July 29, 2012

Maa, I want to Direct Movies…


Beta: Maa, mujhe director banna hai…

Maa: You think you’ve got it in you?

Beta: Of course, I’m the biggest cinephile I know. I have watched all the films on IMDB Top 250. I have read several books on film-making and I have a great insight into the medium. I can write powerful reviews and can predict awards…

Maa: Come on, son. Open your eyes to reality. You think that’s enough?

Beta: No. That’s not much actually… In fact, I need to have a feature film script – something mind-blowing, extra-ordinary. I have some ideas in my head. I just need to write it down. Or get a brilliant writer to do it for me.

Maa: Will that be enough?

Beta: Of course not. Directing is not ‘possessing a great script’. I need to prove my worth as a director. To myself, and to others, I should be able to prove that I have great command over visual storytelling, and I know how to work with actors.

Maa: How do you plan to do that?

Beta: By making short films. I need to make that one kick-ass short film that will help me convince everyone about my abilities. I also need to attend acting workshops, theater, or something like that to learn how to work with actors.

Maa: A great script, a great short-film, and experience with actors… that’s it?

Beta: No Maa… I need to work on a film set. Assist directors. I need to know how everything functions in a film unit. Or I would appear dumb when I take control of my own set… Also, I want to add before you ask a question, I think I should attain mastery over either of the three main aspects: writing, cinematography, or editing. Once I finish all of these, and what I mentioned above, I’ll be ready to direct.

Maa: Congratulations!

Beta: Not yet. I need relationships inside the industry. Not merely contacts, but relationships. I need to know, at a personal level, several actors, production designers, cinematographers, editors, sound designers, musicians, lyricists, choreographers. The more I know, the better. I can’t expect all of them to be free whenever I make a film. So I need to have back-ups, and good ones.

Maa: And then?

Beta: Then I need to look for a Producer and some funding. There are several producers waiting for people like me. And that means ‘me with all the above-mentioned resources’. Once I have all these, they will welcome me with pleasure…. The only problem is…

Maa: What?

Beta: Then they will scrutinize the commercial viability of my film. And will assign only a certain budget to it. They will make arrangements for the funds, but I’ll have to operate within that.

Maa: Is that a cause for concern?

Beta: It is. But so is life – all opportunities come with a price or a condition. But yes, that’s all I need, to turn into a film director…. Only….

Maa: Only…

Beta: If I think of the entire conversations we just had, it seems it will take me several years to be able to do that. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do it.

Maa: You will, son. You are the most passionate and dedicated person in the entire world. And with such an amazing clarity about the process, I’m sure you’ll do it – sooner or later. I’ll wait for that day to see your name on the big screen: A film by Mera Beta!

Beta (tears in his eyes): I love you, Mom!

Maa (tears all over her face): I love you too, Beta!


July 28, 2012

Must Watch Before You Die #30: 'Vertigo' (1958)

There is this line in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Twelve Monkeys’ (1995): “The movie never changes. It can't change. But every time you see it, it seems different because you're different.” In that movie the character makes this statement while watching Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ (1958). And perhaps that line is my defence as I recommend it as a must-watch here, only after my third viewing of the film. I had watched ‘Vertigo’ for the first time in 2008. My second viewing of the movie was last year, when I showed it to my students as the first movie in their course. By that time I had started the ‘Must Watch’ section on this blog, but did not recommend it in that list. A few days ago, I watched it for the third time. And I could not stop myself from doing this – ‘Vertigo’ in my opinion is a must-watch-before-you-die film!

In 2008, I was discovering Alfred Hitchcock. I remember the shiver I felt down my spine while watching several of his films. ‘Vertigo’ has been my favorite Hitchcock film ever since. Apart from his usual brilliance with suspense and crime psychology, this film had a touch of the supernatural to it. Until about mid-way into the film, things are shrouded in such an intriguing mystery that you can’t blink an eye-lid. If you are watching it for the first time, you can’t be affected by anything other than its supremely engaging story-line.

During my second watch, since I already knew the story, my focus was on the craft – the narrative structure, the shot design, the performances, etc. It only strengthened my opinion of it as a great film. I was not surprised that this film commonly featured in top-ten movies lists. I was not surprised that it was regarded as a work of art, despite being a commercially viable and widely accessible film. I was not surprised that despite having watched eighteen other films by Hitchcock, and several of which were great, this remained my favorite film by him. But I could not recommend it as a must watch.

