Press Room

SCHOOL DAZE

Ananth Mahadevan is back from the Houstan Indian Film Festival where his film, Rough Book, was adjudged Best Feature. The elated filmmaker is quick to point out that it was an all-American jury and most of the audience too were locals rather than the Indian diaspora. "In fact, I discovered that the Chancellor of the University of Houstan, Renu Khator, an Indian immigrant had turned the system around much like the protagonist played by Tannishtha Chatterjee," points out Ananth.

The project evolved when Aakash Chaudhry, a Harvard graduate and the founder of the Aakash coaching Institute, approached him with the idea of making a film on the Indian education system. Initially, Ananth wasn't too excited because education is more academic than cinematic -good for debates but not movies. It took him two months and interviews with several teachers to come up with an interesting idea. "It's the emotional journey of a teacher who thinks-outof-box and challenges the system to move towards a global education pattern in which aptitude scores over marks," says Ananth.

What's encouraging is that children from schools and colleges are identifying with the film and after the screenings in Dallas and Houstan, Ananth not only got calls from distributors but also principals of several education institutions wanting to screen Rough Book for students and parents. Ananth who is looking to tie-up with a studio for a mid-June release, is hopeful that such reactions will convince the trade that it has a much bigger box-office potential.

He recalls meeting Dorothy Weener, one of the selectors for Berlinale, when she was in India two months ago. Though his film wasn't ready for screening at the time, he showed her a rough cut to gauge her opinion. When she asked him what it was about, he told her that it was the first Indian film on the education system, only to have her rattling off the names of a few Tamil films and Aamir Khan's 3 Idiots. "But after watching Rough Book, she admitted that I had put my finger on the wound," says Ananth.

"During shows of Gaur Hari Dastaan in Kerela, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Goa, I heard people whistling, clapping, tearing up and admitting later that they felt they were watching a Rajinikanth film. We've moved beyond the star system to films that touch the mind and heart," he reiterates. "The education system today is like the rough book we were given to scribble in before the teacher told us to make it fair. Now the system needs to be faired too".