I grabbed the shoot board that I had prepared the previous night, and met Karan and Nikhil at 4.30 in the morning. We reached the BPCL colony at Chembur at 5.15am. We were the first ones to arrive followed by the Production team, the art department, the costumes and finally, the DOP, director and actors. It was pretty cold and I thought we were way before time but I did not say anything because I did not want Nikhil to get started on how it’s better to be early than late
As soon as we reached, Nikhil got busy with sorting out the vanity van parking. The only thing I had to do before Shome and Nidhi arrived was to set up the shoot board. I did that with the help of a production guy named Anuj. Later things got pretty busy and at one point, I got my first yelling from Nikhil. I bothered him with a very silly question when he was in the middle of something very important and he shouted out “Why are you irritating me??” I walked away and smiled remembering how Nikhil had warned me that this will happen Post that, I was just observing what was happening around me. The art department started setting up things in the room where we had to begin shooting.
I was given a walkie-talkie and Nikhil explained to me how it is to be used. He told me that I, along with the rest of the direction team, will be on channel 2. To explain how the communication is to be carried on, he gave me an example – If I were to talk to Nikhil, I will keep the mike button pressed and say “Nikhil, come in for Dilip” to which he will reply “Go for Nikhil” and vice versa. Any overlapping of speech was to be avoided and once I got what was being said, I was to say “Copy that”. I was new to walkie-talkies but in the next few hours, I got familiar with their use and also realized that they are pretty much the lifeline of every shoot!
Nidhi, once again, was coordinating with me over the phone and asked me to run a check from the emails that she had sent to see if everything we needed for the shoot was in place. While I was doing so, Shome and Nidhi arrived and took charge of everything. All I had to do after that was follow their instructions. I was first asked to check on the status of the little girl Prisha, who was to shoot with the Bangladeshi model Amile. Prisha arrived right at her call time with her parents. I made her have breakfast and then get ready with costume and make up for the shot. Vineet from the costume department was there to make sure people got what they were supposed to wear. Kamlesh, the make-up man, was ready with his assistant too and hung around the set all day for frequent touch-ups before takes. Shome spent some time rehearsing with Prisha for the first shot. Irene, Amitabh Sir’s assistant, teamed up with Shome to make sure the kid felt comfortable and performed well.
We started rolling and in a couple of hours or so, were done with the first 2 shots. I observed how the team dealt with the task of getting the required performance out of a kid. It needed patience as well as promptness to make sure things moved as per schedule. Everybody wanted to avoid the risk of a crying kid or a bored, uninterested kid for that matter So they all made sure the atmosphere was perfect for the kid to give her best!
It was then time to shoot with the main model in the same room. Shome got to work again getting into the model’s position and making sure Sunil Sir had the right light arrangements. Nidhi got busy with the coconuts as we had to capture the coconut-breaking shot next (the same thing Shome was trying out a day ago).
Once we were done with the settings, it was time to shoot with Amile. This is where Mili, our hair specialist, came in as we had to capture some hair shots. I noticed how Mili took care of Amile’s hair and made sure all hair movements looked graceful and lovely. Also, the heat generated from the lights could harm her hair extensions so after every take, the lights had to be quickly turned off and the coolers turned on. This portion took up most part of the day and we had to break for lunch in the middle of it.
Later in the afternoon, once we had captured what was needed, we moved outside the room to the road where Amile and little Prisha had to shoot a scene together. Some of the background artists were needed for this shot. Shome asked me to get them ready quickly. I got on it but Shome required me to be faster. He kept checking their status with me on the walkie and asked me to hurry up. I tried to but it was difficult to get some of the artists to move faster. They insisted on doing things their way and being assertive without being stern was not something I was good at. So I kept requesting them to hurry up and I kept telling Shome that we will be there in a minute. Finally, just when Shome was about to lose it, we did get to the road where the shot was set-up. The artists were given their marks and we started rolling. Mili got to work with Amile making sure her hair looked beautiful.
I was to ride a bike in the background for one of the shots. The shot took multiple takes for various reasons and I must have circled the bike around 10 times. It was fun though (when isn’t bike riding fun?!?). Our friend, Nidhi Bisht (not to be confused with my 2nd Ad Nidhi Singh) had arrived by then and was ready with her costume for the balcony shot. However, things could not be wrapped up on time so we could not shoot with Bisht that day. Nidhi spoke with her about this and apologized for the situation. I saw that although both the Nidhis were extremely close friends, they were speaking very professionally at this moment. Nidhi spoke as an AD would speak to an actor and Bisht did as a co-operative actor would to an AD. Before this, I had only seen these two indulging in all kinds of random crap and terrible jokes! But on set, they were totally different. “Respect!” I said in my head. Bisht was not available to shoot the next day so it meant we would need someone else. We thought we’ll figure that out later. So, Production cleared the bills of Bisht and little Prisha (whose work in the ad was done too) and it was a wrap for them. Not too long after this, Amitabh Sir announced pack-up for the day. The Production and direction team met for a bit to discuss things for the next day. Our line producer Priyanka was not happy with the way walkie-talkies were used during the day so it was decided that we will only take instructions and say “copy” on the main channel. For any longer discussions, we would need to switch to a different channel. For the pending balcony shot, we decided we will pick someone from the background artists. I co-ordinated with Shahdin to arrange for someone to be sent for the shot. I made a note of all that was said and then left for the day. Once I got home, I prepared the shoot board for day 2 of the shoot and slept off as the next day was to begin pretty early too.
