Ananya Banerjee was born in Riyadh, but moved to India after the Gulf War. Her childhood was spent around golden sands and glitzy malls, alongside the anxiety of missiles overhead. Despite the transition, India became exciting for her because of the access to films on cable TV and VHS tapes. Growing up in a Bengali household, cinema became her passion. Horror films, especially The Exorcist, fasci- nated Ananya and made her realise the magic of cinema. Pursuing a Masters in Film from Jamia after studying English Literature from Hindu College allowed Ananya to experiment fearlessly. Theatre has also played a pivotal role in her journey, as she performed, wrote, and directed plays. Now, she’s made her debut as a filmmaker with the show Adhura, which combines Ananya’s love for horror and storytelling. She talks about her journey with the show below.
The story of Adhura didn’t just come from my love for the genre, it also came from my own childhood. Moving to a new country at a young age, in a new classroom among new faces, I think that vulnerability stayed with me and seeped into the story, where a young boy (the central protagonist of Adhura) finds himself alone in a boarding school, in a world of which he doesn’t know the rules. Also, I wanted to be able to tell a coming-of-age story, where the horror wasn’t just about the fear of a ghost or a spirit, but it spoke of the terrors of the real world, the fears that a young person feels at every step growing up — Will I be accepted? What if they reject me? What if they don’t understand? Why didn’t I say that? Why did I do that? The real horror comes from the regrets we carry — the mis- takes we can’t let go of even as adults, the worries about our identity and our sexuality, and largely of fitting in.
I wrote most of Adhura through the second lockdown, which was possibly not the best scenario you know — writing a tragic coming-of-age horror locked up in a house by myself! But I think it helped me tap into the rawest memories of being young, confront my own regrets as an adult, and explore what really scares me (and thereby the audience). While the story stage had a writer’s room with another writer, Anand Jain, who brought the concept to us, the story outlines, screenplays and dialogues were written by me over the course of a year. It was daunting writing seven episodes and typing the words “with that the season ends” at the end of three hundred pages. It also felt like a huge weight was lifted off. Especially in this genre, a long format is harder to sustain, but I think it gave me the opportunity to spend time with each of my characters and give them layers and subtleties that a film would not have allowed me. One of the things I was sure of was that I wanted to tell a story that had a message and I needed to make that message palatable to a larger number of people. I wanted them to be hooked to the characters and root for them enough, while be able to absorb the larger social commentary in the narrative about bullying and homophobia. I wanted them to have conversations of their own after watching.
The setting is absolutely important. In Adhura, the school is not just the premise but a character too. It was import- ant to feel like the young boy in the show was all alone, up against the looming gothic structure of the boarding school. It was important to feel like there was some horror lurking at the end of every corridor or at the bottom of every staircase. We didn’t just use it for the visuals, we also incorporated the space in the sound design. The way the wood cracked under the feet of the characters. The way the old doors creaked. The echoes that the corridors cre- ated. The bell tower that tolled ominously every hour. It all added to the atmosphere.
In that way, Lawrence Lovedale in Ooty, where we shot, was ideal. Its red brick walls, tall clock tower, winding stairs, all just felt like the perfect setting. Plus, the weather in Ooty was the aesthetic we were going for, always enveloped in fog!
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Words Hansika Lohani