Exploring inner space

Exploring inner space

Ajay Sarpeshkar's directorial debut 'Mysore Masala', a Kannada sci-fi film starring Anant Nag, digs into the huge treasure-trove inside our minds. The film traverses through a journey of exploration both inward, and outward, writes Nanda Kumar.

Ajay Sarpeshkar.

Ajay Sarpeshkar made that long flight from Houston, USA to Bengaluru around six months ago, just as he had been doing for nearly 15 years now for his annual holiday break with his family. This time, however, his journey from Houston was different — it was “a giant leap of faith”. Sarpeshkar had quit a full-time, well-paying job in Houston in order to try and find answers to many questions that have occupied the minds of humans for centuries — who are we? Where did we come from?  Sarpeshkar studied engineering in Bengaluru before going to Arizona for his Masters degree. And he is right back to where it all started...

On a quest for answers

He has planned his philosophical quest via the creative visual medium — cinema — and has launched his journey with Mysore Masala, a Kannada sci-fi film that has Anant Nag as the lead actor. This will mark Sarpeshkar’s directorial debut. “Anybody who has been wondering what the purpose of life is has often looked at the great unknown for answers. Is there somebody out there? Science fiction often heads in
that direction. I naturally got attracted to this genre. And I feel that when you’re exploring outwards (about what is out there in space), you are also exploring inwards. There’s a huge treasure-trove inside of us — in our minds. The start of this film is both — exploration inward and outward. I think we can weave a lot of stories between these two dimensions,” he said, as we sipped coffee at a cafe in South Bengaluru.

Anant Nag in a still from the movie 'Mysore Masala' directed by Ajay Sarpeshkar.
Anant Nag in a still from the movie 'Mysore Masala' directed by Ajay Sarpeshkar.

Sarpeshkar’s foray into commercial cinema is also about another of his passions — preserving the cultural heritage of India. The route he has chosen is to use cinema’s strong story-telling power. He wants to weave plot-lines that could be associated with myths around certain places. “Like Hampi. It is the mysticism around a place — not just the architecture. People talk of a myth about a temple that exists there, and that when certain planets align in exactly a particular order, a huge amount of treasure would explode outward. It’s like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or Raiders of the Lost Ark. One can
explore the myths, the occult, while simultaneously increasing the awareness of people — like having the story in a setting like Hampi, where you can touch upon the history of the Vijayanagar empire,” he says.

It was not as if his IT job in Houston was boring. He was using technology to create solutions that would control the security of the Houston port, one of the busiest in the USA. He was in charge of managing a team that had to monitor about 200 cameras, underwater surveillance equipment, track the exact locations of scores of ships as they arrived and departed. His team had to channel all the information to the police
in such a manner that all this information could be available instantly on mobile phones and handsets. The control room was not unlike NASA’s, also based in Houston, with numerous monitors and a vast task force. He says the itch to create something began gnawing him once these systems had been put into place.

A true Kannadiga

The Kannada community there was also very active, helping in community projects, and meeting to celebrate festivals. It was at one such gathering that he met his wife Radhika. “I used to shoot videos with a digital camera, and one of my friends wanted me to film his group as they sang the national anthem. One of those in that group was Radhika,” he says, with a smile.
Many more meetings later, they got married. Today, Radhika is Sarpeshkar’s main support system after he took his creative plunge. She is also an engineer in technology, and continues to work in Houston. Sarpeshkar plans to shuttle back and forth every six months or so. This explorer is fascinated with finding answers, and is keen to take his audience along in his voyage into inner space.

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