Day 2 of the first ad was a long day – the day of background artists and Nidhi’s excellence in handling them, the day of Shome’s brilliance in managing to wrap everything up right on time, and the day of my first payment as an AD! Once again Nikhil, Karan and me were the first ones to reach the set. The art department showed up a few minutes later and started with the tedious task of setting up a market place on the road. After a couple of hours, the background artists headed by Sitaramji showed up (right on their call time) and were waiting in the lawn outside Trombay club. There were around 20 of them. I saw Sitaramji for the first time and immediately recognized him. He was the famous Fevicol guy known for the unbreakable egg ad and the “pakde rehna, chhodna nahi” ad!
The first shot to be shot was the balcony shot that we could not finish the previous day. Nidhi quickly trained a bunch of background artists for this shot, then auditioned them, and then picked the best one to play the part. While she was working really hard at all this, I found it too funny and couldn’t stop giggling at what was happening. Once the training and rehearsal was done, Nidhi accompanied the girl to the balcony that Priyanka had acquired permission for. The rest of the team stayed outside from where we were shooting. A crane was used to elevate Sunil Sir and his camera to the level of the balcony and all communication was being carried out on walkies. The shot was wrapped up in about an hour and I was asked to get the background artists ready. Once again, Shome kept me on the move and kept following up on the status of the background artists. Each one of them had to be in the required costume and ready to roll. I was giving Shome updates every 2 minutes and finally, got everyone on set. Amitabh Sir, on knowing that I am an actor too, asked me to be a part of the tea stall scene that was to be shot next with Sitaramji. I put my walkie aside for a while and shot the scene.
We were using an old gas stove in the scene which was popping out inconsistent flames every now and then giving Roshan and his team a tough time. However, they were as terrific as they had been throughout the shoot and somehow managed to make it work for the duration of the shoot. This is what was commendable about Roshan and all the art guys. They were always on their toes and ready with whatever Amitabh Sir or Shome needed in the frame. They had showed up early in the morning and set up a beautiful flower shop, a tea stall and an ice-cream cart making a perfect market place set! I had seen them working through all this and I knew that it was not an easy job – perhaps one of the toughest jobs of the entire film-making process. “Hats-off to these guys” I thought. Anyway, so after the chai-waala shot, we needed all the background artists for a scene where the girl was to walk through the market with people walking by and reacting to her lovely hair. Karan, our production assistant, too was to act in this scene so he got ready and for a while, Nikhil and I tried to fill in for him.
Later, I was told that I had to ride a bike in the background for this scene too wearing a different shirt. After the bike ride the previous day, and the chai-shot in the morning, this was my third role in the same ad. Not that I was complaining! I was thoroughly enjoying every bit of it
Now, the market place scene was a difficult one to shoot plainly because of the number of people and activities involved. However, our girl Nidhi took the lead with me to assist her and Shome giving her instructions on the walkie. She spoke to the artists without being rude and yet established a place of authority. She spoke as much as was required and made sure everyone was at the mark given to them and did what they were supposed to. I immediately saw in her what I was missing. She had the capability to be assertive and to-the-point making sure people knew she means business. At the same time, she was sweet enough for everyone to want to follow her instructions. Add to that how pretty she is and you have a no-brainer as to why everyone quietly followed whatever she said
This scene, which was the main scene of the ad film and appeared as a huge task, was done in no time thanks to Priyanka, Shome, Nikhil and Nidhi co-ordinating and functioning like a well-oiled machine. Being connected to them on the walkie, I was a part of each and everything that was going on. I was learning something about the process every 5 minutes. I was getting a better understanding of the challenges involved in a simple shoot and how they are overcome. Looking at the way these guys worked, I thought I would love to function as smoothly as them some day!