This time, during my third watch, I felt something I had never felt. Throughout the length of the film, I felt sad – for Scottie, the protagonist. I felt a helplessness I had never felt before. ‘Vertigo’ is one of the most powerful tragedies written on film. And its portrayal of a man’s unfortunate obsession with things beyond his control is one of the most devastating portrayals of the weaknesses of the human mind. Once you know what the film is about, and you are no more limited by the more powerful elements of the story and design, you get to go deeper into the psychology of the characters. Since these are the characters you are now familiar with, there is an obvious sense of familiarity. And then, when you see them being trapped into their own obsessions, completely ignorant of their results, you feel helpless. You can’t do anything to change their destiny, and can only wait for the heartbreaking resolution you are only too aware of.

I wonder if the Almighty, if there is one, feels the same about us. Being aware of our destinies, does He feel helpless too as we move unknowingly toward an end we can never imagine? Or does He feel a sense of sadistic pride in watching something He created and manipulated, as the worlds of helpless men crumble down with His command? Did Sir Alfred feel the same?

Surviving Chaos and Contradictions

My blog posts have become less frequent over the past couple of months. I regret this, but can’t help it. Even my movie-count has dipped down, and life has been chaotic. It might be difficult for me to explain this, but I’ll try.

Note: Since my brother and I work as a team, ‘I’ in the following lines will often mean ‘We’.

Recently, our first song as lyricists was released. It hardly became a rage, but friends and family loved it. As congratulatory messages continue to pour in, we are hardly affected. The reason being this – we are presently writing songs for a different film. And all the struggle and inexperience as lyricists is haunting us again. It hardly matters that others are loving a song that we wrote some years ago, and this contradiction is unnerving and inspiring at the same time.

Since mid-June, I have resumed my 'Understanding Cinema' lectures at National College with a new bunch of students. It feels good to see them grow and learn before my eyes, to find them passionate and persistent. And in my heart I know that my effort to improve as a teacher is yielding results. But it’s strange how, in order to make them understand the nuances of film-making, I’m changing their vague ideas into clearly defined methods and rules. It’s strange because between last semester and this I have discovered the importance of intuition and spontaneity and the limitations of method and am trying my best to change my ‘methodical’ self into a more spontaneous being. My insistence on method and film-grammar in my lectures then seems to me a contradiction to my changing beliefs. How right or wrong I am – I have no idea.

It’s also an irony that the image of mine before the students is exactly opposite to that in the professional world – at least as far as film directing is concerned. The truth is, despite having written a feature script that everyone loves, we are yet to prove our worth as directors. Every short film we are making is below par and we know that there is so much more to learn before we expect someone to back us with finance and production. We feel like novices there, trying our best to find a way out, when the experience as a film-buff or a teacher fails to help us in any way. When it comes to directing films, we are yet to be able to call ourselves ‘directors’.

The savings in our accounts have depleted and we are currently living off our Dad’s money. We need money to survive, and we need money to invest in our short films. And in order to earn, we want to take certain projects that will only affect our time and attention with our own projects. What do we do then? How do we get rid of this dilemma?

And then, our safety zone. We are not great script-writers, but script-writing is what we are best at. That is our best bet. But even there, we are struggling. For the last two years, we have been working, on and off, on a feature film for a director and dear friend. After having written three full drafts of the film, we have decided to start with the blank page again – all those months and drafts were actually ‘the preparation’. The real writing begins now. We had submitted a previous draft of that script to Sundance Screenwriting Lab, India edition and a few hours ago I received an email informing us that it has been shortlisted for the next round. The news did bring a little joy into our chaotic world, but the truth is – it’s just the first step. There is still one stage to cross before we are selected into the final round. That we have to submit the next draft within five weeks is not a comforting idea either.

Where does one stand in such a chaos then? How do I tell my students that the stress I’m feeling with my feature projects is so much more than their individual struggles with their college projects? How do I remove their insecurities and doubts when I myself am troubled with these? A dear friend had called a couple of days ago and asked how well I was. I told him what I truly believe, that this perhaps is the darkest hour before the dawn. And also that money and opportunities will not be major problems for us in near future. The real challenge will be to be able to deliver something excellent despite this chaos and contradiction – and that is something no one can help us with. We will have to bear the responsibility of everything beautiful and crappy about our creations.

Amidst all this, I got the chance to watch ‘Gattu’. The palpable honesty and conviction behind the film made my day. The smile that it brought on my face and the inspiration it infused in me with its simplicity and courage is going to help me for the next few days, until the persistent chaos of my life overpowers me again and makes me insecure. Perhaps I’ll need to turn to some other film then to help me survive.