June 28, 2012

Gurudev Uvaacha #5

Perhaps the term “directing” should be changed to “listening.” Just because you’ve done a good job of explaining something doesn’t mean that the person you’re speaking to has gotten it. You have to play close attention and feel the response in order to be able to tell whether an actor is on the same page with you.

- Judith Weston in her wonderful book "The Film Director's Intuition"

June 27, 2012

Readjusting Expectations

Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ released recently with mixed reviews. I haven’t watched it yet, but a section of the audience claims it was ‘boring’. There are people who thought Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ was just about OK. The films of Steven Spielberg range from masterpieces to ordinary. Even back home, we see good film-makers coming up with not-so-good films. So, why does this happen? How the best of filmmakers end up making films which are unarguably inferior from their standards? How do they overlook certain flaws in their works which even a common audience with no knowledge of film-making finds palpable?

Let us assume that throughout their careers these film-makers remain as motivated as their first film, and as experienced as their last, that they never compromise on intent, vision, effort, and execution, that they always get the same kind of support from their producers, cast, and crew, that they are equally fit – mentally and physically, and that the factors beyond their hands – luck, chance – remain constant every time they make a film. I hope you understand that this is not possible and little changes in a few of the above-mentioned factors will affect the film being made, but let us still assume that all these factors remain constant, along with the director’s understanding of what he is doing. The nature of the process will still not let him make his films equally good. And making a truly great film will rarely happen. Here is the reason why.

Filmmaking is one of the most unnatural forms of creation. It is not at all organic. You do not start creating the film from its first shot – a few seconds every day, to reach the interval in a few weeks and the conclusion in the next few. It is not like a giant jig-saw puzzle you solve over days. When it comes to film-making, you first create that nightmare of a jig-saw puzzle. Once the script is ready, the stage where you 'see' the full film for the last time until the rough-cut on the edit table, it is broken down to schedules, scenes, shots, and takes, and creation occurs in random order. You might be shooting the last scene before the first. And it might take you several years to create a film that will be ‘received’ in a couple of hours. It is only when you start joining the pieces of this jig-saw puzzle together on the edit table that you, the filmmaker, get to see how your film looks like. And by then you have lost all your objectivity. You don’t laugh at the jokes, never feel any thrill or pathos looking at your footage, and all you can see are the glaring errors you have committed. On the contrary, you might fall in love with everything you see, and can not judge a bad shot from worse. You fail to realize that what you have shot is short of great.

I believe it is this ‘unnatural’ process that causes some invisible error, something being lost in translation. It is like when you enter a forest, you lose touch with its ‘whole design’ once you start focusing on the trees and the vague paths ahead of you. And when it comes to film-making, you have to select each path carefully, and stare at each tree as if it were the most important object in this forest, and then silently hope that you are correctly navigating through the maze.

So, what do you do when you end up making a not-so-good film? In my first meeting with Anurag Kashyap he had told me – “Do not be scared of making a bad film.” This I think is an essential wisdom in film-making. I’m not saying that you compromise on your vision, or intent, or efforts. I’m not saying you let complacence seep in and corrupt your soul. Nor am I saying that let overconfidence blind your judgment. A filmmaker should work hard with all his conviction, honesty, and integrity, and then let go of his fear of failure. I think it should be like Sachin Tendulkar’s attitude when he says that while walking into the ground with the cricket bat in his hand, all that matters to him is whether he prepared well. The result on the pitch is not and will never be as important as that. There are things you cannot control, and in the end all you can be critical about is your preparation, not your performance.

But I think it is easier said than done. I dread the day I will see the rough cut of my film and sulk into depression and refuse to let it release for the public. By that time several crores of rupees will be riding on it and it would be an ethical and professional crime not to actively promote the film and ask people to watch it, knowing very well that it is a poor film. But as they say, your child is your own, even if it is born with severe congenital deformities. You cannot abandon it. All you have to do is readjust your expectations with your creation. If it is not bad, if it is decent, try to feel proud of it. And let the world make their opinions. If you have been honest with your vision and effort, chances are you will never end up with a film that is bad, despite the unnatural process adopted to create and solve the jig-saw puzzle that is called a movie. Readjusting your expectations is perhaps the only way to preserve your sanity in this insane world of film-making.

