Yes, maybe, no

After a very long time we are renovating our home. It must be a good 7-8 year back when we went through the motions of spending money on painting and other usual wear and tear jobs. I had enough spare money then, for using it on such necessary luxuries…

Somehow the winds changed direction, as they always do; the flow of money got restricted and an unusually dense fog of lull enveloped my professional life. A string of projects that were lined up to roll any day- did not roll at all. In India we like blame the poor distant planets. So, for a true Indian the planets seemed to have turned their favorable face away. All this had started after my main employers downed their shutters under the demonic burden of their bad financial situation. For the next 18 months I was very busy doing some of my most high profile and better paying jobs. I did some serious ‘audio’ work for television in the United States and India. Then I was picked up and appointed as ‘general manager’ in the office of a high profile film maker.

Soon I had another offer from a ‘distance learning’ company. Here I was working in a very high technology area. This job gave me experiences of using VSAT and software used for online education. I enjoyed this job the most, since I have been looking to get away from the glaring lights of media related environment. Perhaps enjoying the work here seemed to have made the company run aground. I said ‘seemed to have’. I am a die-hard optimist. If I have to take cues from twists and turns of my life, then a massive surprise is waiting for me in the wings, about which I have no idea.

Well today I am in a mood of counting the chickens that did not hatch. It’s rather amusing to count that in last five years of my professional life how many high profile and exciting projects surfaced, but never swam ashore. So many films were conceived but never delivered; they remained on the idea and project levels only. The most important one was ‘Singularity’. It was a Hollywood film, being directed Oscar nominated Roland Joffé with Brandon Fraser and our own Aishvarya Rai. I had done documentaries with foreign teams, cinematographers and directors. But I was excited that this time I was going to experience the making of a pure Hollywood cinema, for the first time. I was on cloud nine; but treading cautiously. A very close old friend of mine was involved in the film as an executive. I visited him often, gave him my CV, kept in touch on phone, went to his office and read the script of the film twice over. I had asked to be a part of the direction team at any capacity. If there were going to be 12 assistants I was ready to be the twelfth. Desperately yours, but I was dying to be exposed to the experience of ‘Singularity’. I wanted to see how is it done in Hollywood, how does everyone gets ready, actors are given lines, makeup tested, lighting and sound levels checked, each shot being taken… After all Roland Joffé was going to be in Mumbai next week and he was to meet and interview the direction team. That next week hasn’t arrived for the past 2 years. As per the last update this project has been re-announced for Jan 2007.

Next in line was a friend of mine actor/director Dolly Jena, who was to shoot a film in Goa. It was a period film depicting Portuguese times. I was to be her associate on this project. I read her script too many times over and got involved in production process. Film was to roll in six months, so we were busy getting hotels rates and identifying old houses for shooting. The period of six months has over shot by three years.

Among all these dream productions, three films managed to break through and reach a stage of getting themselves (a) married print. And that’s where they too stopped. I was involved in them in various capacities like script, direction, production design and sound. Presently they all are far from getting a commercial release. Coincidently, my dues from all these films are also awaiting release.

Most interesting part of this long ‘touch and go’ sequence was when an unknown person phoned me to ask, if I would make a children’s film for him. ‘Of course’ was the best answer I could think of. He said he had seen my name on the IDPA festival brochure. That’s it! Soon a contract was signed on his official letterhead and a cheque equivalent to $20, was handed over to me. It thought things have got serious this time. I called up a scriptwriter, organized our meetings and started the work briskly. Producer was in a hurry. I struggled and finally handed over a fairly good version of hand written script to him in two weeks. The Gentleman went back to his hometown to organize adequate funds. After that he never made a call to me or sent any note. No not even to ask for the refund of his money. None of his telephones worked. I wonder why was he in hurry to lose his money on us if he had to do a Harry Houdini.

I was never approached by cheats. There was no fake person among all these. All of them had been well meaning people and serious filmmakers. They just did not have it in them, to finally swing it. Whenever someone has asked, ‘so what are you doing these days?’ I have formatted a humorous answer for this situation, ‘only serious job that I have been doing for years; is looking for it!’

Under these unavoidable circumstances, I decided to take a relaxing stance, instead of usual stance of struggling and worrying. I thought of changing gear as I step into the next stage of age in my life. I started reading and I started writing. I would never have read and written, so much satisfying and meaningful stuff, if I had been busy making small money from the mundane motions of making movies. Of course many do not agree. But I really feel very satisfied with my growth as a writer. I am not bothered if it has not been financially rewarding. This was the right time for me to start using my time doing un-ordinary things, things that gave me a chance of making my immortality a little longer. This would be the best thing to come out from all this nothingness.

