It's not every day that one gets a chance to be on the front lines of filmmaking. Indie films seem to be buzzword these days with many low-budget-yet-large-hearted films winning acclaim in recent years. 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, Abs nt, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro) on his upcoming film, I jumped on it. Here's a chance to see first-hand the mechanics of indie filmmaking in action. I have been embedded with the team for three months now, assisting him while also sharing my observations once every week with you. The film is now in post production and you can read all the earlier posts here.
No one knows who built the Taj Mahal! Yes Shah Jahan had it made, but he didn't physically build it. The names of the artisans and labourers who worked on the sublime piece of architecture—that immortalised the names of both its "maker" and the one it was made for—are lost to the world. The same holds true for the Pyramids. And it is also true for every classic movie made throughout the history of cinema.
The contributions that the props guy or the boom operator, the gaffer or the make-up assistant, the locations hunter or the spot boy make to the film are significant...
While the film is been made, it's the director, the cinematographer and the actors who are the centre of everyone's attention. When the film gets done, it's the actors who are the cynosure of all eyes, with the director getting some attention if things turn out fine. But wherever the film is been made, whatever kind of film it is, there are people who've worked on it who are never heard of, never spoken about. Little is known about the contribution of these men and women to the work of art that moves us.
This is especially true for indie films, where there is this mythologising of the director—the "auteur"—and every inch of every frame is credited to this larger-than-life creature. The reality, as always, is greyer than that, and messier than we would like to believe. The contributions that the props guy or the boom operator, the gaffer or the make-up assistant, the locations hunter or the spot boy make to the film are significant, in their own small ways. And as I discovered on the sets of Ajji, there are dozens of these small contributions that are made every day on set. There were many such champions whom I saw in action and admired. This is an ode to a few of them.
Bhuvanda was always on top of things, always
There was the tall Bhuvanda, whose name rent through the air every few minutes on the sets. He would come running out of nowhere in a jiffy, ready with the prop the director wanted. There was no task too challenging for Bhuvanda. Need a temporary platform over the sewer for the DOP to shoot from? No problem. He jumped into the sewer along with others in his team, and in a few minutes they'd created just the thing the DOP sought. A wall needs to be built to cover up the empty space in front of the house we are shooting in. Bhuvanda is at it again with the team, building it in a half a day. All this with a smile on his face. No grumbling, no complaints.
Yogesh held his boom with perfect poise—not an easy task
Then there was Yogesh, the boom operator who worked with a Zen-like equanimity throughout the shoot, without drawing attention to himself and his boom. Holding the boom over-head, moving with the characters and the camera, he never missed a beat. He had one of the physically most demanding jobs on set but even at dawn after a long night's shoot, he would still be on top of his game.
Pradeep directing the lighting team—his calmness belies the pace of work
There was Pradeep, our gaffer, who knew what our DOP Bhattacharjee had in mind even without him having to say anything. There communication was almost telepathic and, for a first-timer on a film set like me, the most interesting of all. Hearing the lighting team relay orders was like listening to a crew steering a ship. Pradeep was the man on the steering wheel and as the DOP asked for a lighting change, he would get into action. It helped immensely that Bhattacharjee had sat down his entire team and gone through the script with them. The speed at which the team changed set-ups was the reason why Makhija could shoot the film as fast as he did.
The fine touches by Ajaz and the make up team lent the characters authenticity
There was Ajaz and his make-up team, who worked with extremely tight timelines and at breakneck speeds to get the actors in character and continuity. Their attention to detail was unswerving and will show when the film is projected on the big screen. We are already seeing it in the edit. The level of authenticity added to the frames will be their lasting contribution to the film and will not go unnoticed.
Anees Bhai was always around when we needed him
And then there were the spot-boys who were the first to reach the locations every day, who lugged the trunks, served the crew food, were always at hand with water or tea (or whatever variant was asked for) and basically did everything that was asked of them. Amongst these was Anees Bhai, a sprightly man of over 60 who could, with his spunk and energy put any 25-year-old to shame.
Like these people, there are others still who've left their fine imprints on the film, imprints that only the crew will ever know about. The film wouldn't have been the film it is or will be without those imprints. While the world will acknowledge the director, the cinematographer, the actors for their work on the film, I think it's important to celebrate these contributions too. Especially on a small indie film that doesn't pay them as much as they would've made on a bigger project. It's amazing how people can rise up to make a film their own and contribute, only if we let them!