Saturday 11 July 2015


In a recent debate on television, a noted actor was one of the panelists. Mostly, he spoke in favour stressing on how the Chairman of FTII needs to have the right credentials … Yet in the middle of it all, he suddenly went on a rant stating “FTII has gone to the dogs”

As was expected, the students and alumni erupted in protest. I, for one, am pretty stoic about that statement. It is a standard statement made regularly by most folks who either deliberately ignore or do not understand the nature of the very industry they operate in.

To give a background, I am a fully qualified Cost Accountant (ICWAI) and an MBA from the Jamnalal Bajaj institute of Management Studies (JBIMS). Prior to joining FTII, I worked for two years as an investment banker in ABN AMRO Bank. At 24, I was driving my own car and had a Cost to Company (CTC) of around 6.5 Lakhs per annum. Most of my batchmates were placed in foreign Banks, consulting companies and fancy marketing MNCs.

18 years later and at a conservative estimate, at least 70% of my MBA friends have hit top management. The rest of them will hit the upper end of corporate hierarchy in the next five years. Currently, most of them draw salaries anywhere between 40 lakhs to a crore per annum in India (and far more if placed abroad)

So, as it would be fair to ask for anybody who has managed to read through this vomit inducing piece of vanity so far … “What the f&*# is the point?”

The point is that if you stick long enough … that you will hit top management, in the corporate world, is almost a given if you pass out from a premier business school. The understated fact is that it is statistically the opposite in the case of an art school graduate and the return on investment comparison for art schools (unlike in the case of business schools) is downright odious and irrelevant.

Considering the nature of the commercial film industry, there is no guarantee that you will end up as a top notch film professional after two decades or even a lifetime. In all probability, most folks will end up at the bottom of the monetary assets chain largely because there is hardly any averaging out and film making is a top heavy profession where say a top actor, director or technician can make 100 times the money of another actor, director or technician doing the same job. In contrast, the salary difference between two business school graduates doing the same job in two different companies would not, at the extreme most, exceed three to five times.

One has to note that the entire film making business is market driven and your value as an asset will depend on the perception of the return on Investment of the financiers. That itself is paradoxical in the sense that there is hardly any sense to compare monetary return on Investment on art education but the monetary value of the artist largely depends on how the business perceives the returns they can make.  Though the argument stands ground for all artists, for the sake of this piece, I will stick to film school graduates.

It is sheer monetary horror that in the last 13 years after I have passed out of FTII, and for not more than four years, I must have barely crossed that CTC of 6.5 lakhs (which I so took for granted in JBIMS). I have mostly struggled monetarily for the simple reason that a lot of times, either I have had no work or have been shamelessly underpaid or citing some inane excuse, not been paid at all. Leaving aside a select few directors and technicians, that would be the story of most of my extremely talented film graduate friends.

That is enough reason why the privatisation of film education debate is silly. Privatisation will simply make film education extremely expensive. In a private film school in Mumbai, it takes Rupees 18 lakhs to do a course in film direction. If you actually consider stuff like equipment, faculty, post production facilities and a small return on investment for the investors of the private film school, 18 lakhs is undoubtedly a fair price for three years of film education.

The problem, however, is that this price is prohibitive from what the market actually pays the filmmaker after he graduates. In most cases, the direction graduate from a private film school would not be able to even service the interest on that 18 Lakhs for the first few years.

The bigger social context of an expensive film school education is that it precludes a larger section of society from accessing that education. This results in restricting film education to a certain strata of society and that can only bring a singular kind of voice in the kind of films they make.

Without doubt, an essential part of good films are the life experiences that the film director, actor and his technicians have gone through. Hence it becomes very important that people from all strata of society are able to access film education. This plurality helps in bringing alive the multiple experiences on screen, resonates in the multiple voices in cinema and, as a direct result, multiple voices in society and country, so very key in a vibrant and successful democracy … and how does one put a price on something like that?

Yet one should not grudge the private film schools. A private film school is relevant for there are people who are willing to pay and not all of them are going to get into FTII or SRFTI … So if you are willing to shell out an exorbitant fee, why not? The focus in such film schools is also resource generation of professionals for the commercial film industry and that, in itself, is not a bad thing.

And that is precisely where government institutes like FTII, SRFTI and NSD are different. The one thing that the Government has to understand is that the FTII, SRFTI and the NSD are not necessarily meant to work as resource generators for the commercial Mumbai, Tamil, Telugu or the Bhojpuri film industry.

These Institutes are different, sacred and relevant in the sense that these are spaces to create artists. What the artist wants to do is a matter of personal choice and money may not be the benchmark by which everybody needs to judge personal success.

What I mean is a Raju Hirani or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali need not be the benchmark of what success is for everybody. Some graduates may just prefer devoting themselves to the art of theatre, making advertising films, directing documentaries or simply teaching in a film school and creating new artists.

