Till a few months ago, I used to live in a 3BHK flat in the New Mhada colony at Andheri West. It was more a dormitory than a flat really. We were 11 people living there with each one given a bed and a cupboard. When you entered the house, you could see 3 beds (small-sized ones called diwans) in the hall with dirty mattresses on them and no bedsheets. As you moved further in, there was the kitchen – the worst in the world.. with all kinds of food particles, used utensils, uncovered beverages and sometimes even beer bottles lying around near the gas stove. Then came the three bedrooms with 3 small sized beds each. I would like to believe that mine was the cleanest bed! 😀
There were all kinds of issues at that flat – water scarcity, shabby rooms, stinking loos, bed bugs (ohhh God those cruel bed bugs!!), money and food items being stolen, fights amongst the guys.. you name it! However, the best part about living there was the different kinds of people I got to meet. Most of us were aspiring actors but there was also a cinematographer – Raj, an aspiring writer – Rahul and an aspiring film-maker – the one and only – our Tibetan friend Pasang Tashi! 🙂
On one Sunday, when we were getting some pesticides sprayed to get some relief from our dear bed bugs, it became impossible for us to hang out in our respective rooms due to the unbearable smell. So, we all gathered in our drawing room which was comparatively more spacious and less claustrophobic! That’s when it struck me that what we had in our flat was a great bunch of talent in all fields of film making and we should use it in some way. So while we were all watching some show on TV, I told everyone that we should stop wasting our time like this and do something constructive.. why not make a short film?!? We had actors, a writer, a cinematographer and a director. A camera could be arranged from the film school Raj went to. And that’s when Rahul came in!
My ex-flatmate Rahul is a weird man. He always told us that he was an HR guy working for Citibank and is waiting to join some Mumbai branch in a few days. However, what we later realized was that he was an aspiring writer who had given up his high profile job to pursue his dream of writing and film-making. He had already written a full-fledged film script and was in touch with Anurag Kashyap about it! When I brought up the idea of a short film, we asked Rahul if he can write something. He said he will think about it and the discussion ended there. Little did we know that Rahul will be ready with a story and a short film script the same night!
It was 1 a.m. when Rahul knocked on our room door. I was asleep because I had to get to work the next day, so I wasn’t really interested in entertaining Rahul at that hour. However, he insisted that we gather in one of the rooms as he had something important to share. The last time this had happened was when our friend Kartik Tiwari had broken to us the news of him being the lead actor in a film – Pyaar ka Punchnama 😀 Anyway, so we all went and were surprised by what happened in the next half an hour. Rahul gave us a narration of the short film he had in mind – scene by scene, angle by angle! He came across as an aspiring film-maker from the Kashyap school – clearly wanting to make a project that will appeal to Anurag! 🙂 We were impressed by his enthusiasm and his eye for detail and decided to start work on the short film from the next weekend itself with my roomie Randhir and me playing protagonists. The idea was to wrap up the film in two weekends max!! It turned out that it was too ambitious for us to think so! 😛
The first two days of shoot was a lot of fun and hard work. We woke up at 5 am I think. Rahul had locations for shooting in mind. So we just blindly followed wherever he took us and whatever he made us do. I had a Maruti Zen which we used for our travelling. Rahul was clear that we will not spend a single penny in the making of this film. However, I don’t think he realized that I was spending quite some money on the fuel for my car to take us to all our shoot locations 😛 We finished a lot of scenes in the first two days. But as the days passed by, Rahul was not happy with some of the scenes which he decided to re-write and re-shoot. Later, Rahul attended the Mami film festival and got some new ideas and inspirations. He decided to change the whole plot from a two-protagonist story to that of one – mine!
