8th of February, 2013 – Perhaps one of the biggest days of my life! I picked up my co-actor Siddharth at 7.30am and biked up to Filmistan at Goregaon by 7.45. The Production team had just arrived and was busy setting up stuff. We did not know where to go but Siddharth managed to speak with someone from Production who got us into a room. It was right next to a room labelled Director and DOP. Siddharth, having done a couple of ad films, a TV soap and some ads, knew his way around things. For the rest of the day, he kept guiding me through stuff and telling me what to do and what not to do. He also apologized every once in a while for giving me too much gyaan 😀
After a while, Kriti from the direction department came to us and introduced herself. It was early in the morning but she already looked charged up and on the run. In fact, for the whole day from there on, I noticed Kriti and the other ADs to be on the move and always caught up with something or the other. It’s like they had wheels for feet. I saw Siddhanth, the AD who had been co-ordinating with us before the shoot, continuously taking instructions on the walkie and making sure everybody is where they are supposed to be for things to progress as per schedule. I had been an AD on two ad films a couple of weeks ago so I kind-of knew what was going on. To start with, Kriti introduced us to Nikita from costumes (the same girl who had given me the ego-boosting call a day ago 🙂 – read previous post). I had caught a glimpse of Nikita’s picture on Whatsapp when I was chatting with her about the costumes but she was way prettier in person. She visited our room to see the costume options we were carrying for the shoot. She did not like anything we had. So, she went back and sent her choice of clothes with her assistant Mehboob. I was first given a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. I put them on and was fine with them but when Nikita came for a check, I think she wasn’t impressed with what she saw. So my boxers were replaced with checked pyjamas 😀 Siddharth was given a pair of spectacles which gave him the perfect nerd look.
We were then introduced to our make-up man Anees bhai with whom we spent most part of the day while waiting for our shot. Our make-up, hardly any, was done in 5 minutes. Post that, I started rehearsing my single line several times. Siddharth rehearsed with me a couple of times and then asked me to chill but I thought I should be a well-oiled machine by the time we have to shoot. I also went on to the set to get a feel of the hostel that my character was supposed to live in. And this is where, amongst a bunch of ADs, technicians, and other crew members, I saw our director Abhishek Varman. He was sitting on a bed in one of the hostel room set-ups figuring certain things out. He was surrounded by no less than 10 people. I was looking at him from a distance so I first thought it was Arjun Kapoor rehearsing his part but as I went closer I realized it was someone else. He was a young, handsome-looking lad and one could easily think he is one of the stars in the film. I was later told that he is the director. Anyway, I did not want to get in the middle of what was happening so I went outside one of the hostel room doors and started rehearsing my line the way I figured it was to be shot.
While rehearsing, I couldn’t help but notice the brilliance of the art department. The place really looked like a hostel with great attention paid to minute details. The texture of the walls, the notices put up for students, the beds, books and posters inside the room – everything was SPOT ON! I was already in costume so the moment I stepped on to the set, I felt I was actually a student living in a hostel. This made me wonder about the beauty of the whole process of film-making – how the efforts of all the other teams come together to help an actor when he is performing. While I was still letting this feeling of being on a real film set sink in, I had attracted the attention of enough ADs and gained the reputation of an unwanted element on the sets. So, one of the ADs came to me and politely said “As you can see, it’s a small set and there are a lot of people. We don’t want it to get too crowded here so would you mind staying in your room?”. I apologized for causing trouble if any and headed back to my room.
I was waiting outside my room at Filmistan when I first saw the hero of our film – Arjun Kapoor. He was shirtless (for most part of the day actually) and was having a word with a couple of crew members just outside the door of the studio we were to shoot in. He looked like someone full of energy and raring to go – a bit like how basketball players look just before play-off! I had seen him in Ishaqzaade and liked his portrayal of a raw hooligan turned Romeo. I had also read some articles about him and some of his interviews. Knowing that he is Boney Kapoor’s son and seeing his performance in Ishaqzaade, I sure thought he was going to be one of the biggies in the time to come. 10 minutes later, Siddharth and me were called for a rehearsal. My heart beat started racing as I realized I was going to be rehearsing my little scene in front of the director and stars of the film. Siddharth had to go back at the last moment for some costume related issue so I reached the set before him. And there, I saw her who is arguably the cutest girl of our times – Alia Bhatt. Even in a simple green kurti and blue jeans, the she looked gorgeous!
