It's not every day that one gets a chance to be on the front lines of film-making. Indie films seem to be the buzzwords these days, with many low budget yet large-hearted films coming out 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 to, unhindered by monetary considerations.
So, when I was offered an opportunity to work alongside Devashish Makhija (Agli Baar,Taandav,El'ayichi,Abs nt,and Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro)on his upcoming film Ajji, I jumped on it.Here was a chance to see first-hand the mechanics of indie filmmaking in action. I have been embedded with the team, assisting Makhija while also sharing my observations over the last 9 months and you can read all the earlier posts here. This is the final post in the series.
After a year of painstaking work, the film is finally ready to be unveiled. The last month was spent watching the film in two rooms next to each other, shuffling from a soundless screen where we focused on colour correcting the image to the sound mix where we added layers of subtext using subtle modulation of sounds. Even after having watched the film a few dozen times — and some scenes over a hundred times — it is amazing how you can still keep discovering things.
What is indisputable is that filmmakers across the country are picking up their cameras and making their films the way they want to, unhindered by monetary considerations.
"From editing to sound design to DI, there's so much you can do at every stage. Even subtitling can change how people interpret a certain scene" Makhija told me.
Having worked on the subtitles the last few weeks I now understand what he means. Film-making is such a queer craft. You try and capture moments of truth, embellish them and once you are done, it stays that way forever. If you are lucky then those who watch the film over the years will find their own truth in it. If not, then it will end up as just another page on IMDB which some film buff will glance at once in a while. Either ways, every little decision of yours, the ones that you make and the ones that you avoid, will all end up locked for posterity in the film.
A still from the film - Veteran theater actor and writer Sushama Deshpande in and as 'Ajji'
This lends a nervous energy to the final stages of post-production. It comes from knowing that there's no turning back once the film is delivered into the world.
I am eagerly looking forward to watching the film in a large dark hall with complete strangers and seeing them react to it.
"Which is why you've got to fight for your film till the end," Makhija said. "Because your name's going to be on it and you can never disown it. Whether you got the budget you wanted or the actors you desired, the audience isn't interested in disclaimers." He should know. On his first feature Oonga, he struggled to retain creative control of the film but the producers prevailed eventually. The film never released and disappeared after a brief festival run. It is in brief moments of weakness when Makhija shares his anguish about Oonga and other stalled projects that I understand where the desperation to get the film made and made well comes from. He's turned all those disappointments and setbacks into fuel to power through the grind that is indie film-making.
That doesn't mean the process isn't fun. There's a feverish thrill that overtakes you during the shoot. The joy of seeing a scene come together, the performances turning an ordinary moment magical, the sense of having achieved what looked crazy on paper and doing so alongside a team of driven professionals is difficult to put into words. It's an addictive high that makes seemingly sensible individuals come back to it again and again.
Soon, it will be on its journey to festivals and screenings and audience reactions and reviews. The kind of journey it will have will depend on how it's received, something that none of us can now influence. Hopefully, it will find its audience who will connect with it and react in the way Makhija's envisaged and the team's worked hard for. I am eagerly looking forward to watching the film in a large dark hall with complete strangers and seeing them react to it. Reading reviews of the film would be, I am sure, a special experience.
My own naïve ideas on indie film-making have received a much needed reality check and forced me to reconsider the way forward.
Throughout this series of articles on the making of Ajji I've refrained from romanticising the process. The intent was to demystify independent film-making so as to encourage those sitting on the sidelines while disabusing them of any mistaken ideas they might have. My own naïve ideas on indie film-making have received a much needed reality check and forced me to reconsider the way forward. I seek a model that suits me and the stories I care for. Who knows what that model is and if it exists.
But whatever it is, I am sure that the things I have seen and learnt on this film will stand me in good stead. If these articles can do that for even one person then I will consider it a job well done.