Understanding Past Today

If events happening around you don’t inspire you or kick you enough to start writing, then it may be a good idea to write about your past. I mean use some strong, loving, moving or scary incidences from your past that should make it easy to start punching the keyboard. But I seem to have lost both areas to pick a topic from, present or past. Past is over and present is so uninspiring with all this price hikes and political puppet dances… But recently I read a very nice a piece from someone I know dearly and I thought that it was a very good idea to express what I felt in some special professional moments of my life.

Well, to earn my bread I do ‘sound recording’ in entertainment business; in medias like films, documentaries and television. I can write about my take on it from the past till present.

When I landed in Mumbai in 1972 (3 May), I started working as an assistant with one Mr. Singh, then a popular senior sound recordist. Normally working as an assistant could give no one any artistic satisfaction or professional, because you are always under the shadow of your boss, well, mostly for most. But just by chance some of my individual sparks managed to spill out, which thankfully also got noticed by some. In arty businesses, getting appreciation from appropriate quarters is much more satisfying, compared to getting adequately paid for it. To give myself a few points, I can count a few incidences which give me healthy satisfaction. First one was from 27 Dn, my first film as an assistant. After the film was over the producer told me, “you will do my next film,” which meant that the producer/director was happy enough with my work to make such a statement. For me, as a new comer, this was a huge compliment but totally private. It had to be kept as a very well-guarded secret. At no cost and through no channel, it should be allowed to reach the ear drums of my boss! I just couldn’t share my elation with anyone else for a very long time ;-(

It was lucky and also professionally practical that I assisted only one recordist that is, Mr Singh. Well, in some contrived and strange circumstances I got my first direct compliment from him only. It was connected with the shooting of a film called ‘Raja Kaka’. On one particular day, I was to do that shooting all by myself – with absolutely no one with me. Those days there used to be a lot of checking by our association (which honored me recently), to find people working without recording team of 3 people. So to handle the shooting in Filmistan Studio, Goregaon, solely by my-self for the whole day, with nearly a hundred people on the set lead by a popular character actor, needed something that I didn’t know I had. Let me explain the real stuff…

It was the set of a factory/mill, where workers are on a strike and this tipsy mill owner is screaming at them to ‘go to hell’. So there was lot of pushing and shoving by junior artistes as well as other high strung assistants in direction, camera, makeup, light boys, spot boys etc running around. So I requested the cameraman to tell me the ‘frame’ so I could place my microphone safely on a chair. The idea was to keep it far enough to be safe from the melee and close enough to pick up the dialogues clearly. I had to whisper my request to so many people to be careful, pointing to the mike on the chair. Then just before they were ready to roll, I would run back 100 ft outside the stage to the recording room to be ready for ‘rolling’ the tape. Those days the 35mm tape recorder was placed in the inside room where actually the assistant rolls the machine. After the speed stabilizes he shouts to recordist, ‘rolling’, then the recordist presses the ‘talk-back’ button connected to the set and shouts, ‘sound rolling’ and then rest of the camera, action etc happens. But the main tension was that I had to rush back to the set the instant the take was ‘cut’, to pick up the microphone and move it as per the next shot…

There was also huge weight on the head in case association’s vigilance team lands there and fines me for working without prescribed 3 people; recordist, assistant and boom-man. How I missed my boom-man that day!

Cut to 2 weeks later. The ‘mill worker’s scene’ has been edited and there was a trial show at Mahalaxmi Lab & Studios, Mahalaxmi. Lights dimmed in the very opulent private viewing theatre and the show of that scene started. I was too tense to find what I had done. I was happy to realize that it could have been used as it is, without any dubbing. In 20 min, it was over. Now the biggest surprise was in store for me! Unit members stood up and clapped for the ‘sound’! You may see an assistant ‘sound-man’ being applauded only in my business and also if unit like you a lot. I felt sheepish and kept looking down. It was my first taste of real professional satisfaction. But it seems applause was for my boss, who was sitting just next to me. He did not tell anyone that it was ‘me’ who should have been applauded. After a lot of ‘wah wah’ and handshakes we both walked out. As me and Mr Singh stepped out of the gates of the studios, he whispered in my ears, “you got such an applause for your single handed recording.” It was nice of him to say that; but even at raw age of 23, I realized, couldn’t he have said that in front of the unit members inside the theatre, “here is the guy who did this all by himself”? Suddenly something cracked inside me. I hate it when you realize cunning comes into a relationship. Worse, it then enters inside you too.
More later… perhaps.

Mehboob Studios, main gate, Bandra West

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