Now, a little while ago when we were waiting in our room for someone to call us when our shot is ready, Siddharth and Anees Bhai were discussing a lot of stuff about almost all the actors they had worked with. They spoke about whom they liked and whom they didn’t, what the latest gossip in the industry is, what new projects are in the making, etc. I, being the least experienced, was just listening to this conversation and enjoying it. The one thing that came out in this conversation was how Alia had gained the reputation of a very very sweet girl. Everyone from the costume guy to the make-up man to the production people vouched for her sweetness and humility. And Alia proved how true this was when we shot our scene with her.
So I was there on the set, ready with my costume and make-up to rehearse the line that Sid and me were supposed to say. The cinematographer was the great Mr. Binod Pradhan! I recognized him the moment I saw him as I had seen him in the making videos of films like Munnabhai M.B.B.S. He was busy setting up the frame and adjusting the lights as per his requirements. Sid hadn’t showed up yet so the director Abhishek asked me to say the line once. Nervous as hell, I did. He asked me to tone it down a bit. I did. And then when Siddharth arrived, he made Siddharth do the same thing. Finally, he decided that Siddharth will take the line and I will just react. I felt disappointed for a few seconds as all my rehearsals during the day had just gone down the drain. “What did I do wrong?” I kept thinking. However, in a while, something happened that changed my mood completely. I was standing with Sid outside the closed door of Arjun’s hostel room waiting for instructions from our director to begin the rehearsal. All of a sudden, the door opened and Alia and Arjun showed up. I thought we were already in the scene and looked at them shocked. “Sorry”, I said thinking that I have messed up by not paying attention. At this, Alia looked at me surprised and gave a huge smile which then transformed into a little giggle. Her eyes lit up while mine were glued to hers. In a split second, I noticed her lips, her teeth and a bit of her make-up. It was one of those speechless, “Wow!” moments when you see a pretty girl smiling right at you! 🙂 Almost simultaneously, Arjun laughed about all this and tapped me on the shoulder saying “Relax, we are not rehearsing” and they both walked away. They were taking a little break. All this happened within just a few seconds but this incident worked wonders for me. I felt relaxed and comfortable with whatever and whoever was around me. Alia’s lovely smile has stayed with me ever since and continues to mesmerize me even as I write today! 🙂
After a bit, when Arjun was walking around, I gathered some courage to say Hi. I shook hands with him and told him my name and that I was playing one of the Mohits. “Nice to meet you”, he said. Alia was standing right next to him but I did not have the balls to speak with her. I was too much in awe of our first encounter to be able to say anything. Later, we did rehearse the line a couple of times with Siddharth saying what he was supposed to and me reacting as Alia looked right into my eyes. It came pretty naturally to me actually. Later, Aliya was sweet enough to mention to Siddharth that he was doing a great job. She made his day and for the rest of the shoot, he joined the Alia Bhatt fan club that the other crew members were already a part of. Even on our way back home, he couldn’t stop talking about how cool it was for Alia to have acknowledged his work.
After the rehearsal, we were given chairs to sit on the set for a while. There was still some time for our shot as Arjun and Alia were shooting for another scene. For me, this was another awesome experience in itself. I saw how the first AD, Arif, took complete control of the set and made sure everything was flowing smoothly for the director and actors to work on. He was polite to actors and crew members for most part of the shoot but whenever things started going out of control or the place got noisy, he shouted in a commanding voice putting the place to drop-dead silence. Pravesh, the chief AD, on the other hand was quieter but equally in control of things making sure everything went as planned. He was less intimidating than Arif though 😀 Every time Binod Sir was ready to roll, Arif shouted “Silence” at the top of his voice followed by 4 other people shouting the same at different corners of the studio right till the door outside. It was like a wave echoing from one end of the studio to the other leading to absolute silence. After this, nobody dared to utter a word till the scene was performed and Abhishek said either “Cut it, one more” or “Cut it, okay” in one breath. It was a really cool scene that was being shot and I enjoyed watching on the monitor how Alia and Arjun were performing. They looked terrific together and I can’t wait to see how this scene will turn out to be on the big screen!