Tidbits

I have been involved with nearly 30 feature films and about the same number of documentaries, in various capacities. I have worked mainly as sound recordist, production manager, script writer and director. I feel like sharing 35 years of my first hand professional experiences and information with as many like-minded people as, I possibly can. For this I will choose a few features and a few documentaries. I have already started writing and ultimately I would love it, if I am able to find a publisher to present it in the form of a book for masses to read. Film making is a very thrilling process to go through. It is a bit slow in parts but can move at break-neck speed at times. It may look a bit boring and mechanical at times, but is artistically very gratifying otherwise. There are loud explosions and tender words are whispered in ears. There is violence of ‘Loot Maar’ and deep emotional conflicts of ‘Kamla’.

I feel an honest and interesting form of writing down real stories of few productions will make good reading. After all this field has the most popular and sought after ingredients of the world – actors, writers, directors, location shootings, dances, tantrums, ego clashes, bloopers and of course goof-ups. I feel today there are not many people who have seen Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram or Kidar Sharma working on the sets, or during song recordings, during dubbings, sound effects, mixing… How did these legends gave instructions, how did they speak, were they soft or had foul language? Were they funny or dead serious? How did they dress while directing? All this personal information may be getting lost slowly and surely, because we can not find such people. And if there may be some one, he/she may not find worth the trouble, putting those memory gems on paper.

I agree I am not that ancient to be talking about nostalgic experiences. But I have been around since 1972 and have seen real film life quarrels (real not filmy), developing and cracking relationships, drinking binges and flaring tempers. I do understand that it would be my version and some may think of it as my colored opinion. But if some one is getting to read and know about what was it like in Nepal during one of Dev Anand’s film shooting 30 years back or how the documentary on ‘Knit-India-March’ of Baba Amte was shot 20 years back; I recon it can provide some value to a reader. But as the time passes (it always does- take it from me), I am certain the value of this text will only grow, due to its historic values. I am certainly not claiming that film makers may get some production ideas from such compilations. In any case the movies are not made the same way as two or more decades back.

In today’s world there is so much to read, hear and see. Market leaders use expert writers, columnists, painters and film makers. Experts are of less value today than popular writers. You need to be good to be an expert; but you need to have a personality or charisma to be popular. I guess it is like the difference between a ‘performer’ and a ‘star’, like the difference between Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan, Ashok Kumar and Govinda, Nutan and just anyone else. If you act well or write well you are in the same league as other experts. But to be popular, you need to have an aura, a personality or someone’s name behind you, for people to identify you. Om Puri may be working extra hard on his role in a film with Tom Hanks. He would be working to match his abilities with the best in the world. While other stars may be strategizing to improve box office collections; some may hire a team to help them propel upwards and outwards.

We are in the business of putting a smile across people’s faces. Some movies or books make X smile, while others make Y happy. Whose smile is more gratifying for us, is our target audience.

(From archive April 24, 2008)

Living Dead

What is life?

Is my life or your life, is life?

Or what throbs between us, is life?

Are the people around us living?

Are they living because we see them moving,

Eating, drinking, walking, talking

Fighting, loving or… even thinking

Is that considered life?