That is precisely why questions like “How many Hiranis and Bhansalis has FTII created?” irrelevant … though one can easily counter this by asking, “How many Hiranis and Bhansalis has the Hindi film industry created in the last 100 years of cinema? The fact that FTII has probably created, at a conservative estimate, 300 odd national and international award winning directors and technicians out of the 2,000 odd graduates beats hollow the ratio of what the Hindi film industry, with all its resources, has created in the last 100 years.

One also has to say that a lot of folks who downplay the success rate of the FTII deliberately ignore the nature of the commercial film industry. At a conservative estimate, there must be a million odd wannabe actors in India, yet 70% of the top 20 actors in the Hindi film industry are second generation or have familial links.

Fact is that the commercial film industry is an extremely tough place and considering the abysmal ratio of outsiders making it big, a lot of folks may not have the patience, tenacity and luck to hit the top. Rather the Vidhus, Bhansalis and Hiranis are exceptions to the rule.

But then there is nothing to grudge about that either. As we do not resent that Aakash Ambani will take over from Mukesh, there is no reason to grudge if a film star, producer or director promotes his own flesh and blood.

That is why the business school model for art schools is a load of humbug. The numbers just don’t add up. The private courses churn out graduates who spend most of their time servicing the commercial industry just so that they can service the interest on their seven figure loans. How does one expect such an artist to deliver a different kind of cinema? How will he be able to fight the shackles of the commercial distribution business? How will he be able to survive as a free thinking artist if his very survival depends on toeing the line of the commercial film industry?

Government patronage in all kinds of art is key as the state of art in the country is directly linked to the state of the artist. When freedom of thought gets restricted, so does the kind of cinema that will be delivered and that in no way can help the art, artist, society, country or the world :) 

Saturday 15 December 2012


Circa 1995 and sitting in a class largely comprising of professional, semi and wannabe geeks, I was being shot in the head by words like ‘Derivatives, Forward contracts, Floating exchange rates, Hedging, Spot contracts’ and the like ... and though as always, I was sitting at the back of the class, I clearly felt the finance jargon bullets pierce through my cranium at close range.

The class was on Foreign Exchange and the preacher was a certain Mr. T. Mr. T used to work in treasury at a foreign bank and used to regularly inundate us with Forex Treasury paraphernalia.

I understood very little and it probably had to do with my long tested limited comprehension capabilities ... so though I was academically inclined enough to finish with a costing degree and a decent enough Business school seat ... beyond that my academic brilliance was genuinely suspect.

So as I sat there struggling with the knowledge I seldom grasped, wondering with, at a conservative estimate, the other 20% of the class, “What the F*** am I doing here?”

Cut to yesterday ... sitting in a cinema hall at Wadala and mesmerised by Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, for some strange reason ... Mr. T’s complex class on Finance whirled through my head.

Years back, I had read Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’. It was a single session read and that is generally my benchmark for a book I like ... I should also take the pain to mention that from reading two fiction novels a day, my reading habits have largely devolved to two books a decade ... or probably less. The rise of the internet has been inversely proportional to my reading habits ... there ...  I finally have a villain to blame for my cultural degeneration. Thanks Internet!

I clearly am a sucker for high concept stories and was impressed enough to list Pi as one of my all time favourite books. Earlier Manoj Shyamalan was to make a film on the same. Not having recovered from my dislike of the cinematic presentation of my other favourite, ‘The Ice Candy Man’ (Made as 1947 Earth), my immediate reaction was to disregard it as another one of Hollywood’s really bad ideas.

In my mind, Pi is a difficult book to film and primarily, a more difficult job to write an engrossing screenplay on. Most of the events take place in the middle of the sea with a tiger for company ... add to that ... no big time romantic interest, no gun fights and definitely no songs around trees.

To be fair, however, Hollywood has already done a pretty cool job with ‘Castaway’. ‘Castaway’ was also a difficult screenplay to write ... probably a more difficult job considering that Tom Hanks had only Bob, the football to keep him company. The difference being ‘Castaway’ has a far more believable element to it at an intrinsic story level.

‘Li of Pi’ is more fantasy and clearly a tale where one needs to suspend belief. Here, for most part of the film, one also needs to believe Pi’s incredible tale for the film to work.

It is also important to have fondness for the literature from which the film is derived. Most folks who have disliked the book have also disliked the film ... hence I would like to keep my post limited to the cinematic adaptation of the book.

Firstly, the choice of Director ... Ang Lee. There is something soulful about the way Ang Lee makes films. His more recent ‘Lust, Caution’ is an exercise in cinematic control. A similar film in Hollywood would have pounding drama, car chases and the works ... but ‘Lust, caution takes the more difficult path of slowly involving you in the story of the leads while gently nudging you towards the payoff. Other notable films by the Director include Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.

As a Director, ‘Life of Pi’ is a more difficult book to adapt to film ... say as compared to ‘The Godfather’ ... no great lines ... no colourful characters ... nothing traditional to hook a lay audience ... except the tiger!

