In this humongous machinery that cinema is, we play our roles as little collets and wheels. These parts are flexible, interchangeable and remodel with time. It’s a transactional life. Meet new people, new teams, connect for the brief duration of the transaction, churn yourself and move on, without a pause.
And then connect again on another transaction, hopefully or not.
When I started working in the film industry, the very first feature length narrative i got involved with was Ballad of Rustom. I had just come back from the States post film school and was looking for work. I happened to randomly meet the DP of this project, Shanti Bhushan Roy, and he was happy to have me assist him on the film. Principle filming started a couple of months later in Coorge, karnataka.
Arri 535, 35mm, Cinemascope, Sync sound. Quite a challenge for a Independent film, top it with self-financed & produced.
Ajita Suchitra Veera. This link should give you an idea of whom we were dealing with. Super focused on her vision and absolutely uncompromising to say the least. No wonder the film took 4 months to shoot and more than a year in post.
That said, and to be honest, I wasn’t able to see the macro perspective of the film after reading the script during the first 2 days of the shoot. It wasn’t a hard script to understand. On the contrary it was a simple story set in the beautiful landscape of rural India. Rather than a story, it was a layered slice of life. Complexity was in the mind of the lead character and from a complex mind emerges complex perspectives of the universe. It is said that with every person born, there is a genesis of a whole new universe and an entire universe perishes with every demise. This was a film of one such perspective.
So you either love such a film or hate it. I do not want to step into the shoes of the audience. There is quite a variance of intellectuals & pseudo-intellectuals there. I rather elaborate on the journey as I experienced from close quarters. For 4 months the filming unit became a tight ship. I was witness to the swings from the start, close enough to sense the temperatures on this ship, the craft manoeuvres of the director, the varied crew attitude, the politics, the chaos, the reconciliations, little euphoric moments of Mise-en-scène, mother nature’s mood reflecting on changing ambience light, human endurance, breaking points and what not.
Interiors of Coorge is pretty but it is essentially a jungle. Even basic amenities, as we are used to in the cities, are kinda scarce… and for 3 months!? The shoot was from sunrise-to-sunset almost daily …so we could take advantage of both the golden hours. The physical challenges were hard but hardly distracting.
Apparently, Something higher was commanding focus.
In later years, after shooting a couple of films myself as a DP, I concur that making an honest film is like loosing a part of yourself to the film and the film trades it for something else that sticks on with you for long… maybe for life. This film was one such; non-commercial, sans masala, honest, maverick, original & deeply Indian. The greatest asset was that every frame of the film was already in the Director’s head. It was just a matter of time. She wouldn’t compromise a bit on the image no matter what… and she wasn’t going for fancy, ostentatious shots. Technically, it was quite simple for most part. However the game was in the micro details. Moving the frame 2-3 inches to get that interesting composition, when to move and how much, where to sustain and so forth. Not to forget the risky but magical bleach-bypass process done on the film! It was wonderful to work on and observe the creation of cinema between a talented partnership of this Director-DP.
Ballad of Rustom went on to win many awards along with entering the shortlist for best picture category at the Oscars of 2014. Cheers Ajita and Shanti!
Alongside immense craft joy, this episode gave me two precious friendships. The industry doesn’t have very many people like them.
Could i have supposed on such an outcome when it had just started?
Couple of years back.
Goa… rainy season. I got called on to shoot the 2nd unit of a feature called ‘Jackpot’. The chief DP was imported from Poland. Schedule was about 30 days of production. beautiful textures in the sky, lush greens & overcast skies, kickass holiday location, the bling of casino boats, action of speed boat chases etc etc. The production had the budgets for putting all of us in pretty resorts, all taken care of.
And yet, the feeling that lingered after 30 days was like what one might feel while burping a bad egg. I don’t know if I contributed anything really. I did not learn anything for sure.
No wait, I did. I definitely learned what not to do.
Stalwarts like Nasarudeen shah and Makrand Deshpande monkeying around… sheer waste of talent. The movie dint run for more than a week. Craft joy = 0.
Could i have taken a step back and guessed this?
Lets skip the not-so-good parts of life. ho wait, there was sunny leony on set 😛
Oct 2014. I was preparing to shoot this tamil feature, written and to be directed by B.Lenin; 4 times national awardee, old school discipline and known for his commitment to meaningful cinema. It was a privilege. I could already draw parallels to the experience from working on Ajita’s film. Both these director are very different for their approach to story-telling, evidently, but the spirit was alike. While filming, everyone remains on a level field; no vanity vans, no star-worship, quite set, simple food, disciplined crew and most importantly – the director’s presence overpowering anything else on set. This kind of ambience is vital for a good film.
In the 30 days of November we shot the film – ‘Kandadhai Solligren’ (vision unfolded) – The title sounds heavy but it is a simple story about a bunch of rural traditional folk musicians. The intensity of love and betrayal that comes from proximity to any art form is as strong as between humans, probably stronger. This film explore some such relationships.
We were shooting in remote locations in Tamil Nadu. It started of with 10-12 hour days. After a week, the production realised we were lagging quite a bit and ramped up to 2 shifts daily. We were soon shooting 16-18 hour days/nights. It was getting crazy. The Director & DP are two persons who have to be on a move from first minute to the last, both physically and mentally. And by chance you take a heavy lunch, it rapidly slows the brain… in-turn slows the production. This is when my little stock of dry fruits and bananas came to rescue. Stay and food was simple. Obviously. It’s a far off country side and each of these remote areas have a peculiar food pattern which may not always suit your metabolism. Actually, that did not matter as I was either in deep sleep for the few hours I got or was bouncing around the set in the waking hours. It’s hard, it’s painful, but super enjoyable if, IF you are riding the right camel 😉
Physically, zero comfort zone. And yet, each day was satisfying to say the least. 30 days later, it was a churn of physical exhaustion and mental relief, the kind that comes form long haul of meaningful work in company of a mature captain.
Immense Craft joy.
Did I see it coming? Yes! Passage of time is a great teacher.
As Artists we tread our own paths. We take some and give some along the way. What we absorb and what we leave behind, apparently, dictates how we deal with the next transaction. But each such ‘transaction’ is its own animal and thus, seemingly, there is great wisdom in a pause, a pause that could shed light on the nature of the new transaction. What might it have in store? It appears that the Choice of transaction is a powerful helmsman in directing the internal metamorphosis of an artist.
That pause, is a critical pause.
It can bring Craft Joy, eventually.