Somewhere, in the pages of history and in the tempest of evolution and progress, India’s most ancient and profound cultures and communities took an early retirement – which may not have necessarily been voluntary. As the most diverse nation in the world, this cardinal error in our judgments is what drove Anu Malhotra, a spirited woman professional in the television production space, to pick up the camera, but this time, with a passion for a beautiful cause.
For Anu, documentary filmmaking has always been about more than just a profession; it was a form of expression, a vent to everything she has ever felt strongly about. To create meaningful and uplifting television content was her goal, even when she had her first tryst with the silver screen over 20 years ago, in 1993.
Barely in her late 20s, Anu was determined to give the contents of Indian television a thorough jolt. “I began my career in advertising, so television was a natural progression. At the time that I set up my company, AIM Television in 1994, the television industry was at its nascent stage and therefore very exciting.”
As a boutique production house, she churned out over 600 hours of quality non-fiction television programming for premiere Indian television channels like Zee TV, Sony, and Doordarshan. The production house Laso became a name to reckon with, when it came to putting out infotainment series for scores of sought after TV channels, such as BBC, Discovery, Travel Channel UK, France 5.
Exploiting the potential of a medium steadfastly gaining popularity as a mouthpiece for modernity, information, and exploration, Anu was one of the pioneering producer-directors to dabble with travelogues and travel documentaries, which are now one of our most widely watched categories of shows. Namaste India and Indian Holiday were among the first glimpses that we ever caught of the world outside India on television, which were brought to us by Anu.
Swiftly climbing the ladder, Anu went on to bag many awards for her work in television, until she decided a feather was missing upon her hat. With her film-making skills, she wanted to move mountains, not just explore them, and that, she realised, would be best achieved through the art of making hard-hitting documentary.
“I sought to capture India’s rich cultural heritage and vibrant living traditions through my films. My mission is to document cultures that are fast disappearing and remind viewers of the importance of learning and sustaining their traditional wisdom.”
Today, Anu is widely known for her beautiful documentaries on declining cultures, as she is for her
contribution to television. Some of her most resonant messages to the Indian cultural landscape were in the form of her films – The Apatani of Arunachal Pradesh, The Konyak of Nagaland, The Maharaja of Jodhpur, and Shamans of the Himalayas. “Today, television is omnipresent and omnipotent! So, it must be proactively used to bring about social change. I have always believed that everyone in media must be socially responsible and therefore be very careful about what is put out in the public space. All my work so far has followed the principle that ‘Whether it was travel, food or fashion programs, my guideline to all my directors was always to put out only positive, contributory, and meaningful aspects.’”“Today, we are in urgent need of spiritual sustenance. Our urban existence has slowly swallowed our ability to find happiness in simplicity, and we find ourselves on the brink of a moral and ecological implosion,” she says of her choice of documentaries.
Especially since the subjects of her documentaries took her to the fringes of the country, where everything from language to lifestyle, idiosyncrasies to ideologies presented a stark contrast, building confidence of the locals who were the subjects of her stories, was nothing short of an adventure.
“Surprisingly, I had no ideological roadblocks deter my journey. My motto is, ‘the journey is the destination’ and I have always worked with passion and meaning, so everything that comes along is always considered as part of my journey. Hitches are considered as challenges to me and opportunities to learn and grow. I have always found that people in tribal and rural India have been much more accepting and open than people in cities!”
“The world, for me, is a kaleidoscope – a treasure house of images tumbling into each other, colours spilling, merging,
fading, gushing into infinite forms, revealing the infinite possibilities of life,” says the woman who is rarely seen spending over a month in one place, and always in the pursuit of everything the world’s landscape has on offer!
This same inquisitiveness, in fact, led her to another very important facet of her identity – her artistic exploits. “Art for me is not a pursuit but a life practice. In reveries, I dream about images from my travels – the stunning vistas of the Canadian mountains and lakes, the impossible azure blues of its skies; the giddy vastness of Ladakh, the peculiar purple mauve of its mountains; the amazing Amalfi coast and the magical turquoise of its blue lagoons in Capri; the jewelled undersea life in Maldives.
Colour attracts me instantaneously – the fluorescent odhnis of desert belles; the multicoloured village homes of Goa, colourful Naga jewellery, an array of temple flowers in Karnataka …. Somehow, somewhere, these visual images and colours called for an alternate expression. So, 15 years ago I began painting in my spare time,” she says.
Having hosted myriad art shows and exhibits, the overriding theme is hard to miss – a soothing medley of colours and strokes, spilling on to each other to culminate into spectacular amalgams. And it wouldn’t be wrong to infer that they mirror her spirit– always multi-faceted, every single exploit invariably invoking the need for depth and thus leading to another, until her expertise and passion in each new endeavour comes together to create masterpieces.