Somewhere Ang Lee must have realised that the only way to film the book was to give a novel cinematic experience. The 3D was probably conceived as a gimmick and a deliberate way of engaging and distracting the audience with a film tool.

The 3D is definitely awesome and one of the best that one has seen in films so far. Every little thing has been thought of including the awesome opening titles.

Actually speaking, there is very little to talk about beyond the visual appeal of the film. Life of Pi tries to engage the audience visually rather than at the script level ... which a ‘Castaway’ does better. Probably that is why I liked the film since while reading the book, I visualised far less.

To compare it with a classic like ‘The Godfather’ ... In ‘The Godfather’, there was so much more to look forward to ... how would key characters look? How would they say the lines? How would the mood of all those chilling scenes be created? Definitely, there was far more ... With ‘Life of Pi’, there was far less and yet it kept me glued to my seat ... if not anything else, a wonderful cinematic adaptation of a difficult book to film.

Largely, Pi seems to have found an audience. Why is that the film has been generally liked? My view is that Ang Lee kept things simple. More importantly, he tried to reach an audience who hadn’t read the book.

That brings me back to my days in the Foreign Exchange class at business school. The professor then kept throwing jargon at us. Most times, I didn’t understand jackshit. That, I believe, defeated the very purpose of having a professor in class.

Eventually, it did dawn upon me that all business transactions in Banks, stocks, marketing or even films  ... irrespective of the jargon used ... are based on the same underlying principle of profit ... that selling price has to be higher than buy rates ... basing it on as simple as the profit principle, all of Mr. T’s foreign exchange jargon suddenly fell into perspective. In business deals, jargonising simple concepts is simply a way of sounding more intelligent and generally a covert way of charging a higher premium. 

In all fairness, I do use a lot of jargon myself ... Jargon, if you know what it stands for, helps condense the use of multiple sentences. If you don’t, then you are just plain lost ... that is probably the lesson one learns from Masters like Ang  Lee ... to reach an audience who haven’t read the book.

Years later, after I started studying at film school, to make ends come closer (Alas! they still don’t meet), I used to teach maths at an MBA coaching centre. My single most endeavour was not to complicate the subject. Probably I succeeded ... probably I didn’t ... but my teaching efforts were largely guided by my complete incomprehension of those forex classes ... proves that everything in life has a payoff.

That probably has been my approach to the films I make. Not to complicate the simple ... and to simple out the complicated ...  if only I could apply this principle to my life ...

It definitely is easier to blog about than implement ... that bitch ... the Pi of Life.

Wednesday 24 October 2012


Wanted to and should have actually done this a long time back, can attribute the delay to sheer laziness. 

The short film is a very different animal from a feature. Unlike a feature film, where most variables are controlled by film production houses and distributors, marketing a short largely depends on the Producer and Director ... since generally ... they have no other choice but to shoulder that responsibility themselves

We finished making Rewind sometime in January 2007 and here is an attempt to graphically detail what we did since. Hope this blog helps some amongst you to market your short films better.

Blah blah blah blah ...

Beg, borrow, grovel, steal, murder ... Beg, borrow, grovel ...

Any film which is less than 40 minutes is technically a short film but it helps to keep short films short. Short films are bundled together and shown at film festivals. Most festivals prefer films which are less than 15 minutes, largely because it fits their programming requirement. Most sites which sell short films on the net (like an iTunes) generally do not have films more than 15 minutes in length. This is not to say that anything above 15 minutes is not selected or sold, but there is generally not more than one film more than 15 minutes in a 5 film programme in a festival. I guess it is more from a festival programming perspective and nothing else

The length requirement also changes from distributor to distributor. To quote an example :

Post the screening at the Locarno Film Festival, a short film programmer wanted to buy Rewind for screenings before feature films in Switzerland. He was very keen to select Rewind but it did not work out since they were looking for films with a maximum length of 5 minutes (while Rewind is hardly an 8 minute film).

We made Rewind in February 2007. I had roamed around a bit for the money, asking for a measly 1.5 lakhs to make a DV film but no one was interested. Ketan Gohil (the producer of Rewind) was a batchmate from my MBA days. Ketan had, time and again, said that he wanted to make a film. I was looking to make a showreel and he was looking to make that one film. He was not really looking for returns, so that helped. We finished the film in 30 days, on a budget far higher than the one mentioned above and with four 35 mm dolby digital prints.

One hears a lot about the festival circuit. From a selling perspective, it is highly overrated. Seldom do films get sold at festivals. Most times, one is spending more money to send films to festivals with no tangible returns. Technically speaking, one is just spending money to get one’s film seen, when it should be the other way round.

That is not to say that it does not have its advantages. Like films do get noticed and hit the bigger circuits. The original Saw, The Little Terrorist, District 9 are good examples of what a well noticed short film can achieve.

