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. 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 romanticisation that surrounds it.
The highs of watching cinematic magic unspool on screen do not prepare you for the manic frenzy that filmmaking is all about. That one frame in the film which you can't get out of your head had (at least) 50 people working in sync to make it a reality. That scene which mirrored your experience and emotion perfectly was the hard work of a few man-years compressed into a moment for eternity. I am often accused of being a cynic, but the first few days of the shoot have convinced me of the existence of "magic". Makhija uses the word once every five minutes on set. That and "subtext".
"It's (magic's) in the air around us. Only we've got to keep pushing ourselves to continually seek it. And then not come in the way when it's happening," he says.
While we rehearsed extensively before the shoot, there's something electric about the energy on locations, which, if tapped into, can translate into that five-letter word — magic. Sometimes the actors throw something at the camera that adds another dimension to the scene. Sometimes it's the DOP (director of photography) who finds a frame that enhances the emotional impact of the scene. Sometimes it's an art prop, improvised in between takes, that provides a layer of subtext one hadn't planned for.
Sometimes magic happens when you see opportunities where others see barriers, as was the case on the third day of our shoot. Makhija wanted a desolate lane for a scene where one of the protagonists of the film is cornered by a shady cop. When we turned up on location on the day of the shoot, big excavators were busy digging up the road. The production crew was apologetic, worried about Makhija's reaction, but he jumped at the sight of those monster vehicles.
"The production value of this scene just went up by 50%. The excavators at work in the backdrop add a layer of subtext that goes perfectly with the scene. I couldn't have asked for better props," he gushed.
It's (magic's) in the air around us. Only we've got to keep pushing ourselves to continually seek it. And then not come in the way when it's happening.Devashish Makhija
Of course it was still a challenge to shoot with the constant noise in the background. The sound team kept cringing throughout, but we went ahead nonetheless. I have come to empathise with the sound crew over the last few days. Theirs is a tough job, and remains under-appreciated despite its importance. You can dub as well, but it's never the same as a live recording.
Running water, tinkling utensils, yelping dogs, crying babies and honking vehicles are some of the sounds that form the background score in the slum where we are shooting. The slum is a human hive, humming with activity and energy throughout the day. The crew has taken over a house in a corner of the slum and is trying best not to step on anyone's feet.
The AD team with Makhija, ensuring things are in order
The 10 x 11 ft house is where we shoot a bulk of our film and I have the onerous task of giving the clap. There's barely room for the actors, the DOP and his focus puller, the lighting crew, the director and the 1st AD and I still have to find space to get in, give the clap perfectly and get out without blocking lights or actors' movements. I am learning to wriggle out of tight spots and am developing a thick skin (getting abused by the DOP is a job requirement, I am told), two skills I gain from this experience. From running a website bossing around half a dozen people to giving claps on set is a drastic turnaround for me, and an experience I probably won't have the time to reflect upon until much later.
The pace of shooting is relentless, clocking in at least 20 shots a day, which, given that we are taking longer shots, is quite crazy. This is where the rehearsals have helped. The actors know their lines, their emotional graphs in every scene, their actions are in sync. Since we've created a detailed shot breakdown, the entire team knows beforehand what shots we are taking and from where, what's in frame and what's not.
From tomorrow we enter the toughest phase of our short schedule — five consecutive nights of shooting in the slums with two nights outdoors. If I am still alive at the end of it, I look forward to sharing notes with you!
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