For a businessman producing a good product is life

For a worker, working sincerely is life

For doctors saving patient’s life is life

For patients following doctor’s advice is life

For teachers educating young is life

For students learning from teacher is life

For soldiers fighting with enemy is life

For citizens being alert is life

For a baby-sitter caring is life

For rich and powerful being kind to weaker is life

For farmers producing for the nation is life

But are all these living doing,

What they are supposed to be doing

Or they are merely walking and talking

Six men rape a 25 year old student

Three men rape a 15 year old in a car

A politician and his forty cronies rape a young girl for months

Girls in a home for handicapped raped

Fifteen year old raped

Twelve year old raped

Ten years old raped

Seven years old raped

Five years old…

Crowd protests against unceasing rapes

Police officer slaps a protesting girl

Minister says watch TV at night for population control

A minister tells farmers to urinate

And irrigate their fields

One group burns down another in a train

Starting a long retaliatory killing chain

No one is there to do anything

Stop anything

I think no one here is living

I guess the buck stops with me

All this ends with me

It ends with my end

I am also dying

Dying, because I am thinking

We all are dead

Dead nations

Dead priests

Dead faiths

In a dead world

Dead people in a dead world

Eternal Wait

A nearly deserted lane

A barber shop in the shanty

Of that lane

Young barber is on the edge of his shop

He reads a newspaper

We don’t know if he is reading

We also don’t know if the paper is recent

Or even upside down

Like a hawk, his eyes dart left to right

Then right to left, swiftly

And then rest back on the news paper

He is not reading the paper

He can’t be

He is merely there

On the edge of his shop

On the edge of his life

On the edge

He is waiting

Waiting for an elusive customer

To come in

And stare at the mirror casually

Move his fingers through his thick growth

And… ask for a haircut

Or a shave, at least

Barber does not budge

He is like a tiger in the wild

He has to shave someone

Shave off a few rupees from someone

He lowers the newspaper a bit

To search for someone scratching his beard

Or a hero looking boy with long hair

Soon he has to spot such a kill

Who might occupy his empty chair

And he knows it best

Waiting is not easy

He wipes the mirror

Dusts the chair

Then goes back to the hunting point

He is tense

His body is getting tight

Worst of all he is helpless

At the back of the shop

Hangs a brown, grimy gunny bag curtain

On the other side of gunny bag curtain

A female skeleton is leaning on a frail wall

Little girl is scribbling on a note book

Her school fees has to be paid

A baby is squirming in skeleton’s lap

He cries suckling the hanging breast

Utensils are empty

Stove is cold

Life is on hold

On both sides of the brown, grimy, sad,

Gunny bag curtain

Barber fakes reading newspaper

What a Wonderful World

This world is so wonderful

Unbelievable and magical

The sun rises cool orange in morning

And sets as deep red in evening

We have dark nights and bright days

Due to hide and seek the sun plays

Sun makes it bright during day

At night darkness gets to play,

So wonderfully they share a day…

Plants too welcome and like the sun

Each day they are happy to see him

Leafs and flowers smile

Appreciate and thank him

For what they get from his light

What a wonderful site…

Birds live on the trees and shrubs

Different shapes, sizes and colors

Each bird loves to sing

They have a song, so they sing

Hundreds of them make a symphony

And for them it is never one too many

Their religion is singing

When one stops other comes on top

This wonderful symphony does not stop…

No one can find earth’s end

It is like a huge round orange

We could run around it

Without falling off the edge

Outside it is cool, crusty and welcoming

But its inside is hot, molten and forbidding

Earth rotates and revolves

It also wobbles like an unstable drunk

Nice to know that she’s having fun…

We also have seas and oceans

Their face may be noisy and violent

But deep inside is spiritual and non-violent

There is much more life in the depths of an ocean

Throbbing, growing undisturbed, quietly

With peace and zero anxiety

There is also a barter going on

Between the sun, oceans

Plains and mountains

They barter in forms of water

The sea cleans the atmosphere

And also regulates the temperature

Oh, what a wonderful nature…

Train Salesman

The other day I was traveling by Mumbai local, returning to Andheri from Grant Road station. I had gone to see a film for my work. Train was a bit crowded but luckily I found a place to sit. Soon it was going to be very crowded, since it was a Virar train.

Suddenly I heard a voice trying to say something. Initially I felt he was pleading for people to give him place to move in so that he could come in. May be he was going to last station. You know some young guys block the entrance to get the breeze on their face. With a little struggle owner of the voice reached well inside. Then I realized he was a salesman. He was asking for place but not how a co-passenger would ask for. These people are licensed vendors, who carry their ware in large bags. When they find adequate space in the compartment, they display their ware and start doing special vocal tricks, which means introduction to the product. They have to attract people’s attention with a witty sales pitch. They all have made up their own dialogues, which they speak in a very funny and attractive way. They all are a bit of actors. They must make the passengers look at him, then look at the product held in his hands lastly they must find the price of the product surprisingly cheap.

So he started:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please look this side.”
“Friends just a minute, look this side.”
“Thank you. Here are Samsung earphones in the original boxes.”

These days everyone owns a mobile phone and most of them own a smart phone. Out of hundreds of passengers some ten may be in need of changing their earphones. So it is a good chance that in one compartment, four or five people will end up buying one.

“Dear friends can you guess the price of this good looking piece? If you go to a shop, store or a mall you will pay not less than 200 or 250 for this. (Actually he under quoted the price. Price of an earplug in a shop would be around 400 or 450) But our company (he carried on) due to its business deal is selling it for not 200, not 100, but only 50 rupees. You can see it. Hold it in your hand; even check it on your phone. No cost for seeing or checking. Please confirm that it is working and you like it, before you pull out your wallet.”

In an open challenge and trust, he held out 5 boxes to unknown people, out of which 3 people bought the product.

So, I realized his business works on smart talk, a working product and below reasonable price tag.