The following sites cover almost every film festival in the world and how to apply to them. Reelport, Shortfilmdepot and withoutabox are registration sites for festivals ... meaning that one can create a database just once and not have to fill up documents again and again and send the films directly to festivals subscribed to by these sites. Britfilms is probably the best database site for film festivals and details almost every film festival in the world.

We decided that we will first send the film only to a big six festival (Berlin, Cannes. Locarno, Venice, Toronto and Sundance). The reason why one waits for a big six festival is that if the film actually gets noticed then the film may hit the bigger circuit (like Sales, feature film deals, etc). Also, most big film festivals have a world premiere policy, so if you have already screened your film at a small festival, they generally do not consider the film in the competition section.

Cannes rejected Rewind. The rejection came through in March. The next big festival was Locarno in August. It was a long wait.

Here one has to talk about the Oscar short list. If you made a film in a format which suits a festival, you can just send the film. The festival, then selects or rejects a film. That, however, is not the case with the Oscars. To send a film to the Oscars, the film has to win a designated prize at one of the Oscar nominated festival.  If and only if a film wins at one of these festivals, then it qualifies for an entry to the Oscars. The complete list of the festivals which qualify for an Oscar entry are available on the site.

We decided to wait for Locarno. Since nothing had happened and nothing was going to happen for the next five months, Ketan was getting a bit impatient. If Locarno rejected the film too, should we wait for Venice? We decided not to but send the film to some Oscar nominated festivals. Luckily. Locarno selected the film. Around the same time, the film was selected at four other Oscar nominated film festivals (Palm Springs, Milano, Los Angeles and Montreal)

We went to Locarno with huge expectations expecting the film to be sold the moment we landed in Switzerland. We spent a good ten days and more money but nothing happened. We made a few friends, drank a few beers and came back.

Producer & Director showing off at Locarno
If the film has been sold, a lot of that credit goes to the producer Ketan Gohil. Ketan has this great theory, “Jo bhi USA mein badaa hotaa hain, duniya usko salaam kartee hain (if you become big in the USA, the world salutes you)”. Maybe he is right ... Well, Ketan has generally been right on Rewind.

Palm Springs and LA international film festivals are supposedly great markets for short films. That is what the net said. None of them were paying for the flight ticket but Ketan was convinced. He flew to the USA on his own money, had a meeting with Linda from Shorts International who liked the film and picked it up. The contract was signed in October 2007. We had finally managed to sell Rewind. It took us nine months to sell the film.

Shorts International is the biggest player in the short film market in the world. Their distribution network is unmatched. Rewind, for example, was bought by HBO Czechoslovakia. Sitting in India, how does one access a television network in East Europe? Shorts International gives you that access. You can read about them and send a film directly to them.

Indieflix, a company based in North America, is yet another big player in the short film market. Their business model is very similar to Shorts International. They sell films per download or unlimited monthly views for a certain fee. We were approached for ‘Rewind’ but couldn’t be a part because of internet exclusivity at that point. As we rummaged through the contract, we realised that the dvd rights were non-exclusive. Ketan signed the contract sometime last year and Rewind was launched as a part of a 4 film package under the ‘Adrenaline’ section under the series ‘Film Festival in a Box’ in North America.

The biggest obviously is Apple iTunes.  But most of their short film programming is done by Shorts International. However, not all short films selected by Shorts International end up on Apple iTunes. As a matter of fact, very few do. We were lucky. Maybe the fact that Rewind was in English helped. Currently, the film is available on Apple iTunes in the USA, UK, Australia and Germany.

Rewind in Theatres - An all India release ... thanks to PVR
A theatrical release for a short film is almost impossible. I had seen a short film being shown before a feature in Paris. A dear friend now, Umang Pahwa was then working for PVR. He had called to ask if I had a feature script. I suggested if they could show Rewind before a feature. 

Surprisingly, almost everybody at PVR (Ashish Saksena, Ranjan Singh, Rajendram   Akula, Sameep & Prakhar Joshi) was excited and even gave us a small part of the distributor’s share. It was just plain nice of them, since there is no real tangible return from showcasing a short film before a feature. Rewind had an all India theatrical release and was shown prior to the Michel Gondry film ‘Be Kind Rewind'

There are some avenues to sell short films in India. But except for Magic Lantern, I have no idea who else pays up for distributing short films in India.

We have/had a small non-exclusive deal with Palador. They have an Indie corner section on their dvds where they showcase short films. The deal was that they would pay us Rs. 5 per dvd sold. In India, Rewind is available as a bonus film with some Alfred Hitchcock feature films (Blackmail, The Skin Game, Rich & strange, The Manxman & Murder). Probably Palador no longer exists. Enlighten was also looking for films since they had contacted us a long time back. I have no other details on them or what they are looking for so I guess, Producers and Directors can still contact them and find out

They are probably the best and the most aggressive. They have more than 200 short films in their profile. They are trying their best to create a short film market in India. They also buy feature films. They also pay whatever they can. We can vouch since we do receive regular cheques from them. Actually, they are the only ones in India who we have received cheques from.

