Anantham, the latest offering of ZEE5, has been winning hearts since its release last week. The part-anthology, part-hyperlink series is a comeback project for director Priya V, and the filmmaker, known for her romcom, Kanda Naal Mudhal, apparently drew inspiration for the series from real events in her life. For instance, Anantham, the title, is based on the name of her ancestral home where she grew up and lives now. “The most important moments in my life happened in that house. So, it is very special to me. I simply had to imagine other people with different journeys, living in that same house.”
The idea of a story being told by a house, about its occupants over several decades, sounds like a dream premise for OTT content, given that it feels high on engagement and low on budget. However, Priya reveals that the reality was quite the opposite.
“I had pitched the idea to every major OTT platform; they didn’t even bother to read my script. They were all against the idea of an anthology. Finally, ZEE5 found the script to be engaging and took up the project.” She goes on to share that the series was originally titled Navarasa. “I came up with the core idea around 2014 and proceeded to write five stories based on five rasas. However, by the time we launched our project, Netflix had announced its version of Navarasa. So, we stuck to Anantham, which translates to infinity, and this in a sense conveys the endless number of stories that can happen within four walls.”
Priya clubbed the rasas, routhiram (anger) and veeram (courage) into the single episode Parvathy, which revolves around a sexual abuse survivor facing her abuser. “It was an episode that shook us even while shooting. The lead actors, Mirnaa, Laguparan and Anusha, and I all had meltdowns while canning the scenes involving the abuse. But I was determined to tell it to the audience as every one of us has gone through it in various forms when we were kids and silenced by people we trust.”
Her meticulous gaze throughout the series, which talks about lesser-spoken topics like queer relationships, makes sure that the audience is sensitised to the issues discussed. “I had written Ananth’s segment involving a gay couple rather graphically. However, while converting it to the screen, I toned it down as I wanted to make sure all viewers would find it acceptable. Yaarum aiyo chi nu sollida koodadhu. I also didn’t want people to think that gay love equates to ‘vulgarity’ and having multiple partners. That’s why Ananth’s character says that he was loyal to one person throughout his life,” she says.
Priya has also handled the comedy segment, Krishnan Menon (involving a grandmother, mother and daughter all falling in love with one man), with the same dignity. “My chithi lost her husband when she was 38. I was a kid then, and to me, she felt like a really old person, and I used to mention 50-year-old people as elderly in my scripts when I was an assistant director. But when I was 38, I continued to feel young and was attracted to men. I wrote Shylaja based on this dichotomy.” She reveals that the idea of different women from the family fighting over a guy came from a brief encounter she had with Rajinikanth during her early teens. “The women in my family, including my aunts and cousins, had gone to Stella Mary’s college in our car. We suddenly spotted Rajinikanth crossing us in his Fiat, and we shouted his name together in excitement. He noticed us and waved back at us, as he passed by. Every woman in the car started fighting over who he waved at. This incident inspired me to spin the comical angle in the Krishnan Menon segment.”
The last act in the season-ender of Anantham is in contrast to the other segments in the series and ends with a cliffhanger that doesn’t quite work. Priya replies, “It was a collective decision. Though I wasn’t the only person who made it, I take responsibility for it. To be honest, we did have mixed thoughts about it. But again, we went with it as it gives us the possibility to explore a whole new array of stories set in the same house.”
Anantham is a rare series, where almost every actor on the frame has delivered an admirable performance. Priya calls it ‘magic’. “I had to make them believe in my script, and once that was accomplished, they all gave their best even without me asking for it. I believe my actors give their best when the instructions from me are minimal. I am blessed to have so many people support my vision.”
Priya signs off saying that she has gone back to her Kanda Naal Mudhal days, with her upcoming project. “I have begun shooting for a romcom and completed a short schedule already. It is simple, fun, and has a lot of heart. I believe that those who liked Kanda Naal Mudhal will love this. You can expect an announcement about the cast and crew very soon.”