13/10/2016 12:23 PM IST | Updated 13/10/2016 5:27 PM IST

Behind The Scenes Of An Indie Film Shoot: Part 2 — Looking For 'Cinematic Filth'

It isn't every day that one gets a chance to be on the front lines of filmmaking. Indie films seem to be in vogue these days, with a number of these low-budget-yet-large-hearted films coming out of the clockwork in the last few years & 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,Absent, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro) on his as-yet-unnamed 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 a month away from shoot. I will be embedded with the team, assisting Makhija while also sharing my observations once every week with you. Obviously, there's a limit to what can be shared & 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 romanticism that surrounds it.

Less than a month to go for the shoot and we've finally closed the major locations. Well, almost.

The first tech recce with the director, the cinematographer, the art director, and the production designer turned out to be a fruitful one. The film is a set in the slums of Mumbai and Makhija was intent on finding locations that convey the grim despair of the protagonists while still, collectively, having a unique personality that adds to the film. We've seen many films set in the slums of Mumbai in recent decades, which is he why he wants the locations to be unique and stand out from other 'slum' films.

It's amazing how serendipity comes to your aid if you allow it to. The locations we've finalised so far are spectacularly cinematic. The entire team, especially the director and the cinematographer, were delirious as we spent an entire day waltzing around the slum looking for places to shoot. While the residents looked on with bemusement, the team scoured around identifying visual motifs for characters in the winding lanes of the slum.

Huzaifa Ali
Jishnu Bhattacharjee (DOP) & Devashish Makhija (Director) enjoying the view

Unlike a film shot on sets or even a big budget film shot on locations, an indie film shot on real locations cannot afford to be rigid about the demands it places on its locations. You push for what you want but also retain an open mind towards what life throws at you. Because Makhija is in the midst of finishing his final draft, he was open to what the locations might bring into the film and is happy to write that into the script.

It was amazing to see his eyes light up at a turn and the animated discussions he would proceed to engage in with the cinematographer and art director. Entire scenes were visualised, and shot divisions finalised then and there. All exterior shots have thus been sealed. The interior ones will similarly be blocked once the actors' workshops happen towards the end of this month. It's a tough task keeping up with Makhija and Jishnu Bhattacharjee (cinematographer) on such occasions.

Huzaifa Ali
Jishnu Bhattacharjee (DOP), Shamim Khan (Art Director) & Dev Makhija (Director) discussing a scene

Since I am working on the shot division docket, it's my job to be around them and take all the shot-taking notes. I am really struggling to keep up with the many permutations and combinations that the director-cinematographer duo seem to have buzzing around in their heads.

'Cinematic filth' is a term that gets thrown around often by Makhija, so much so that it's become a short hand to describe what he's looking for. That and 'active decay'! Something he's keen on capturing & bringing alive on the screen. Although he's shared reference images to highlight what he's talking about, I haven't figured these out yet. I don't know if others in the team have either, although they do seem to make sensible suggestions more often than I can claim to.

What I have understood is that it's not about making a spectacle of poverty — something many Indians accuse festival films of doing — but about being true to the films core while simultaneously making it look cinematic. Not beautifying or romanticising it but making it look more visually interesting.

"It's easier to work with beautiful locations. But there's a vibe, an energy in the slums that I want to capture. These are places teeming with life, where thousands of men and women struggle to lead meaningful lives in a dense patchwork of mud and metal. I want to convey that vibe and not make their lives look boring and dreary. The challenge is to be true to the film & the location, not to over-romanticise it nor to suck the life out of it. An honest representation is what I am after", says Makhija.

The actors' workshop starts next week. It's not a usual practice in India and I'm quite excited about it. I'm sure I will have more to share with you guys then.

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Behind The Scenes Of An Indie Film Shoot: Part 2 — Looking For 'Cinematic Filth'