Once the main scene was done, we moved on to a final signing-off scene for which the road had to be cleared. For this, around 10 people including Singham, Nikhil, Karan and me were stationed at different areas of a long road to stop vehicles and people from coming into the frame. Once again, the walkie became the key instrument of life as everyone stayed tuned in to know when to release the lock on vehicles and people and when to impose it. As it started getting dark, the coconut-breaking shot which was left incomplete the previous day was captured. It was funny how everyone from Shome to Nidhi to Priyanka to Sunil Sir to Amitabh Sir took turns to try and break the coconut the way it was needed Finally, after checking the shot, Amitabh Sir announced that it was a wrap. There was laughter and joy everywhere in the air! We had one more ad to shoot in a couple of days but it was the last time we were seeing Amile. She thanked us and bid goodbye while the rest of the team dispersed to meet 2 days later for another ad film shoot. Before I left, Nikhil arranged for me to be paid my first ADing salary. It was a modest amount but something that I had not expected. I was an intern and yet was being paid. It was a big deal for me! Nidhi was not to be a part of the next ad film which meant that my responsibilities would increase. However, I thought that my seniors had trained me well enough to be able to manage certain things by myself.
Our team, minus Singham, met again after a couple of days for the second ad film. It was for a milk product. This time we were more relaxed as it was just a day’s shoot and was at Madh island which was closer to where we all lived. Amitabh Sir was his usual self, narrating anecdotes that made everyone laugh. This was a cool thing about him. He always had hilarious stories to tell from his vast experience in the industry. It was always a joy being part of his conversations.
Anyway, work began and once again, I co-ordinated with the models involved – two kids Saksham and Dhriti, and one beautiful girl who played their mom – Priya. They reached on time and after a little costume-related delay, they got ready to roll. In Nidhi’s absence, I was given the responsibility of the kids and the model. The model, being grown-up and a professional was pretty easy to deal with. My challenge was the kids. Making sure they are ready on time, perform as required, don’t create a mess on the sets, eat on time and take a nap when they are tired so that they don’t get cranky – these and more were the tasks I was handling. And of course, I had Shome giving me instructions on the walkie about whatever else was needed. Priyanka had taken charge of the art department and was making sure the sets and props were in place. She did a terrific job as there was not a single hick-up related to sets in the entire day. We started with a scene where the little boy had to run with a toy plane. He just refused to run as per DOP Sunil Sir’s camera needs. Thankfully, just when Sunil Sir was on the verge of losing it, he got it right. The next few shots were captured in a lovely kitchen set-up made by Roshan and his team. Sunil Sir acknowledged how cool the kitchen looked the moment he saw it.
The kids were giving me a tough time throughout the day kicking and punching me at the wrong places but I did not mind as long as they did their job well! For one of the shots where a toy prop was involved, the little girl almost dropped the prop. It would have taken ages to re-build it costing us a lot of time and effort. Fortunately, I held on to the prop just on time but not before Shome noticed what had happened. He threatened me on the walkie that I won’t live if that happens again!
After this minor hick-up, the rest of the day went pretty smoothly until the final shot in the evening when the kids had to drink a glass of milk. What we gave them was vanilla milk shake. While the little girl loved it, the boy seemed to get uncomfortable and just before the final take, threw up. We went ahead with just the girl for that shot and after about half an hour, it was a wrap for everyone. We had finished earlier than planned and it was time to rejoice! Everyone from all the departments started wrapping up, people started thanking and hugging each other and in the middle of all this, Shome walked up to me and shook my hand saying “Good job!”. I couldn’t say anything back simply because I couldn’t express how grateful I was to him for this opportunity. There would have been a huge vacuum in my life after I lost my job had it not been for the two weeks of work that Shome gave me. In simple words, he was responsible for me not feeling like a depressed loser! Also, it was because of him that I was being paid my first salary after I left the corporate world. It meant much more than I can express here in words.
Post pack-up, there was a little present-giving session for the Bangladeshi team that Priyanka and Shome had arranged. Amitabh Sir, being his joyous self, cracked jokes and spread smiles before departing on a happy note with the rest of the Bangladeshi team.
Later, as the production team sat settling everybody’s bills, Shome sat with me giving me some feedback on my work. He told me what I did well and what I could have done better. He explained how for an AD, 60 seconds means exactly 60 seconds. If I tell him on the walkie that I am getting the actor on set in 60 seconds, he will be ready with the shot and expect to roll at the 60th second. He also told me how it is sometimes an AD’s job to be annoying. An AD has to make sure things happen on time and if this means being a prick to someone, so be it! Following up repeatedly with the actors or with the make-up and costume department could annoy them but that’s fine because that’s an AD’s job. I was listening to everything Shome was saying and absorbing all of it. Finally, I was called to clear my bills and was handed over my payment for the 2nd ad film.
Priyanka, Nikhil, Karan, Shome and me were the last ones to leave. We hugged each other goodbye and left our own separate ways. While I rode back to the jetty place at Madh Island and then back home from Versova, I reflected upon the madness of the last two weeks and how much work I had done. It had been ages since I had worked that hard for something. There was a sense of satisfaction in how tired I felt by the end of it all. And yet, I felt there was so much more to do…