This is one other distributor in Canada who had approached us to distribute Rewind. Since we already have an exclusive deal with Shorts International (other than South Asia), we didn’t pursue the same. More recently, a friend of mine Vinoo Choliparambil had send his film ‘Vitthal’ to them and they were interested enough to send him a non-exclusive contract. Here is their website address


Shorts International wanted exclusive international rights for Rewind. Ketan fought and retained all rights for South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). So if anybody wants to buy these rights from us for these markets, they are still available.

Though the film is available on dvd in India, Ketan had been smart enough to give out only non exclusive rights. It makes perfect sense, since most distributors in India are looking for a free lunch. So if nobody is paying you, then you might as well get the film seen by more and more people.


You can see the complete film here :

Here is the YouTube Link :

Please feel free to add names if you know of any other genuine distributors for short films ... or any other information which helps to contribute to this blog. Hope this info helps in selling your shorts. 

All the best. 


-       Atul Taishete

Tuesday 8 November 2011


Amitabh Bachchan ... eulogies have been written ... paeans have been sung ... columns have been filled ... about the man, the aura and his stardom. Here are my two cents worth.

Undoubtedly, there never has been a superstar like Bachchan  ... someone who was a complete package ... who could sing, act, dance, do comedy, was tall, brooding  ... and though that never is a consideration in India ... could act too.

The Superstar face off in 'Namak Haram'
There were other superstars before and after the Big B ... Rajesh Khanna being one of them. Even as a kid, I remember watching the Babumoshay scene in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s ‘Anand’ eventually followed by a superstar kind of face off in ‘Namak Haram’ As is well documented now, Amitabh won that battle.

Of all the superstars in the annals of Indian cinema, I have always believed that Amitabh Bachchan is probably the only actor who deserved it as much as he did. But then, he was not really a superstar because he was the best at everything he was supposed to do on screen ... probably the same way that a Dhirubhai Ambani was never top of his class.

Mr. B, I believe, was like that kid, who always stood second or third in school ... but the difference being that he was second or third at almost anything and everything there was to do as an Indian actor, unlike most other actors who were the best at a thing or two or who were really good at a lot of things and really bad at some key stuff that denied them superstardom. Let me explain.

I have always rated Naseeruddin Shah as the Best actor of the 70’s and the 80’s. As a struggling actor, he was truly world class. He looked and played the part like no other actor of his times. His blind act in ‘Sparsh’ was probably better than Pacino’s ‘Scent of a Woman’. He is the only actor who ever played a genuine Parsi in the sublime ‘Pestonjee’. The madness in ‘Junoon’, the buffoonery in ‘Jaaney Bhi Do Yaaron’, the anger in ‘Albert pinto ko Gussa kyun aataa hain?’, the innocent chawl act in ‘Katha’ and the drunken cussing in ‘Mandi’, are all class acts from an actor par excellence. But big time commercial success always eluded Naseer saab. He, unfortunately, never saw stardom the way Amitabh Bachchan did ... The major difference, I have felt, between the two was that Mr. Bachchan, unlike Naseer saab, was very clearly commercial in his intent as an actor. What I mean is this.

Naseer saab probably studied real people and portrayed them as real as he could. Mr. Bachchan did just the opposite. He studied real people and made them unreal on screen ... rather aspirational and loveable. The drunkard Anthony in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’ was actually a neighbour of the Director Manmohan Desai in Girgaum. Now who really likes a drunk who rolls around in the gutters or vomits on the roads? Nobody in that chawl in Girgaum must have viewed Anthony the way Bachchan and Desai did ... completely lovable and strangely aspirational. The dock worker in ‘Deewar’, the revenge driven businessman in ‘Trishul, the street singer in ‘Don’, the fugitive in ‘Faraar’ are all iconic characters but there is one common thread between them. They are all unreal, mouth cool lines and are all larger than life ... making them clearly aspirational.

Mr. Bachchan did actually try his hand at real characters too like in ‘Anand’, ‘Reshma aur Shera’, ‘Mili’, ‘Saudagar’ and ‘Manzil’ but none of them are as revered and remembered as an Anthony or a Vijay.

That is probably the difference between the star commercial actors and directors. The bigger stars realise one fact about the audience, that most times, to be a big commercial star, it all has to be more aspirational than real. Mr. Bachchan probably had those opportunities far more and probably a more commercial understanding of an audience than a Naseer saab and it all showed in the films they did.

