Anand Tharaney

Arts Research and Documentation
2013-2014

Grant Period: One year and six months

Anand Tharaney is a filmmaker and researcher who has been involved in various international documentaries and cultural projects. He has also served as the chief researcher for the book ‘Dieux et Robots’, Les theatres d’automates divins de Bombay (2008, Emmanuel Grimaud). His project ‘Gods and Robots: Research and film on the divine automaton displays of Mumbai’ has grown out of this book. Taking from the academic text, the film adapts a style that mixes documentary with fiction.

The project seeks to explore the popular subculture of automatons displayed at the Ganesha festival and the myths that inspire them. The automaton culture which started as a side show for the festival has grown to become a full fledged industry, where the makers continuously innovate through low-end inexpensive technologies to narrate not just mythological stories but also those that spring from their own social and political concerns as a community. The film, using a ‘film-within-a-film’ technique makes the automata come alive and their creators become actors in it. A documentary which is about an industry of mythologies and automatons representing the community’s voice attains a different dimension by this mix of the fictional.

Anand Tharaney is a filmmaker and researcher who has been involved in various international documentaries and cultural projects. He has also served as the chief researcher for the book ‘Dieux et Robots’, Les theatres d’automates divins de Bombay (2008, Emmanuel Grimaud). His project ‘Gods and Robots: Research and film on the divine automaton displays of Mumbai’ has grown out of this book. Taking from the academic text, the film adapts a style that mixes documentary with fiction.

The project seeks to explore the popular subculture of automatons displayed at the Ganesha festival and the myths that inspire them. The automaton culture which started as a side show for the festival has grown to become a full fledged industry, where the makers continuously innovate through low-end inexpensive technologies to narrate not just mythological stories but also those that spring from their own social and political concerns as a community. The film, using a ‘film-within-a-film’ technique makes the automata come alive and their creators become actors in it. A documentary which is about an industry of mythologies and automatons representing the community’s voice attains a different dimension by this mix of the fictional.

Anand’s engagement with the city through his earlier research for the book on the automata provides him the perfect grounding to work on this subject. His work as a filmmaker enables him to lend a creative vision to this otherwise academic research. It is a rare work in the ever growing field of cultural studies. He uses the Hindu mythology of the Matsya Avatar from the Puranas to introduce fiction in his documentary. In the film this role is assumed by the author Emmanuel, whom the people from the automaton industry fondly call Manu. During the narrative the automata escapes the religious display and is spotted throughout the city. Analogous to the story, the fish headed automaton grows bigger and bigger as the author follows him to encounter people from the automaton industry. The growing of the automaton is a comment on the growing size of the industry. The film is divided into three parts - the religious display, the sighting of the automata, and, the author following the automata.

Anand also proposes to do an installation where live automatons, images from the book, and video from the film, will allow the audience a more interactive experience over an extended period of time. The project that provides an insight into a subculture that coexists with today’s high-tech, gadget-laden urban cultures, is an equally popular phenomenon, but is in sharp contrast to it.

 

This grant was made possible with support from the Bajaj Group.