Your new film Chimera
- in a few words, what is it about?
Inspired by cutting-edge research in stem cells, regenerative medicine,
organ harvesting and genetics, Chimera
is, at its core, a tale of love and
loss, regret and redemption. Chimera
is the story of Quint, a brilliant but disturbed scientist who
freezes his children alive, while he races against time to cure their
deadly genetic disease by decoding the DNA of the immortal Turritopsis
What were your
sources of inspiration when writing Chimera?
The genesis of Chimera
lies in three unhappy events: After losing her two sisters to sudden heart failure, my wife was
diagnosed with a rare form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which each of
our children (the youngest plays Miles in Chimera) has a 50% chance of
inheriting. Then, my childhood friend’s nineteen-year-old daughter succumbed to
complications stemming from two successive organ transplants. Finally, my three-year-old nephew, Gautam (the littlest boy in
was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and endured a crippling
regime of radiation and chemotherapy. I felt powerless and inconsequential – a passive onlooker
rubbernecking a highway crash, while people I cared about struggled for
their lives. Medical diagnoses and prognoses sounded like jargon and
gibberish, the science felt like mysticism, and we made decisions with
about as much free will as sheep being herded.
That was when I challenged myself – even if I could not impact the
course of events, I needed to know what was going on, to comprehend what
was being said, to understand the implications of decisions being made.
I developed an insatiable appetite to learn everything I could, as a
layman, about medicine and the many advancements taking place around the
world. I scoured the internet for news stories, interviews of scientists,
and for research papers. I read biology and chemistry textbooks. I talked
to professors, researchers, and doctors. I did a lot of my own research
– to teach myself about genetics, regenerative medicine, organ
harvesting, cryonics, and the science of longevity. I read about the work taking place around the world. Contemporary
research might seem mundane, obscure and academic, but I came to see it as
the tip of the spear, the frontline where the best human brains, these
warriors of modern medicine, wage fierce hand-to-hand combat against the
enemy forces of aging, injury, disease, and death. I was blown away by the possible ramifications of the progress being
achieved at these labs, universities, hospitals, and research centers.
The curiosity that led me to investigate the science had been born from
despair, but it led me down a path of optimism. I came to formulate a view
of the future, the belief that man will prevail, and ultimately a world
without suffering will be attainable, and from that utopian dream, that
ethereal chimera, came the ideas for this story. It has often been pointed out to me that the tragic episodes of my life
should be treated with gravity, their story told as a serious documentary,
or as a life-affirming drama. How could they serve as inspiration for a
piece of science-fiction which, almost by definition, must be frivolous?
While I did consider other approaches, I felt that a factual retelling
of those stories would be an inadequate response, clichéd and
on-the-nose. I had to accept that there was no way to address the enormity of the
upheaval, the pain endured, the losses suffered, while still maintaining
the privacy and dignity of everyone involved. What would be accomplished
simply by reliving all those heartbreaking moments? Instead I decided to find another path to respect and acknowledge those
affected and to honor the dedicated doctors and scientists. I also wanted to use this forum to think about some possible futures,
to highlight some risks, and to ask some open-ended questions.
The path that I chose is unusual, but it is my own. My best testament
to their grace, strength and courage. A highly fictionalized,
hyper-stylized, graphic-novel-esque science-fiction tale. One that will
thrill and entertain, but also provoke and inspire without being
sentimental or pedantic. That, I hope, is Chimera.
what extent can you actually identify with Chimera's
lead Quint, and the moral dilemma he's in?
In Chimera, Quint is put in an impossible position, he faces a grave
dilemma and must make very difficult choices. I hope that no one ever
finds themselves in Quint’s no-win situation. But, the questions raised
are very interesting and could yield some fascinating character insights.
How far would you go to save the ones you love? And, if they were gone,
would you still want to live forever? Yet, I wish that the technology would exist today for me to be
preserved (as in the cryptobiosis process depicted in Chimera) and then
revived 50 years in the future. I would happily embark upon the long
sleep, just so I could one day awaken, 50 years in the future, and
experience first-hand the world when the science from Chimera
crossed over from fiction to reality.
talk about your lab locations for a bit, and how did you find them, and
what was it like filming there?
has 10 actors playing the 10 characters, and the lab location
is the eleventh. It impacts the visuals, the atmosphere and the story. Chimera
could not have been shot anywhere else. The backstory for Chimera
is that Quint has given up on traditional
medical treatments that he knows cannot save his children. He decamps to
an isolated facility where he can take matters into his own hands and make
the tough decision necessary to save his children. Getting the right lab location was key. I had a few criteria and our
location met each one:
1. It had to be believable that Quint could own, rent or have access to
this place (the market value of our lab location was under a million
dollars so it was conceivable that Quint, a successful scientist could
have cashed in his life’s savings and bought this place).