A still from Shyam Benegal's 'Mandi'
The difference is apparent in the drunken acts of Naseer saab in ‘Mandi’ and the Anthony in ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. Both are class acts by two of the most wonderful performers to hit the Indian screen. To my mind, these two are not comparable. Naseer saab’s drunken rant to Shabana Azmi is one of the finest natural performances ever, while Mr. Bachchan’s act is one of the finest over the top funny acts. I have never laughed as much as a kid, as I watched Mr. Bachchan’s drunk act in front of the mirror ... These are not comparable solely because they are not interchangeable to begin with. It is probably a reflection on our audience that only one of them would sell the tickets.

Mr. Bachchan was never considered a great dancer either. His initial dancing years were mostly forgettable. I remember seeing an interview of the legendary Mehmood. Mr. Mehmood had cast the tall and gawky looking Bachchan in his iconic film ‘Bombay to Goa’. Mr. Bachchan was to dance to the song’ Dekha naa ... hai rey sochaa naa ...” As per Mr. Mehmood, dancing was sheer horror for Mr. Bachchan and he even broke down to the extent that he asked Mehmood to replace him. Mr. Mehmood, however, asked him to take a break and return the next day.

The next day, it was a different Mr. Bachchan. He was more uninhibited and seemed to enjoy the process far more. That, probably was a defining moment for Mr. Bachchan when he let his body just let go. In that one night, Mr. B had climbed the learning curve a bit more till he finally danced to wonderful numbers in ‘Kaalia’, ‘Satte pe Satta’ and culminating in that pulsating ‘Jhumma Chumma de de’ in ‘Hum’. Mr. B never danced better than that ever.

But if one has to compare dancing talent or just watching an actor twist his body on screen ... did anyone ever dance like Shammi Kapoor on the Indian screen? Shammi Kapoor was on the rounder side but when he danced, he was a delight to watch. The eighties saw Mithun Chakravarthy with a trademark dancing style closely followed by Govinda. Mithun was also an amazing actor. It is difficult to believe that ‘Mrigaya’ was Mithunda’s first film and he has won three National awards since. Dada could be both loud and subtle at the same time. That is a very important aspect of being a star actor. That is where a natural actor like Balraj Sahni failed. His loudness never had the same impact as that of a Bachchan or a Mithun.

Mithunda could have been the next superstar but the classes never really took to him. Even at his peak, he was ‘The Poor Man’s Amitabh’ like Govinda in his initial years was ‘The Poor Man’s Mithun’. Amitabh’s charisma, however, transcended all boundaries of class. Most of these actors could carry off a bright red coloured banian but they found it very difficult to simultaneously be acceptable in a designer suit. Bachchan, on the other hand, when he wore a suit, looked like he deserved to wear one. In the earlier world of the single screens, Amitabh, Dharmendra and Vinod Khanna were the few star actors who could carry off both worlds in terms of look.

That brings it to one of my favourite actors ... Vinod Khanna. There never has been a better looker than Mr. Khanna. For somebody to start off as a villain in ‘Mera Gaon mera Desh’, he almost came close to overtaking the Bachchan mania.

But Mr. Khanna never really seemed very comfortable with the song and dance routine. For a mainstream commercial actor, he seemed to have a kind of serious disposition that no other actor of his time had. I remember watching films like ‘Nehle pe Dehla’, ‘Parvarish’ and even ‘The Burning Train’. He seemed like someone who commanded respect inspite of the over the top cinema he did. Somehow the more lasting memory I have of Mr. Khanna is in films like ‘Imtihan’, ‘Shaque’ and ‘Achanak’... all semi-art films, the kinds where one would expect a Naseeruddin Shah, but strangely, he seemed to fit the groove much better.  In those films, he seemed like an actor who just didn’t care about the Box office anymore. That probably was the kind of person he was ... to have quit at the top of his career to live the life of an ascetic on the Osho farm ... now that needs character.

But then, what was it about Mr. B that got him to where he did? Having said that there was always somebody who could perform some performing aspect as an Indian actor better than Mr. B, so it is a paradox that Mr. B became the superstar. 

There definitely, were actors who could dance, act, sing and even had a better voice than him. But none, however was a complete package. In entirety, no one actor could act, dance, look good, do action, comedy, emote, be foolish on screen and yet be completely acceptable to both the masses and the classes as the Big B would be.

I don’t know Mr.B or his thought process but feel that the one night he must have spent ruminating on his failure as a dancer on the sets of ‘Bombay to Goa’ must have been a key step in the process to becoming the Superstar. To me, ‘Dekha naa ...’ is an amazingly uninhibited performance. Mr. Bachchan was also probably more conscious of the learning curve than most other actors of any time. What he didn’t have in talent, he replaced it with grace and style. The song ‘Dilbar mere’ from Satte pe Satta’ and ‘Tum saath ho jab apne’ from ‘Kaalia’ have him do ballroom dance moves, with irrefutable class.

