It isn't every day that one gets a chance to be on the front lines of filmmaking. Indie films seem to be en vogue these days, with so many 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 couple of weeks 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. 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 romanticism that surrounds it.
Back in Jabalpur, Mrugank never imagined that his first few months in Mumbai would be spent burrowing in the nooks and crannies of the city's slums. His dreams of becoming a filmmaker brought him to the 'city of dreams' where he met Makhija at a screening of his short films. It wasn't a coincidence. Mrugank had seen Makhija's short films and loved them. At the screening, he cornered Makhija who sensed a hunger in his eyes and offered him work on his film. But there was a rider - he couldn't pay him anything.
"It wasn't really a difficult choice. I would get to assist someone whose work I admired, an experience that I knew would be priceless. Yes, money was an issue but I was willing to make that trade-off. I jumped at the offer," says the 24-year-old Mrugank who was thrown into the deep end and has been location-hunting since coming on board. He now knows Mumbai - or at least its slums – better than most Mumbaikars do.
While there's a hierarchy of organization for work on the film, there isn't one when it comes to ideation.
Pooja thought she'd left the city for good when she returned home to Haryana after seven years of assisting in feature and TV. It was more of the same, there was nothing new or exciting to work on, she felt. A chance conversation with Makhija and she found herself on the plane back to Mumbai, all geared up to work on his next film.
"You want to work with people who are able to fire up your imagination, who are clear and focused and know what they're doing and who give you the freedom to do your job. You want to be part of something big, you want to belong, you want to be inspired. That's what drew me in," says Pooja, in between directing the team of assistants that she leads in this film as the associate director.
It's a constant refrain I hear from others involved in the project. Over the last 12 years in the industry, Makhija has built a loyal set of fellow co-workers who swear by him. He's gathered a team of professionals around him who are happy to - in fact are eager to - work on his feature film even at a discount. From the sound designer to the production designer to the art director, the entire team is in it for Makhija.
You want to be part of something big, you want to belong, you want to be inspired.
My greatest learning on the film yet - and it should've been obvious to begin with - is that the director is first and foremost, a leader of men (and women). Money, although important, can only take you so far. As umpteen researches around the world prove, people everywhere want to work for something beyond 'just money'. The near constant supply of almost insurmountable challenges at every step could be a great attraction to some. The job of the indie filmmaker is to find them and then continuously inspire and rally them for the cause – the film.
It's easier said than done.
"Motivating the team is a continuous job. The team needs to feel invested. They should feel it's their film. When everyone is aligned and thinking about the film, the film benefits," says Makhija.
And it's no empty rhetoric. I see it every day. Small suggestions by the youngest interns are given equal consideration. While there's a hierarchy of organization for work on the film, there isn't one when it comes to ideation. As someone with over a decade of corporate experience, I know how valuable and rare that is.
Frankly speaking, being nice and inspiring, isn't really an option for an indie filmmaker. With so much stacked against you and your film, you better be, at least one of those, if not both.