2. It had to have all the gear that Quint might need on his quest to
save his children (we had a tiny budget for props and so we needed our lab
location to come fully stocked. Luckily it did. Our lab location was a
real biochemical research and manufacturing facility that had been
decommissioned only a few years ago and so most of its original equipment,
machines, and lab supplies were still in place and still functional).
3. It had to be believable that Quint could hide out here, live here
with his kids, and no one would notice (our lab location is a
self-contained 27 acre fenced-in compound in an isolated industrial area
of central Massachusetts) .
4. It had to have the right “look”: Real-world yet steam
punk/cyberpunk, functional yet dilapidated, habitable yet empty, spooky,
abandoned and cold (the lab was all of that and more) .
This facility also offered some logistic advantages. We shot every
scene of the movie here, even the outdoor scenes. Our production office
was housed here. There was plenty of parking, and space for us to store
our equipment, and the old cafeteria was perfect for our meals services.
Everything that we needed - Quint’s lab, a cryptobiosis room, an embryo
farm, a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, a chemical process area –
was already there. Initially we were worried about our ability to find crew in the
out-of-the-way location, but we did. We were fortunate to attract an
awesome group of experienced, talented and motivated crew with fantastic
attitude and work ethic.
What can you tell us
about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
My experience in life and business has taught me a lot about grayscale
of human nature – a continuous spectrum that stretches from black on the
one end to white at the other, and where everyone (except for a very few
outliers) fall in clusters somewhere in the middle. Basically, we are all
just different shades of grey depending on the situation and circumstances
we find ourselves in at a particular point in time. In Chimera, there is a lot of darkness within the protagonist Quint (a
brilliant but disturbed scientist, played by Henry Ian Cusick). And the
antagonists, at times display great nobility, loyalty, consistency, and
other admirable qualities. I think this makes for more interesting
conflict; where right and wrong, and good and bad are not easily
discernible, as such situations more accurately mirror real life. I also believe that my age and maturity give me some distance and
perspective to better appreciate and articulate the complex themes and
difficult trade-offs that are presented in Chimera. For example, in
we have a very keen debate between the scientific and the
spiritual sides, as Quint struggles to find the right karmic path forward,
to identify that singular path which the universe intends for him to take.
talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
Miles and Flora (Raviv Haeems and Kaavya Jayaram): When I first came up with the germ of the idea for
Chimera, before even
a single word was ever written, I knew that Quint’s two children (Miles
and Flora) could only be played by Raviv Haeems (my youngest son, 12 years
old at the time) and Kaavya (8 years old, the younger daughter of my
business partner and fellow Chimera
producer, Jay Sitaram). This was
always locked and non-negotiable.
Quint (Henry Ian Cusick): I had never watched Lost, but I did know of Ian and luckily for us, his
name was suggested by Mark, our very wise casting director. One evening,
Jay (our producer) and I committed to some uninterrupted Cusick
binge-watching. We started with an episode of Lost and were completely
sold on Ian midway through that episode and we just knew instinctively
that Ian would be the perfect Quint. Just for the heck of it, we kept
watching (a little bit of The 100, Scandal, and
Girl on the Train) and by
the end of the evening we had both become die-hard Henry Ian Cusick fans. We were
thrilled when Mark (our indomitable casting director, Mark Tillman) told
us that Ian had read the script and had liked it. Dr. Quint is a very complex character – he feels deeply for his wife
and children and will do anything to protect them, so there was a need to
portray him with sensitivity, warmth and tenderness. But, conversely,
Quint has a dark side and is not afraid to do whatever unpleasant task
must be done. Due to his no-nonsense approach, his actions may sometimes
appear to be cold, harsh and unfeeling. Quint also has a dark past for which he feels deep regret and, to some
extent, his actions are motivated by his quixotic, misguided quest for
He is a study in contrasts - a very intelligent man who may be losing
his mind. A soft, gentle man who must make very tough decisions. A
dedicated husband to Jessie, but still involved in an illicit relationship
with Charlotte (Charlie). A father who cares deeply about his children,
but who is so deeply focused on being their doctor that he has forgotten
how to be their dad. He is not an action hero, but he acts decisively when
called upon. He is a man of science, not a fighter – but he is unafraid
to fight for those he loves.
The script gave Quint absolutely no exposition, so Ian had to figure
out how to be consistent and convincing in portraying this complicated
character. Now, having seen what Ian has done, it is simply impossible to
imagine anyone else as Quint.