June 20, 2012

The Big Divide

More than three years ago I had written a post urging Indian film-critics to take up a responsibility. I had appealed to them to recognize good cinema and ‘educate’ the public about that, because the audience will not always be able to identify the merits of certain ‘difficult’ films. I don’t care how many of the critics actually got to read that post of mine, or whether they consciously acted upon my appeal. But last week a film and the reactions it triggered forced me to revisit that post. And finally, I’m pleased with the Indian critics.

[Shanghai is] a serious motion picture that has a voice, that makes you think, that makes a stunning impact. A must watch! – Taran Adarsh

I couldn’t watch ‘Shanghai’ until on the 10th day after its release. I hadn’t read any reviews or had conversation with those who had watched it. But I was aware of the extreme mixed reactions it had generated. The opinions were divided, greatly, between the critics and different sections of the audience. The terms being associated with it were – ‘best Hindi film of the year’ and ‘truly brave’ on one side, and ‘it’s a documentary’ and ‘don’t mention that rubbish film’ on the other. Today I realize it is one of those truly well-made films that fail at the box-office. ‘Udaan’ (2010) had a similar story. The critics loved it but it did not fare well commercially. However, there were certain differences. One, ‘Udaan’ didn’t work because people didn’t watch it. Those who did had a favourable reaction to it. I’m yet to meet someone who hated the movie, unlike 'Shanghai'. Two, it did not lose money despite a poor theatrical revenue. And three, generally speaking, the Critics are praising ‘Shanghai’ much more than they praised ‘Udaan’.

The pleasure of this film is in the details. – Anupama Chopra

I believe the biggest factor governing the reaction from the audience is the accessibility of these films. ‘Udaan’ was more easily accessible because of its inherent emotions – the audience could intimately relate with the characters, could easily love or hate them. The characters of ‘Shanghai’ stay away from the emotional reach of the audience, and its drama affects our intellect more than our feelings. Except ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’ I have felt similar ‘coldness’ in the storytelling of all Dibakar Bannerjee films. I really appreciate those films of his, they please me cerebrally; they even make me laugh or smile or send a shiver down my spine, but they never make me choke. As a result, despite admiring his films, I never really care for his characters (except Khosla Ka Ghosla).

The most striking aspect of ‘Shanghai’ is its marvelous use of sound, both ambient and otherwise, to build up dramatic tension. – Saibal Chatterjee

Now, I don’t mind this coldness in his films. But perhaps the rest of the audience does. I enjoy the craft of his films so much that it is pure entertainment for me. But that definitely cannot be an appealing factor for others. Yet, I’m happy that the critics are pointing-out these ‘cinematic’ merits of the film. Technically speaking, this film is so strong that it will keep inspiring me for re-watches only to learn more and more. And like most good films, I know it will grow on me with re-watches.

If something’s missing from this film, it’s a sense of suspense, the pressure-cooker urgency that this kind of ‘thriller’ needed… It’s a good film from one of Hindi cinema’s most exciting film-makers… It’s just not great. – Rajeev Masand.

Masand is a critic I always find myself agreeing with, more than any other, and here I agree with him again. I don’t think ‘Shanghai’ is as good as other critics are making it to be. But I don’t mind that at all. For a film like this to do well, it is important that critics praise it a little more than it deserves. This will attract all those who actually decide about watching a movie by counting the number of stars in the reviews. Films like these should be watched by the audience, for their taste-buds to develop, for their ‘evolution’ into more mature and tolerant ‘consumers’, or our cinema will remain stuck where it is.

… should ‘Shanghai’ be a commercial success [it] can change the course of cinema in India. A hopeful, watershed moment, if there ever was one in the midst of mediocrity… – Karan Anshuman

Unfortunately, this has not happened – the film has failed commercially. And this time, I really feel disappointed in the Indian audience. Perhaps I shouldn’t be. Perhaps the lack of its emotional impact, and its certain predictability, is actually the cause for the lukewarm response. Whatever be the precise truth, it is only with movies like these that we can hope to merge the divide between auteur and genre, art-house and commercial, and ‘critically acclaimed’ and popular. Thanks to Dibakar Bannerjee for making this film and the critics for their response that we can look forward to that day when the big divide between Hindi and World Cinema will be overcome. Only, it will not happen soon.

