What got you interested in the idea of organ transplantation?
The understanding of health and going head on with biology happened only when my grandparents fell sick. That was in 2006. First my dada met with an accident and then my grandmother had to have an operation. For one and a half years of my life, I was pretty much nursing them full time with my mother. That gave me a lot of opportunity to sit and wonder. There’s a simple anecdote: a scholar is travelling by boat. The scholar asks the boatman, “Have you read the Vedas?” The khevaiya (boatman) says no. The scholar says, “Your life has no purpose then. Have you learnt from the great algebra masters?” The boatman says, “No, I don’t know how to put two and two together.” The scholar says, “Then what’s the point of your life?” At one point, the boatman asks him if he knows how to swim. He says, “No, that’s such a frivolous activity. Why would I want to know that?” He says, “Your life is worthless because there’s a hole in the boat and here I go.” When I was nursing my grandparents, I really felt like that. That I had learnt everything but I had never learnt to swim.
Were there any objections from viewers over the portrayal of a Jain monk fasting unto death?
He’s not a Jain monk. It’s a fictitious religion that we’ve created for the film. A lot of people assume he’s Jain because there are similarities. But there are as many dissimilarities. The rituals in their world are fictitious but draw from Jainism, Buddhism and some other traditions. The reason I wanted to create a fictitious religion was that I didn’t want it to become a story about context and politics. I wanted it to be a story about an ethical internal dilemma. I wanted the focus to be on the ethical dilemma.
Neeraj Kabi (who plays the monk) became vegetarian after the film.
A lot of people came up to me after watching the film and said they’ve turned vegetarian. Even though there’s no direct message.
On the basis of the blind photographer (egyptian girl trying to be all-that!!) promo—
I know and can vouch that this will garner universal acclaim, will take indian cinema to a new direction and will be ‘pathbreaking’ etc.
The direction and ambition is all there…
I don’t know –but there’s something irksome here
The prodcutin values, casting, styling all are uneven and not commensurate with the (attempted) vibe
Even the dialogues appear to have this ‘take me seriously’ vibe in a disproportionate & even contrived way….
Ps: but one thing is certain–this will get some people going…all arty n intellectual-ish….
Anyhow time to translate these ‘flight of ideas’ into an actual flight…
Contd form above–
The other issue I have is the ‘styling’ of the ‘blind girl’…
I mean–is this india or French Riviera!!!
I know the west won’t mind it /discriminate it and some may lap it up but this whole thing looks ‘too intelligent’ for its own good!!!
( The film ‘ Ship of Theseus’ has so many strands of science, philosophy, ethics, morality and everyday living are scattered round, that one can just pick any one and let your thought spin it around some distance. This one takes off from the scene where the ascetic Maitreya lies sick, suffering from liver cirrhosis, emaciated and weak, and his young admirer, the lawyer Charbak, brings himan illustrated book of English alphabet. Charbak randomly opens the page on ‘O’ and hits upon the words ‘Ophiocordyceps unilateralis”. What’s that? Let’s find out.)
Deep in the undergrowth of the world’s tropical forests, a rather frightening yet fascinating fungus is lurking. While its name may not trip off the tongue, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has a modus operandi that is absolutely unforgettable.
From the Cordyceps fungus family, this parasite has the capacity to do very nasty things indeed to ants. Once an ant walks through some of its fungal spores, the fungus bores its way into the insect and eventually takes over its nervous system and its brain. Then things get really weird.
The fungus makes the ant climb up a tree and bite into a leaf. The ant soon dies and a long stalk grows from out of the back of its head, which then drops fungal spores on to the colony below so the cycle can begin again.
‘What’s rather spectacular in the case of the zombie ant fungi is that they are able to precisely control the behaviour of the host before it dies,’ said disease biologist David Hughes, assistant professor of entomology and biology at Pennsylvania State University, who has followed these intriguing organisms around the world. They can be found in the forests of countries such as Thailand, China, Australia and Brazil.
He described what happens when a spore first attaches itself to an ant on the forest floor.
‘It does a rather interesting thing – it sticks tight so it can’t be pulled off and then it uses enzymes and pressure to blow a hole through the ant’s body.’
After two weeks growing inside the ant, the fungus is able to control its behaviour and produces chemicals which tell the ant to leave the rest of the colony. Dr Hughes is currently preparing a report which identifies how exactly these chemicals work.
‘The infected ant goes and latches itself on to a leaf in the understory vegetation of a tropical rainforest and this provides a perfect platform for when the spore-producing structure grows out of the back of the ant’s head,’ he added.
‘It’s one of the most complex examples of parasites controlling animal behaviour that we know about.’
And it is behaviour that has been going on for 48m years. In 2010, Dr Hughes was part of a team which found fossilised evidence in Germany of the practice.
This example of nature at its most brilliantly and disgustingly devious sounds like something more suitable to science-fiction. It is the perfect premise, then, for a horror video-game.
The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog and exclusively available on PlayStation 3 from Friday, takes the Cordyceps concept and pushes it to its limit. The game is set 20 years after a fungal parasite has made its way through most of humanity. Players take the role of a survivor battling to survive in a world of grotesque, zombiesque, fungus-faced creatures.
Dr Hughes, who pointed out that fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants, worked as a consultant to the game-makers.
‘They gravitated towards the idea of growth and they liked the grossness of it,’ he revealed.
‘It reflects the increasing sophistication of the audience. They love stories but they like it when there’s more detail. You start off with Danny Boyle and 28 Days Later and then a few years later you have these games which have a lot of sophisticated biology in them. That’s what the audience are demanding.’
A dead ant with a stalk growing out of the back of its head after being taken over by the fungus (Picture: David Hughes)
But the big question is could a parasitic fungal pandemic as depicted in The Last of Us really happen?
‘It’s a flight of fancy to think one of those parasites will be a specialised fungus that controls ant behaviour but the history of medicine shows us that there’s lots and lots of parasites jumping over from animals into humans and then having crazy effects,’ said Dr Hughes.
‘We constantly inhale billions of spores of fungi every day and our immune system is very well set up to prevent these infections. We do occasionally see fungi jumping the species barrier, going from one animal into humans.’
He said Aids sufferers in South East Asia have died from fungal infections contracted from small mammals.
In parts of the US, the fungal disease coccidiodomycosis – or Valley Fever – kills hundreds of people a year after it is contracted from spores swept into the air from soil.
‘It’s foolish to to think we’re living in a sanitised world protected from mass outbreaks,’ said Dr Hughes, before listing examples such as influenza, bird flu, SARS and Aids.
“A photographer trying to rediscover her vision, a monk fighting a court case, a stock market speculator trying to do something he has never done before – trying to help – these are people I could know. But do I know them deeply? What is this thing called “knowing?” SOT makes you know them in a devastatingly bare, naked manner. The lawyer you saw in High Court. The girl in harem pants who walked past you in Khar without a glance at you. The man who shoved you at Malad station. The labourer who polished your front door. SOT brings you very close to them, without the slightest bit of self-consciousness or pretentiousness. This, in an English film meant for the urban audience, is in itself astounding. But its in the portrayals and performances of those characters that the final triumph of the film lies. They could have been “cinematic” – displaying a mix of spunk, humour, a bit of love, sex, rousing dialogues, posturing – we all know the staple of “cinema”. Yet, Anand takes the hard way and portrays them in subtle, realistic hues as they go through their quest in the most seemingly ordinary way.
This could have resulted in documentary. But it does not; because the portrayal of everyday ordinariness is just a technique that Gandhi uses to bring us into close proximity with his characters -so close that we trust them. When has a film last done this to you? ”