A few takes later, their scene was ‘okay’ed by Abhishek and it was time for us to shoot. Siddharth and me were ready to roll. We were given marks near the door where we needed to stand. Alia too was given her mark and once Binod Sir was ready with lights and camera, Abhishek ordered “Action”. We wrapped up our shot in about 3 minutes. We were then asked to relax till further notice. So, we headed back to our room and chilled out for a while. I walked out for snacks and had a chat with Alam, who was handling the security near the door. He told me about how he works different shifts on different shoots and that he plans to have a shop of his own some day. I wished him luck and moved on to chat with Acheet, the production in-charge who had looked after us since morning. He made sure Sid got his coffee the way he wanted it, he made sure I had eaten lunch and snacks whenever they were ready to be served, and he made sure we got everything we needed. It is amazing how special production people make actors feel. They deserve to be thanked much more than anyone else because they truly make sure that actors are comfortable and in their right mind to perform well. I thanked Acheet for all his help during the day and headed back to Sid to hear some more from him about shoots, actors, how to behave in front of stars and how not to 😀 We also caught a glimpse of Prabhu Deva and Shruti Hassan who were walking towards the studio next to us. “Hello Prabhu Sir”, Siddharth shouted out. Prabhu Sir responded with a smile and walked away 🙂 By the end of the day, I had developed a very friendly equation with Sid. It really felt like we were two roommates living in a hostel discussing stuff about life, work, girls, and what the future holds for us. I no longer felt insecure about him getting more screen time than me as I figured we were both sailing in the same boat and we will both make something out of whatever we get. Plus, it was just the beginning of a long career ahead. An actor’s career cannot and should not just depend upon how many lines he says in a film. It should be more about how true and dedicated he is to the character he is playing. With that thought, I told myself that I should stop caring about how much footage I will get in 2 states and just enjoy my part and do it well.
At around 8.30pm, we were called to the set again to take another shot from behind our back (called an OTS – Over the shoulder) to capture Alia’s dialogue. During this shot, I noticed our director Abhishek’s reactions when he was looking at the monitor while Alia and Arjun were performing. It was like he was present in the scene as a character himself. Everything being said by any actor was being said to him bringing out his natural reactions. I saw how he was smiling when Alia took her line. I thought this is the first, honest, purest reaction to the scene and may be this is exactly how the audience will feel when they watch the scene for the first time. This thought made me smile as much as Abhishek 🙂
Finally, at 9.15pm, Arif told us that it was pack-up for Siddharth and me. We left the studio while Alia and Arjun were still working. They had come in at 9 in the morning and were still going strong. Understandably, they had more scenes to do than anybody else. Add to that the various pressures that come with stardom. It’s a tough life I thought, but yet, something to die for. When I was in front of the camera reacting to Alia, I once again felt like I did when I was ADing a couple of weeks ago. I felt this is where I want to be – in whatever capacity possible! The lights, the camera, the sound, the sets, the cast and crew slogging their asses off – THIS IS LIFE! And every bit of success that comes to anyone who is a part of this world is truly well-deserved. Almost every soul you see on a film set looks inspiring and driven by passion, dedication, creativity and hard work. Each one knows that it’s a struggle and they are all up for it. And this is what makes me feel that I would rather be here than anywhere else.
I left the studio at 9.45pm and as I rode towards Andheri and reflected back on the happenings of the day, I couldn’t help but pray that my part in the film gets bigger and better in the Ahmadabad schedule in April (yeah, all that self-thought about being satisfied with whatever I get wasn’t working). Till then, it was time to get back to more theatre, auditions and meetings…