The entire journey was a whole lot of fun but we also faced a lot of problems! One of the biggest issues was availability of a camera. We started off with a Canon 60D to shoot the film but were eventually left only with an iphone 4 and later a Galaxy s2 to finish the remaining portion. I will never forget the fights our cinematographer Raj had with Rahul. Raj has a filmmaker in himself too and as one would expect – two filmmakers coming together for one project can never be an easy task 😛 I must say here that Raj is exceptional with the camera. He takes the most difficult shots with bare hands needing no tripod or support. Such steadiness with the camera is God’s gift to him I believe. However, his views on the scenes and the camera angles never matched with those of Rahul. He laughed at most of the things Rahul said. And Rahul rejected most of the suggestions Raj gave. Raj went on and on about jump cuts and other technical things and Rahul went on and on about how his film is “different” and how he still thinks the shots will look good the way he wants them!! I am surprised at how these two could even manage finishing this project together 😀
The film was named Once upon a writer. During shooting for OUAW, I did a lot of things which were new to me as an actor! We shot at the flat, on roads, at a beach, at offices, at the compound of a gym, at the terrace of a building and some other places – for most of these places, we had no permission to shoot so we had to manage shooting with hidden cameras 😀 Also, most of the scenes we shot were later edited out. The script was changed a couple of times too. Yet, the passion of filming something new everyday remained our best memory from this experience. One of the most memorable events was when we had to shoot a scene with Eunuchs (who are sex-workers) at around 12 in the night. It was difficult to talk to them with a camera and there are cops on the lookout all the time. After a couple of attempts, we did get hold of one but while we were having the conversation about our film and what we needed her to do for the shoot, a cop van headed towards us. We dashed towards my car, got in and fled but the cops didn’t give up. They decided to chase my car! For the next 5 minutes, I had my heart in my mouth as I drove the fastest I could through the roads of Andheri West – Millat Nagar, Oshiwara, and the Back road to get back to our New Mhada flat. Once we reached home, we had a big laugh about all of it. Two days later, we tried again and this time, our friend Victor was actually caught. We ran away and waited at a distance to see what’s happening to him. When they didn’t let him go after 5 minutes, we decided to approach the cops to rescue our friend. Tashi showed them his I-card from the film school and said we were working on some project. They understood that we are innocent guys and let us go but not before cracking a racist comment on Tashi – “Tum China mein jaao”. I felt like getting back at them but I did not want Tashi to get into trouble because of my reaction, so we just left. Later, Victor convinced one of the Eunuchs to come home to shoot the scene and the scene was modified to be shot in our flat. I must admit that Rupali (a.k.a Angel) was extremely professional and finished the shot in 10 minutes. We had dinner with her and then Victor dropped her back.
So we had a lot of fun and learnt a lot during all this and finally.. after almost 6 months (yes, that’s how long it took) our short film was ready to be edited. And that’s when our editor Ankit Halai came in. He had edited my first short film Ek Choti Si Asha and was now working on this one taking time out of his busy schedule. There were clashes between Rahul and him too, sometimes due to their schedules, and sometimes due to creative differences. Rahul had to give in most of the times because we needed Ankit’s office to shoot a couple of scenes 😛 Anyway, they did finally manage to sit together and finish off the film.
Once this film was done, Rahul submitted it at Anurag’s office. He then wanted to make another short film based on his full-fledged film script that he had sent to Anurag Kashyap. So, he wrote down a shorter version and began shooting with Nikhil Pandey and me. Nikhil is my roommate now and also my co-actor in my plays Holi and Who let the dogs out. I remember all my office girls falling for his cute looks (whatever :S) when they had seen Holi. I have always liked him as an actor and am now working with him on another play (Othello… more about that later). I think he has done a pretty good job in this short film too. It’s called We, The People and will be ready in a few days. Our cinematographer for this one is Vin Maurya – a talented guy from Nepal who tolerates Rahul much better than Raj or Tashi 😛 However, Rahul is really unfortunate in one regard – none of his cinematographers know Hindi well – be it Tashi – the Tibetan, Raj – the Telugu Hyderabadi or Vin – the Nepali 😀
I am hoping to use some footage from both these short films along with that of my plays and make a showreel at the earliest. I can then approach some casting directors and production houses with the showreel trying to convince them that I am a good actor! J In the meantime, Rahul awaits Anurag Kashyap’s feedback on the film and I can’t stop myself from hoping that may be he (or his casting director Mukesh Chhabra) sees something good in the actors 😉