Anantham, as described in the series, means ‘consisting of everything and being constant’. It is a show about everything that happens inside the Anantham house. The series has a nostalgic quality in the way it has been shot, so people in Chennai could identify with its sensibilities. The focus is on the characters and their stories, while the house opens up to these stories not as a mere spectator but as a character in itself.
Anantham is a 2 storeyed building located in GN Shetty Road, Chennai. The stories happening inside the house start from 1951, although it is suggested in the series that the building preceded that year. At first glance, it could look like a modern take on a traditional Chettinad mansion with the extended portico as the parking space, an open front lawn and a motif on the first-floor facade. But as we move through the space inside, the house reveals various features like the madras terrace roof, predominantly wooden furniture, grilled doors and windows, plain walls and a window shaft above each door. The architectural features do not reflect Chettinad houses. However, they do represent the highly endangered traditional Madras homes that used to be owned by the wealthy of the 20th century in Madras.
Time and Theme
The first episode proceeds by swapping back to the 1950s when the central young couple moves into Anantham. The walls are cream-coloured and have nutty brown wooden fixtures. The house was filled with light from large facade windows. One would imagine a lime wash and cream coloured lime plaster would have been used as the finish. Particular attention is to be paid to aesthetics. The walls were decorated with classical art like Tanjore paintings and wooden pieces. The couches feature wooden frames and wire weaved pieces with heavy proportions. The colours were bright and almost sepia in tone. As the years passed, the structure stood while the interiors changed to cooler tones. The furniture in the mid-seventies was much lighter with no wire weave. The walls were whiter and the fixings were matte. Towards the 90s and 2000s, the walls were blue with modern furniture and cushions. The series explores the aesthetic changes experienced by different occupants of the house throughout the tenancy. Did the exterior not change? How is it that there have been no additions to the house over almost 60 years?
Structures as Storytellers
From the very beginning, several aspects of the series treat the house as a living thing and as an active element in people’s narratives. The Anantham home has two major functions; emotional aid and a tool to move the story forward. In some instances, the house is used to do both at the same time.
Characters in all the stories in the series share a sentimental relationship with the house. For example, Maragatham, a central character, believes that the house is auspicious and has feelings and emotions and she often talks to it. Many other characters in the series share this superstition believing that the building is special and getting emotionally attached to it.
For others the house is a site of fear and horror, citing the horrible events that happen inside it. It almost seems like the creators of the series wanted us the viewers to imagine that the walls in the house had been listening and talking all this while to each person differently.
One of the stories being told was the story of a blind woman Seeta. It is fascinating to see how the character experiences the space. Touching the house constantly, she studies every aspect of it. The house reflects her feeling of being trapped and of fear as well. For example, the exaggerated shadows, the darkness of the kitchen, and the reflection of the grills in the doors and windows feel like being stuck in a dungeon. Wide-angle shots of the house and long shots were used to create fear of the unknown in the viewer. However, the house provides such possibilities with dingy kitchens, storerooms and huge cupboards to make the inhabitants feel like dwarfs.
Another feature that played a major role in the lives of the people that lived in that house was the staircase. The staircase leading up to the rooms and balcony on the first floor is cantilevered to the wall with hefty wooden rails on the other side. The staircase serves both as a space for sharing affectionate moments and as a dangerous tool to move the story forwards. Look out for the fourth episode of the series.
It is astonishing to see the same house being used to convey different things through lighting, decorations, camera angles and events while maintaining the same structure. It unveils the potential for so many traditional houses and other buildings in the city that have not been maintained or invested in. It is also interesting to note that the creators of the series made a conscious decision to not change the appearance of the house about its massing and structure and not attach the stories to the land but to the house. It is only because the owner attached value to the building, which in turn added value to people’s lives, that it was preserved in its original form.
As an architect, it is intriguing to see architectural spaces being manipulated to show emotions, move storylines and resolve issues. The house not only reflects these things but also reflects cultural choices in design and the history of its aesthetics and thereby the people of different times. Chennai residents are familiar with the storylines, the relationship between the house and the people, and their traditional superstitions. This makes us question, what our homes mean to us? Why are we attached to certain spaces? And why do we crave to revisit that space in the present to relish a memory of the past? How do we react to the various features of our homes? Were we scared of a few corners? Or does it bring us joy? It would be foolish to think that inanimate buildings have memories and feelings. But inanimate buildings form the canvas on which we make stories and memories which add value to the space and vice versa. The Anantham Home made an ideal canvas for different stories to be written and memories to be preserved. It leaves behind an array of objects as evidence of the lives of the occupants. We wonder if our homes also contain such stories and are now a reflection of our times.