me.
Process of casting
Aida El-Kashef was the first actor to come on board. She’s a second-generation filmmaker from Egypt. Aida ended up reading the lines of the photographer and suddenly we realised we had our actor right there. Sohum has been a great discovery. He plays the stockbroker in Ship of Theseus and he’s an amazingly gifted actor. Neeraj was cast because that part demanded a certain kind of commitment, a very specific kind of rigor. To lose 18 kg was borderline dangerous for any actor playing that part, and it was a full-time job, not something you finish shooting and go home.
Journey so far
I wanted to become a magician or a scientist since the time I was six. Then I wanted to be a writer. I loved telling stories and sharing experiences and epiphanies. As I grew older I wanted to be an artiste, and a philosopher. I started realising, in my teens, that a filmmaker can be all of these at the same time. So I studied graphic design, some animation and took up short courses in different things that fascinated me. All this eventually groomed me to make my first short film 10 years ago called Right Here, Right Now (A 29-minute long film with 12 locations, 19 characters, eight languages, two shots and one cut.) The film took me places and opened lots of doors.
I am busy with the post-production of Tumbad, which is directed by Rahi Anil Barve. I have co-written and co-produced it. It is a nefarious dark fantasy about a generation secret that is lost and the search for it. It also features Sohum Shah and Pankaj Kumar.
The young filmmakers should spend time listening, observing, and engaging in a very serious, deep, profound and disciplined way before jumping into talking and making.
That is the only way to produce anything relevant. And it is even more important for us to do it fiercely because we do not have an infrastructure in our country that encourages or grooms us for a certain kind of thinking.