Writer, editor and director: Ani IV Sasi
Cast: Ashok Selvan, Priya Anand
Cinematography: Divakar Mani
Music: Ron Ethan Yohann
Streaming On: YouTube (Ondraga Entertainment)
What you first notice in Maya is how autobiographical parts of it feel. Written and directed by Ani Sasi, the short begins with Ashok (Ashok Selvan), a critically acclaimed director, writing his next film. All the acclaim appears to have only confused Ashok (they called his realistic film the “best commercial fantasy”) to the point that he’s not sure what he should even be writing. But by Ashok’s second draft, Maya becomes a charming origin story for and commentary on Theeni (the director’s earlier film) before superbly looping back into itself and becoming a commentary on itself.
It has this self-aware quality because it’s essentially a relaxed depiction of the noise in a writer’s head. Everyone, except the writer, is imaginary in Maya, however real they might feel; and every layer of imagination gives rise to a new layer of reality. Maya is a one man act and all the dialogues you hear are in Ashok’s head.
Ashok’s inspiration for his female protagonist is his wife, Maya (Priya Anand). But by the way he redundantly describes her actions even though we can see for ourselves, we know that he’s willing her into existence through words. Ashok then uses his — now real enough — Maya as the basis for his female protagonist, which leads him to the plot of Theeni. And in the end, when it’s clear that Maya, the character, isn’t real, Ashok goes back to square one and begins to write Maya, the short film, as a way of making her real. The artist invents his own inspiration.
Why he needs to invent Maya is, partly, explained by his anxiety to write a “commercial film”. The film opens with objects on his desk: a gramophone, fountain pen with ink bottle, a mechanical watch, a copy of ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’. Even a typewriter lies cast aside and unused as if it’s too modern for him. A writer with this attitude has to write a commercial film that’s better than his earlier successful film, Anba. Ashok keeps repeating the word “commercial” to himself. It’s as if he can’t understand its meaning beyond its sound. He has to curb a natural inclination to make films on social subjects and he finds himself paralyzed. Much like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, he can’t fly with the others. So, he imagines his way out of the situation by inventing Maya.
Visualizations of each iteration of the love story that Ashok is writing have a half-mocking tone, appropriate for how a first draft might look in a writer’s head. The characters he creates also interact with him and get cross with his tendency to kill characters off, making tragedies out of romances. Ashok’s commentary on the creation and reception of Theeni (also starring Ashok Selvan) is especially endearing.
There’s even a tongue-in-cheek quip about its visuals: fullah backlightah vechu smokeah pottu, pazhaya PC sir shoot panra maari shoot panlaam… feelah yethalaam, azhagu kaati oora yemaathalaam. Ashok Selvan says these lines with such self-aware glee that they sound hilarious, especially if you’ve watched Theeni. And lines about the reception of Anba could also be about Theeni.
From an account of how Theeni was written and received, Maya loops on itself like a Mobius strip and becomes an account of its own creation by the end. But beyond the autobiographical angle, Maya is also a smart and amusing visualization of what happens in a writer’s mind as he’s looking for a story with only the demons in his head to keep company.