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Irrfan Khan would have been in my next film-Anand Gandhi

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Anand Gandhi to kickstart the big-budget project in 2021 with a Hollywood studio; the script revolves around a pandemic
Ankita Chaurasia (MUMBAI MIRROR; May 6, 2020)

Stock scenes of Indians praying in front of the Taj Mahal for redemption in superhero and apocalyptic films, like Independence Day and Armageddon, irked a 15-year-old Anand Gandhi so much that he vowed to change the narrative. For the last five years, the filmmaker has been developing a script that revolves around four frontline women scientists, superheroes in their own way, fighting a contagion. Titled Emergence, it explores the impact of microbiomes on the psyche.

“The idea came while working on Ship Of Theseus that tried to answer whether free will exists. I was intrigued to learn that microbiomes (bacteria in our body) play a significant role in our behaviour,” says Anand, whose next film Tumbbad was about how greed can possess and transform a person, much like a pathogen. “With Emergence, I’m taking the parasite-host relationship further.” He cites a parasitic fungus, Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis, that takes over an ant’s body, controls its mind and turns it into a puppet to perpetuate. Trying to focus more on science than fiction, Anand has roped in epidemiologist Larry Brilliant as Executive Producer, and host-parasite relationship scientist Shelley Adamo as advisor. “Larry spearheaded the team that eradicated smallpox and controlled polio.

Like a detective, he figures out the epicentre of a pandemic and calculates the R-naught of the contagion, which is a measure of how many people it can infect,” Anand says, adding that with Adamo’s advice, he has created a fictional microbe, which is a prion.

The script seems eerily prescient, now that a pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. “I started writing it five years ago, with the working title 2020. My script predicted the rise of right-wing politics, storage crisis for scientific data, paleomicrobe releasing from thawing of the Arctic and behavioral changes brought on by a pandemic. But there was so much research required that by 2017, the office joked that the film would have to be re-titled 2025,” Anand laughs, pointing out that futurists Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom, in their 2008 survey, had predicted a 60 per cent chance of over a million dying from a pandemic in this century. “The social implications and subsequent changes in the human species are a part of the narrative.” Has the outbreak changed his life? “I’m too privileged to complain. Besides, my team has been working out of our Goa office since two years.”

Anand is putting out video interviews, the latest one with Irrfan Khan, whom he met soon after Maqbool released. “My short film, Right Here Right Now, came around the same time. We drove to Pune once, and became friends over the years. That video is cathartic,” he says, adding that they had an unspoken pact that Irrfan would be in all his projects. “We explored possibility of his presence in Tumbbad before the final script and schedule changed things. He’d have been in Emergence too. I wish I had created something with him.”

Now, Anand will rework his script slightly as there is no need to define a contagion anymore. He plans to take Emergence on the floors next year. “The idea is not to make the first but the most well-researched film about a pandemic. It will be a big-budget project, we are collaborating with an American studio,” he says. How does he plan to shoot it amid restrictions? “A pandemic is the flipside of global mobility, but it won’t stop air travel. After studying the challenges, every industry will make its own social and physical rule-book to work around the situation, till a vaccine and a cure are found,” he concludes.

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