Mr. Bachchan stylised almost everything he did. The way he walked, talked, sang ... it was all deliberate and probably thought over. Nobody ever held a gun as casually as Mr. Bachchan did, yet there was something menacing about the way he held it. Javed Akhtar once said that about Mr. Bachchan that when Amitabh held the gun, he seemed like someone to be taken very seriously but when he sees some of the current actors hold the gun, he feels like telling them, “Son ... be careful ... it might just go off”

Bachchan, to my mind, stays the epitome of style on screen. Most actors confuse style with clothes , accessories and other superficial fashion statements ... but style is more in the mind than anywhere else. It is how others view you over generations. The clothes and the shoes that Amitabh Bachchan wore on screen may be out of fashion decades ago ... but the one thing that will never go out of fashion is the way he held a gun. There is one other thing that the Big B did that will probably stay unmatched on screen ... RUN.

Fact is no other actor ran on screen like Vijay did.

Running is probably such a miniscule part of being an actor but did anyone ever run like Mr. Bachchan on screen? When Mr. Bachchan ran on screen, it was a cinematic moment akin to Clint Eastwood in a western face off or Matt Damon solving that arithmetic problem on the notice board in ‘Goodwill Hunting’. It was that cool.

The final chase sequence in Deewar is imprinted in my memory as much for the drama between two brothers as much for Mr. Bachchan’s graceful long strides as he tries to escape the diligent cop Ravi, the tail of his coat flying in graceful rhythm ... making it aspirational for every guy sitting in the audience to someday escape the cops, running like Vijay.

Did Mr. Bachchan ever run like that in all those school races a kid? I wouldn’t think so. Mr. Bachchan’s long lasting stardom has probably been in his ability to comprehend the learning curve faster than most and to be finicky about every small thing that the audience will see on screen and possibly applaud. The way the hands moved in the song in ‘Kaalia’ or the rhythmic running in ‘Deewar’ are probably all a part of the larger aspect of how he would have himself liked to see a star on screen. He, I guess, was somebody who got that opportunity to be that star and he probably adapted his screen persona to things he would applaud on screen himself.

Today, a lot of actors working in the Hindi film industry lack that old world charm for which we went to the cinemas. It is, however, available in large doses in the South. Probably, that is why one has larger than life stars in the South. The more recent Salman Khan phenomena is largely on the backs of the south Indian Robinhood kind of cinema, fairly simple and mostly star driven ... the kind that will only work with a very big star.

It was the same with Mr. Bachchan, yet the superstardom of the Big B is largely unrivalled. I am sure most actors would love to see that kind of adulation, but they may have one question to ask of themselves.

“I may be faster than a PT Usha ... but, talent apart ... can I run like a Bachchan?”

Monday 17 October 2011

Rewinding to DNIWER (Part II)

Once Ketan had given the go ahead, we went into the all important task of kick-starting the film. The thing about being from a film school is that you are never really short of technicians. I had to make a few calls and I was all good to go.

My good friend Sudhakar Yakkanti flew down from Hyderabad to shoot the film, Suvir Nath agreed to share the editing burden with Neeraj, Dara Singh agreed to do the sound while his wife Dahilya was gracious enough to do the styling and help the Art Director Amit Tankaria out with the production design. No money was discussed since I didn’t have any and I owe it to them for never short changing me on the quality inspite of a measly budget.

In film making, my view is that the Director is merely a nominal head. A film starts with the script. Post that, every little thing that somebody else does, adds to taking the film a notch higher or lower than the written word. Rewind, I feel, was a complicated film to make, but every team member added just that right amount of effort and creativity to try and take it beyond the basic material.

Listed below is the process :

The Location & the Production Design

Rewind is a film about three gamblers playing the Russian roulette to claim an undivided heist of diamonds. The trick is to be the last man standing in a game of death. Considering the nature of the plot, the location had to be necessarily isolated. We also considered an outdoor location surrounded by palm trees in Madh Island, but some things didn’t work out. Eventually, we zeroed in on an underconstruction building in Film city. We wanted the space of the film to be slightly weird but not illogical. Amit worked his heart out to create a wonderful set. When you watch the film, there are bizarre things like a chair hanging on a wall in the background which contributed to the overall quirkiness of the film.

The Camerawork
Sudhakar is an old friend. We go back to the first day of the interviews at FTII and have been thick since. Some other DoPs (Director of Photography), I have worked with, merely want to come on a set and start shooting, as if that is the most important thing to do in a film. There is no real understanding of what the scene demands and they are very reluctant to discuss camera movement and lighting at a more micro level. With Sudhakar, there is never any ego about who the director or DoP is. We have a wonderful rapport and most discussion happens over a drink. Between us, Sudhakar’s contribution is not merely limited to lighting and shooting a film. In whatever work we have done together, we have always tried to work on the camera at the script level, rather than just look at it as a tool to shoot a film. In Rewind, we agreed to keep the camera moving continuously to maintain the momentum of intrigue. The shot taking was deliberately long and without too many cuts. There are not more than 12 shots in the film. Incidentally, a lot of beer (over discussions, of course) was required to keep the shots to a minimum

