It's not every day that one gets a chance to be on the frontlines of filmmaking. Indie films and filmmaking seem to be buzzwords these days with so many of these low-budget-yet-large-hearted films coming out of the woodwork in the last few years and winning acclaim. Whether there's an indie movement or a wave happening, is for the future to decide. What is indisputable is that filmmakers across the country are picking up their cameras and making their films the way they want, unhindered by monetary considerations.
So when I was offered an opportunity to work alongside Devashish Makhija (Agli Baar, Taandav, El'ayichi, Absent, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro) on his yet-to-be-named upcoming film, I jumped on it. Here's a chance to see first-hand the mechanics of indie filmmaking in action. Makhija's film has been in pre-production for a couple of months already and is just about a week away from shoot now. I have been embedded with the team for a month now, assisting Makhija while also sharing my observations once every week with you. You can read the earlier posts here, here and here. Obviously, there's a limit to what can be shared and I won't be able to talk about the story or the cast. The idea is to give a clear-eyed picture of indie filmmaking, divorced from all the romanticization that surrounds it.
"I know you asked for 15 days at the location but the three of those days are festival days, we can't shoot during the day at the location then. These are the only dates our lead actress has, she's leaving the country immediately after. What do we do?"
"Nikhil (The 1st AD) isn't coming back. We need to find a replacement for him! Who's my best bet in the budget that I have?"
"If we wait for a few days, we can get the new RED camera that's coming out. It's a killer. Can we spare money for that?"
"How many nights do we need the action director for? Is there budget for it? Or should I change the way I am shooting these scenes to avoid the cost?"
"What do I do if the location for the climax isn't found soon? Should I just rewrite the scene and make it easier for everyone?"
Questions! A never-ending stream of questions keeps forcing its way in front of Makhija. There's no respite. Everyone in the team looks up to him for answers on every small thing, every detail.
"That's the nature of this job. You can't run away from it if you want to make films", he says half-smiling, half-lost in thought.
Much like the founder of a startup, a director is constantly deciding, taking calls that affect his film. These questions come in all shapes and sizes. From the really specific, detail-oriented ones on costumes to characters and scene choreography to camera placements to the broader questions on locations, dates and budget.
"I've lived the characters, their emotions and seen their world. As long as the sanctity of their world is maintained, I don't mind moving things around."Devashish Makhija
Makhija responds to most queries like a pro. Although he seems to have thought through most of them, there are those that leave him stumped. When that happens, it's brainstorming time and it's fun to watch this in action. He improvises on the spot, coming with explanations that sometimes make sense but at other times contradict what he'd said earlier.
"I can do this because I've written the film. I've lived the characters, their emotions and seen their world. As long as the sanctity of their world is maintained, I don't mind moving things around."
I wonder how those who don't write their films manage this. For an indie film, it seems imperative that the director also be the writer to enable this kind of decision-making.
It just struck me (yes, I am slow that way) that we are cheating, creating a world that doesn't exist. Even if it's not too far from reality, it's still cheating. Conjuring something out of nothing. Every small decision shapes that world, in a small yet perceptible way. We only see the film that gets made, not the ones that could've been made but didn't because of those multiple small decisions.
Ten days from the shoot, we are in the midst of the actors' workshop where we are playing out all the scenes to ensure we don't waste time on the locations. It's been exciting and I can't wait to share my experience of the workshop with you guys.