Jessie (Karishma Ahluwalia): We met Karishma through in-person auditions and it was her talent and
ethereal quality that convinced us that she was the perfect fit for
Jessie. Apart from her obvious talent, another factor that won us over was
her ability to put on a pitch-perfect Indian accent and disguise her
natural LA speaking style. This made her more believable as the Indian
mother to the kids, and took the pressure off little Kaavya who would
otherwise have had to speak in a fake “American” accent.
Charlie (Jenna Harrison): Though we were holding auditions for the role in LA, a mutual friend
who knew Jenna’s agent said that we had to look at the tapes of this
English actress that he knew. Once we saw Jenna’s tapes, they were so
good that we immediately stopped the LA auditions, knowing that we had
found our perfect Charlie in Jenna.
Gruze (Erika Ervin): There was a lot of thinking that went into the casting for Gruze. There
were two reasons why I only wanted there to be one henchperson for
Masterson. Firstly, we could only afford one actor. Secondly, we needed to
avoid falling victim to the henchman-loyalty paradox - the inexplicable
motivation of armies of movie henchmen to willingly sacrifice their own
lives for their boss’ life. I can never buy it. Money alone cannot
possibly be the only motivation enough for that ultimate sacrifice. There
has to be something else – either a close personal relationship or deep
family ties. Perhaps obsessive political views or profound religious
convictions, but that is about it. In my opinion, the way to avoid this “henchman loyalty paradox” is
to only have one henchperson, so that a one-on-one relationship between
the boss and the henchman is possible. In that type of relationship, it is
conceivable that the henchperson would actually be willing to lay down
their life for their “master”. It follows, that if we are only going to have just one henchperson,
then that henchperson had to be really special. This one person would have
to do all the work of an army of henchpersons. As soon as we met Erika and observed her in action, we knew that she
was one of a kind. In this most gentle, caring and sweet actress, we had
found the fearsome and awesome Dita Gruze!
Masterson (Kathleen Quinlan): We struggled to find an actress who could embody the right mix of
playfulness and ruthlessness to play Masterson. Though we had many good
candidates, even two weeks before the shoot, we still did not have “the
one”. Then our casting director Mark proposed that we speak to Kathleen
Quinlan. Kathleen asked many probing questions about the character and her
motivations, some of which I hadn’t asked myself. This forced me to dive
deeper into the psyche of that character and develop her even further.
That is how I knew that Kathleen was the right choice for Masterson.
Luke (Larry Sampson): The actor who played Luke was actually our production designer! We were
going to audition for this part locally in MA, but Larry was cast as Luke
simply because he volunteered to shave his head and sit still for several
hours. This was the first step to cast the moulds in the shape of his
face. Then, on each day of shooting, he further had to undergo 4-5 hours
of prosthetics application and special effects make up, that was required
to transform him into Luke. Thus, on the 3 days we needed to film Luke’s
scenes, Larry had to come to set 4 hours before everyone else, having a 4
am call time when everyone else’s call time was 8 am.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
As a first-time writer/director I was very fortunate to be working with
such a talented and seasoned cast of actors. Though I have never done any
acting myself, I do recognize that acting is one of the most difficult
jobs. I am in awe of how actors do what they do, how they get in front of
the camera and expose themselves and their vulnerabilities in their search
for the truth and emotional core of the moment. I did not try to “direct” the actors, or tell them how to act.
Obviously, they know how to do that much better than I do. But where I
tried to be helpful was to work with them to jointly discover the subtext,
the intent, the context, and the interpersonal dynamics of the scene. The benefit of collaborating with intelligent actors was that their
insights and suggestions invariably resulted in vast improvements to the
scene. Since we had no time or budget for rehearsals, in our case the
scene blocking and the first take had to serve as de-facto rehearsals.
As a result of discussing a scene with the actors, often I found myself
rewriting the pages on-the-fly and then passing out new handwritten pages.
It is a testament to the professionalism and versatility of our actors
that they were able make these hastily rewritten lines work so well.
In the same way, my interactions with the crew was also based on
tremendous respect for their knowledge and expertise in their respective
crafts. I feel that my job as a director was to solicit their inputs and
listen to their suggestions for ways to enhance each scene and maximize
the effectiveness of each shot. Each of our crew members unhesitatingly
contributed their best to the project and that is why, even with very
tight budget constraints, we were able to achieve an end result that is so
$64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?
Chimera will play in festivals starting from early spring. For the
first half of 2018, film festivals will be the only places where Chimera
can be seen. Our team is currently working on securing distribution for
Chimera and we will be sure to communicate as soon as we have any news
that we have on that front.
future projects you'd like to share?