The Shot Taking

Before we landed up on a set, there were some key questions I needed answers to. What happens when an entire narrative moves in reverse? How does one maintain the drama of the screenplay in the shot taking? How does one keep the grammar of the shot taking forward while the action in the film moves backwards? The essence of a reverse film is in its design. Essentially, the beginning becomes the climax of the film and vice versa.  Our biggest worry while shooting Rewind was that while watching the final film, one should not get the feeling that the film was merely shot straight and then just reversed in the editing room. That would defeat the very purpose of making a reverse film and tantamount to cheating the audience. It was imperative that after watching the final film, the audience should derive the same satisfaction as they would after watching any good film. The most important decision we took was to adhere to the grammar of Linear shot taking while shooting the film  ... but in reverse. I can’t take the sole credit for the shot taking or the shot division. I strongly feel that the DoP should necessarily be a very integral part of the Shot division process (which is rarely the case in the real world). The DoP, Sudhakar, was an integral part of the process and that, I believe, shows in every cut and frame of the film.

The Editing
We were always clear that it was a real time film ... that is to say that the amount of time spent by the characters on screen was the amount of time they would have actually spent in the room playing the Russian roulette. In such a case, action continuity was key. The bigger problem was that the action continuity had to match the reverse cut ... since what we were doing was shooting the film straight, reversing the shot on a machine and doing the match cut with the earlier shot. The only way to not screw up big time was to do an on location edit, so there we had Suvir Nath and Neeraj Grover matching every shot with  the earlier one before we moved on to the next. Inspite of all that, we did goof up twice ... once when Chiknya takes out the other gun from his shoe. What we had missed out in the earlier shot division was the action of him taking the gun out. It was strange to see none of that matching and it took us a good 15 minutes before we figured out where we had botched up. We added the movement of Chiknya’s hand moving down to the gun and removing it ... and voila ... there we had  ... the perfect match cut.

The Styling

The styling of the film had to match the characters. Chiknya was flamboyant and cool; Partho was rough while the Blind man was sober. The colour tones had to match their personality traits. Dahliya got the perfect clothes for the three. Whenever I watch the film, I am amazed by how different each of them looks. That is all Dahliya Kaur there. The old kettle in the film is also the invaluable touch of the art director in her.

The Sound design & Music

I have never had so many sleepless nights over sound design as with Rewind. The film was moving in reverse. The big question was whether to place the effects in reverse. We tried umpteen experiments. The effects in reverse were sounding real strange, so eventually we ended up placing them in linear.  Earlier, we tried to get a background score composed for the film. It didn’t work at all. It is to Dara’s credit that the entire film is actually full of effects and one hardly misses any background music. The lone song, beautifully composed by Bapi-Tutul and rendered by Sunayana Sarkar Dasgupta, appears on the titles at the end of the film.

The Cast

Then I had wanted Shiv Subramanyam to play the Blind guy, but Shiv had some personal problems and he couldn’t allocate the dates at the last moment. I have always loved Shiv’s deep baritone. He was kind enough to agree to be the Blind man’s voice. As for the actors, I needed them to look completely distinct from each other. Raj Singh Verma, Rajeev Mishra and Saleem Javed fit the bill perfectly

Rewind theatrical release with 'Be Kind Rewind'
Here I have to mention Nitin Sethi and Bhavin at Glamsham who supported the film throughout. Rewind would have never seen such extensive press coverage without their involvement

It took three months of post production to complete the film. Rewind opened at the Locarno International film festival in 2007, was invited to more than 50 International film festivals and won Grand Jury prizes at the Seattle and the Victoria Independent Film festival. It was then the only Indian short film to have an all India theatrical release (thanks to the team at PVR). It is amongst the only two Indian short films to be available for sale on Apple iTunes in the USA, UK, Canada and Germany. Last month, the DVD of Rewind was launched by Indieflix in the USA.

For a short film, it probably achieved more than what most feature films manage after spending a lot of money. It has been a wonderful closure for a film which started of due to fortuitous circumstances as a 100% loss proposition and was financed to fulfil the childhood dream of someday producing a film for my Producer Ketan Gohil.

With Producer Ketan Gohil (Left) at the Locarno Film Festival
More recently, I saw the 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech by Steve Jobs. Though the speech per se is filled with cliches that successful people are so eloquent about, one thing, however stayed with me. Jobs talks about how you can only connect the dots in hindsight.

In retrospect, I look back at the missed opportunity of directing the Marathi film far more gratefully. I am sure Rewind would have never happened if I had directed that film.

A couple of years later. Sunil, the writer of ‘Daddy’ met me again. He was now ready to make all the changes in the script, but that opportunity was long gone. Opportunity, I realised, is a big thing in life. When it comes your way, the head immediately reacts pleading with you to grab it with both hands ... but then sometimes ... it is not such a bad idea to stick with your heart ... it probably understands you better.