From film making to organic farming to economic theories, you have more than merely dabbled across spheres in making lasting contributions. Would it be right to call you a restless soul?
I would only say that I was merely seeking the life-style that would make me really peaceful and happy. So moving to a small place amidst a farm was on the cards ever since 1980 when I returned from U.S at age 22. Everything else just happened along the way, just like films. I was only doing things to ‘appear’ responsible but the final aspiration was always inclined towards a farm life.
Could you share some fond memories of your growing years? How was life as a kid and a student?
One thing I realised early in life was that I was very fond of tinkering with gadgets and making things. So every weekend I would have some kind of project in mind. I began with mechanical things like carpentry before moving on to motors and gearboxes, electronics, music synthesisers and ham radio. Eventually I turned to computers some of which I would attempt to assemble with discrete parts that I bought from Lamington Road or Chor bazaar. Yes, these things were not so easily available then and one had to dig through heaps of electronic garbage for the treasure. It made the process of creation all the more exciting.
As a scion of a film maker family, what explains your broken tryst with computer science as also the belated encounter with films?
At first I thought all I wanted to do was engineering and computer science. But by the time I reached my last year in college, I realised that it was only a creative pastime for me. My perplexment affected my academic performance. I eventually left MIT with the option of a comeback but I knew I had reached the point of no return. Worse, I was unsure about my next move. Films were certainly not the reason why I left studies. I took to films only because I felt worthless as a drop out and saw the need to prove to my father that even I could be good at something.
Support players and father-son relationships hold dignified footage in your films. As writer-director, your mind seems more democratic in developing characterizations…
I love characters and that, for me, is the most sumptuous part of writing a film story. Whether Mammik and his lady love in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander, the grocer in Akele Hum Akele Tum or the lead pair’s friends in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, every character is integral to the central theme. And why not? It is self-defeating to churn out lead-centric stories alone. And yes, I am kind of drawn to the father-son relationship. I guess that pathos is the strongest in my life.
Music holds a special place of pride in your movies. ‘Rooth ke hamse kabhi’ continues to mesmerise us to this day… Was the decision to rope in the debutante Anand-Milind for QSQT or Jatin-Lalit for JJWS yours?
Yes, all decisions on music were mine. I had worked with Anand Milind on a video film called ‘Umberto’ that allowed me to privately try my hand at writing and direction. I loved my interactions with Anand Milind in both films and together we crafted a style of sound that was fresh for the Hindi film scene. I must say that working on the music was the most joyous part of filmmaking for me. The rest I found very tedious and stressful. Likewise I had an excellent and personal relationship with Jatin Lalit. They perfectly understood my musical leanings, from melody to arrangement to instrumentation. I guess both brother duos gave me a lot of margin in music creation as I play the piano and drums and also dabble a bit in home-recordings. Yes, ‘Rooth ke’ was the perfect tune for that montage situation that could easily have become tedious to watch otherwise.
After a string of such successful films, what caused the almost film-like idyllic shift to farming? Did you feel disillusioned at some point of time?
Films were never a long term plan. The real plan as told earlier was to run away from the city. But can one ever be vocal about such plans? Even if one was, can one expect to be taken seriously? So, my resolve remained mute and become apparent to the outside world only when it materialised.
For me, it was always about what I wished to do from within. So it was not a sudden shift by any means. The moment I felt I had done what I could do in films, I felt the need to move towards my real quest before it was too late. Also by then my wife Tina and I had two kids. I wanted to get them acclimatised to a farm life before they could get habituated to urban ways.
The early years as a farmer would have been trying, if not stressful. Was your wife's cheese making and your home stay venture logical and sustainable extensions of your greener pastures?
I don’t think we did any serious farming. Yes we grew garden vegetables and kept cows, and Tina self-taught to make gourmet cheese but we knew that all this was not leading to any kind of financial sustainability. So I was quietly shaping the idea of running a 5 room farm stay that would keep our balance sheet happy. Cheese making was not logical as such but definitely proved a satisfying and challenging preoccupation for Tina. And in the end it paid off in another way. Cheese making became our USP and that now brings a lot of people to the farm without the need for active advertising. Tina also takes cheese making classes.
Was the Coonoor way of life largely instrumental in the quality of introspection that led you to your seminal 'Third Curve'? The theory of Reality Curve failing to cope with Money curve is so simply put and yet it’s not simplistic...How did you manage the feat?
Well, it’s all interconnected. My core belief was always that there has to be a better way to live than what our urban industrial system allows us. As time panned out, the world saw things going wrong that we dubbed environmental crisis only in hindsight. Close on the heels came the economic crisis. So it was all adding up in my mind that my thought process was fundamentally correct. This active pursuit that we label as progress is only a myth and a dangerous one at that. So I kept thinking and studying it at every level. And finally I became aware of Peak Oil and the reality of the Bell Curve of resources and it all fell into place. I plunged headlong into reading everything about it that I could manage. Originally I just wanted to write a book on Peak Oil for the benefit of fellow Indians as India, I felt, is one of the least aware countries on this reality. But as I went touring around the country giving lectures, my argument matured into a wider comparison of the fundamental mismatch between exponential money and finite resources. I took a visual approach by explaining it in terms of two curves – one, exponential for money and the other, bell for oil. Just placing them alongside makes the theory clear and evident that nothing really more needs to be told …at least to an honest and receptive mind which is precisely my intended audience.
Do you have plans to initiate an awakening among establishments and masses across the globe to help them understand and adopt the principles and practices of the Third curve?
I just hope to release the book first and then I will take it to the next level. Maybe an animated presentation or something on those lines would be an ideal way to communicate with people who are not interested in grappling with a whole book replete with graphs and technical deliberations.
Did you face any opposition - stiff or otherwise - from the powers-that-be and vested interests who could perhaps internally feel threatened with a sudden negation of the Money Curve?
I didn’t face any opposition because the argument is too strong and self-evident. Yes, there was denial but that is always the first response. I believe that time will make it clear that this is not about a choice. It’s an inevitable eventuality. I have based my argument not on moral choices but on logical possibilities of pitting the infinite expectation of money growth against the limits imposed by the earth’s finiteness.
Do you have any plans of marking your second innings as a filmmaker? May be a documentary on the Third Curve itself to begin with?
At present I am just looking at the road immediately ahead. I am not particularly looking forward to making films. But I will do whatever is needed to spread the ideas of common sense that concern me. That itself will decide the outcomes of my efforts.