I continue to be enthralled by advancements in biotechnology, the
extension of human lifespans, and the science/fiction of immortality and
transhumanism. I have completed the script and begun development on my
second feature (The Archetype) which further explores these themes and
their impact on human relationships. In The Archetype, the protagonist tries to create his perfectly
compatible soulmate by cloning and genetically modifying his wife. Anyone who has been in a relationship has, at some point, in a moment
of weakness, anger or frustration, thought to themselves, “I wish I
could change just one small thing about this person.” Even knowing that
it’s not possible, it is still something that everyone has wished for.
What The Archetype explores is – what if you could? And now the science is starting to move in that direction as well, some
of which is described in the Nov 15 AP Exclusive: US scientists try 1st
gene editing in the body. The gene editing in this project is modeled after the CRISPR/Cas-9 and
the zinc finger nucleases techniques. While the applications of the
science are dramatized in my story, the fundamental idea (of
tailoring/tweaking the genetic makeup to alter the characteristics of a
living being) is the same. The idea that The Archetype examines is, of course, fictionalized
and this time the science is projected maybe a little further out, maybe
50-75 years in the future, and so in a way this is more of a leap than Chimera, but I think it is an equally interesting story that deals with an
equally compelling area of emerging science.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
I had always wanted to be a writer but, under (self-induced) pressure
to pursue an “employable” profession, and to capitalize on my affinity
for math and physics, I instead chose to enroll at one of the best schools
in India to study engineering. Over the next 25 years, I earned degrees in engineering and then in
finance, lived and worked around the world (London, Hong Kong, Singapore,
Taipei, Mumbai, New York, Palo Alto, Atlanta, Dubai and Los Angeles) and
enjoyed successful careers in mechanical/fluid engineering, investment
banking, and software entrepreneurship.
As I was approaching my 47th birthday, I had the feeling that “my
time was running out”. I felt that I wanted to change careers again, but
this time I needed to do what I love to do and not let my career choice be
motivated by any pragmatic considerations. I decided to pursue his fourth career (and first love) - storytelling
and filmmaking. For my 47th birthday (October 6), my birthday present to
myself was an eight-weeks filmmaking class (October and November). That
class ended up being curtailed to only four weeks. But I had already got a
lot out of it, and I was hungry for more. That year my Christmas present to myself was an eight-weeks
screenwriting class (starting in January the following year). I set myself
the goal that by the end of those eight weeks, I would have a finished
first draft of the screenplay for Chimera. In order to achieve that, I had
to, even as a 47-year-old, attend class and do my homework diligently
every day like a school kid. I was so dedicated to meeting the deadlines of my writing class that,
on some nights, I did not return home after class, choosing instead to
check into a hotel room near the school. I would sit alone in that room
and write through the night, in order to meet my page requirement for
completing that day’s homework. In March, I enrolled in an online screenplay rewriting class and again
through a strict adherence to the assigned homework deadlines I was able
to finish a comprehensive rewrite/second draft of the Chimera
would you describe yourself as a director?
I like to think of myself as pragmatic (embracing the resource
constraints and tight budgets of indie filmmaking), collaborative
(soliciting and securing the best efforts from all cast and crew members),
and improvisational (happy to make any changes necessary, until the very
last minute). The one absolute objective that I had set for myself as a director was
to strive for originality and, at all costs, to avoid producing a
derivative work. I look forward to the viewer’s feedback on whether or
not I have achieved this objective.
who inspire you?
I view independent filmmaking as an act of
extreme valor and deep conviction, and I am inspired by every independent
filmmaker who overcomes great obstacles and makes tremendous personal
sacrifices in order to get their film made.
Your favourite movies?
I have always enjoyed and admired the darker sci-fi tales like Blade
Runner and Dark City, and stories with an interesting biological/genetics
premise like The Fly and Gattaca. I am a great fan of sci-fi action movies
like The Matrix and Inception which are based on completely unique
premises and explore very complex philosophical questions; and of
psychological sci-fi mindbenders like Solaris and 12 Monkeys.
I also enjoy all other (non-sci-fi) kinds of cinema - heist movies (The
Killing), noir (Chinatown), supernatural horror (Possession) and even
tragedies (Leaving Las Vegas). In some way, all of these movies have
inspired and influenced Chimera.
and of course, films you really deplore?
None. I am
professing that to be an indiscriminate lover of all films, but rather
feel that there is something beautiful and honest in every movie, and when
I am watching any movie it is my challenge as a viewer to uncover that.
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you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Chimera contains two literary references. All of the character names
(Quint, Jessie, Miles, Flora, Masterson, Gruze and Luke) are inspired by A
Turn of the Screw, the Henry James novel that I hold in especially high
esteem for being the first (to my knowledge) to use of the plot device of
the “unreliable narrator”. Chimera
also contains two references to
Beckett’s, the first is rather obvious, and the second is only slightly
for the interview!