June 05, 2012

A Fun Trip to a New Professional Territory

“This was a day of new beginnings. आने वाला वक़्त देगा पनाहें, या फिर से मिलेंगे दोराहे? Insha Allah!” – From my diary entry on 16th July 2010, the day Udaan was released.

Four weeks later…

“The most sensational news of the day was this call from Vinod Chopra Films. We’re going to meet them tomorrow.” – 13th Aug 2010.

“Reached Vinod Chopra’s office around noon. Devanshu could not join. Meeting Rajesh Mapuskar was great. He was very impressed by me, my story (MBBS and all), and my poems. I committed myself for this work that seems wonderful. It is not official yet. We are supposed to do some work during the next two weeks before a final decision will be taken by them.” – 14th Aug 2010

“This is really fascinating – that each project comes with an opportunity to learn something new. In order to learn more about the Parsi community, I have bought and have started reading Rohinton Mistry’s ‘Such a Long Journey’.” – 23rd August 2010

“Today I met them and recited all the seven songs/poems I have written in the last few days. Their reaction, in general, was positive. Rajesh also made us listen to the Theme Music of the film. It is inspiring.” – 30th August 2010

“We will be given one song to write for the film. The meeting today was good, though I was nervous. But Vinod Chopra got really impressed by our work. He congratulated us and gave us a hug. Now, it all depends on us to write the best possible lyrics for the tune.” – 18th September 2010

“Rajesh didn’t like the song we shared with him today. But he is very patient and has asked us to keep trying without hurrying.” – 21st September 2010

“Spent several hours at the office but could not come up with anything.  I felt as if I should finally give up writing this song. But then, a little encouragement from Rajesh changed everything. Within a short time I wrote the entire song. And when they listened to it they were overjoyed. For me, it was a wonderful feeling. But we need to polish the song.” – 9th October 2010

“Devanshu and I worked on the song and presented it to Vinod Chopra. He is a genius. Within moments he took the song to a different level by making subtle changes. After this meeting Rajesh told me – “You can now call your parents. Call them, right away.” This means we are officially ‘in’. Bimal Sir SMSd me – “You can’t imagine how happy I am for both of you. You have consolidated my belief that persistence is the key to success. God bless!” – 11th October 2010

“Shared the improved draft with Rajesh and Vinod Chopra. They say we’re almost there. Vinod made a few suggestions and wants me to go through those.” – 16th October 2010

“The song is almost approved. We just have to improve four lines.” – 25th October 2010

“I spent 9 hours at VC office today. I was hoping to lock the lyrics today. But that didn’t happen. They want us to improve it further.” – 29th October 2010

“Rajesh explained to me the problems with a couple of lines and we started reworking on them. Devanshu and I did a lot of hard thinking and we kept trying until he could not stand his rising fever. We then returned home.” – 10th November 2010

“I don’t know when this is going to end!” – 11th November 2010

“I think I want to quit. Of course, that would be a wrong thing to do.” – 12th November 2010

“Devanshu is admitted and is on Ringer Lactate drip. Bimal Sir had called. He and Rajesh Sir are concerned about his health.” – 13th Nov 2010

“Vinod Sir has proposed to bear all expenses on Chhota Shu’s treatment. I had no words when Bimal Sir called to inform this. It is such a great gesture! Called Mummy to share this news with her.” – 15th Nov 2010

“The entire song was locked today, except one line. I am supposed to think of more options and email to Rajesh Sir. I also thanked Vinod Sir today for his gesture and what followed was a memorable chat.” – 19th Nov 2010

“Today is the recording of your first song as lyricists.” – Bimal Sir’s message to me, 26th Nov 2010

A few months later…

“Met Rajesh Sir today. He played for us the “Mausambi Song”. It left me emotional – all that pain of writing it flashed before my eyes. But I’m so happy now, and proud to be associated with this unique song.” – 7th March 2011

More than a year later…

"The Music Reviews of 'Ferrari Ki Sawaari' are out. Phone calls and messages are pouring in from friends and well-wishers. Many of them are listening to this song on loop, which is called - Life Yeh Mausambi-Si!" - 21st May 2012

Click here to listen to the song.

The movie is releasing on 15th June. And it begins with this song. So, please be on time! :)