Anand Gandhi has a bit of a mad scientist air about him. At 32, the playwright-screenwriter-filmmaker already sports a mass of almost completely grey hair, giving him an Einstein-esque appearance. He's a terrible time-manager and, by his own admission, is a habitual late-comer. He once arrived for a meeting at Anurag Kashyap's office exactly 24 hours after the time of appointment.
However, when he does arrive, he moves with a lot of urgency. "Cinema is the most complete art form that exists today," he says.
His debut feature film, Ship of Theseus, completed earlier this year, is due for a theatrical release in March. The film has been making waves in film festivals around the world, ever since it was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where the festival's artistic director Cameron Bailey called it one of the year's hidden gems. Ship of Theseus is a cinematic triptych that explores an ancient Greek philosophical conundrum known as Theseus' Paradox. A slick piece of cinema it has been praised by stalwarts such as Shyam Benegal and Shekhar Kapur.
Gandhi who lives in an upscale apartment in Andheri, Mumbai says it wasn't always this way. He spent his childhood in Kalbadevi before his parents separated and moved to a slum room in Borivali to stay with his mother and grandparents in 1987. But all was not grim. His mother and grandmother were pop culture fanatics and Gandhi was raised on a diet of 1990s Bollywood movies and Gujarati plays. "We'd go to the theatre at least four times a week," he says. "By 14, I was watching cinema by the likes of Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani," he says. "By 17, I'd discovered Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf."
He gave up on Bollywood in 1998, after watching Karan Johar's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. Since then, he has watched not more than one such film every two years. "I was disgusted with whatever was being taught," he says. "I realised I had to drop out of college in order to gain an education."
However, mediocrity seeped back into his life in 2000, when he accepted an offer to write two TV shows produced by Ekta Kapoor - Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii. Gandhi, who was 19 and penniless at the time, was offered Rs. 1 lakh per month, a substantial sum even by today's standards.
"In retrospect, I think I was seduced by not only the money, but also the prospect of being able to influence such a large audience," he says. It's been a long journey since then, which has included a number of acclaimed plays, two cult films. "I don't want mediocrity or ugliness to seep into my consciousness," he says, perhaps referring to his past. "Life is too short for that."