After meeting some friends and co-actors for discussing what I can do to earn a living, my friend Nidhi suggested that I speak with her boyfriend Shome about being an Assistant Director. I knew that Shome was an AD since quite some time but I never knew the details of his work. My only interactions with him had been when he came for parties after our shows and when he occasionally did lights for us or recorded our shows. For us, he was always the smartest and most good-looking crew member a group can have!
So I gave Shome a call and went to meet him at his apartment. It was the most well decorated apartment I had seen in a long time. It was small but spacious enough to feel comfortable. Very trendy! The artistic touches to the interiors in the apartment were noteworthy. There was something about the place that the moment I stepped in, I felt I have entered the abode of someone very creative! We started talking and I told him where I am placed in my life and that I am willing to consider any work that will get me closer to being an actor. Shome explained to me the nitty-gritties of ADing and mentioned how the job, although hectic, can pay well after some time. He said I would need to start as an intern and won’t get paid for a few months. I was fine with that as I knew I had to start somewhere. Shome assured me that he will help me with some numbers of people and production houses that I can contact to get started. I was grateful to him because this talk had opened up the possibility of a reliable source of income for me to get me through my acting struggle. While I was waiting for Shome to send me the numbers, I got a call from him one day asking if I would like to assist him on a project on which he was the first AD. It was for a couple of ad films for a Bangladeshi production house. This was a great way for me to learn as an AD so there was no way I would have said No.
The first assignment given to me was to prepare a simple Powerpoint presentation laying out the costumes for one of the ads. I did as Shome instructed me but it turned out that my presentation was pretty average. Shome made some changes to it (making a “this is how it’s done” statement) and sent it back to me for future reference. My first day on the field as an AD was when Shome asked me to accompany him to look for shoot locations. We had to lock one (for each ad) by the end of the day. We headed to Madh Island at 7.30 in the morning where I first met our director from Bangladesh Mr. Amitabh Reza, our line producer Mr. Asad and the DOP for the projects Mr. Sunil Patel. This is also where I met Roshan from the art department who I later learnt was extremely talented and the pillar of the sets we shot in. But above all – here is where I was introduced to two people who along with Shome in the next few days would send a chill down my spine, keep me on my toes, rag me like college seniors and teach me everything the world of ADing has to offer. These two were Line Producer Priyanka Ghose and Production Manager Nikhil Bopanna.
After finalizing a bungalow at Madh Island for one of the ads, we took off to go to Film City in Goregaon to look for another location for the other ad. Once we got there, Nikhil and I went to the Film City office (my first visit there) to check rates for shooting at certain locations that we were considering. However, Amitabh Sir did not like what he saw so we then took off to check out another corner of the city – the BPCL colony at Chembur. Nikhil accompanied me on my bike and this is when I got to chat him up a bit. We spoke about where we came from, what we had done in the past and what our future plans were. The guy had a strong, prominent and yet adorable South Indian accent (which, along with my complexion, became the subject of Shome’s jokes every now and then). We reached BPCL before the other cars and once everyone got there, we finalized the location. It was a coincidence that we ended up finalizing exactly the same place where I had shot my only scene as an actor – remember The Dirty Picture? 🙂 Amitabh Sir wanted to shoot a scene with a model standing inside one of the balconies for which we needed permission from the family to let the model in on the day of the shoot. We thought it would be tough to get this permission but our wonder woman Priyanka took it up. 5 minutes later she walked towards us with her thumbs up!
We then took off to Prime Focus where we had lunch and discussed future steps of action. Here is where I met our Production assistant Karan, whom I did most of the work with, in the days to come. I also ran into my friend Ankit here who is an Editor at Prime Focus since a long time. It was a good feeling to meet a friend from the industry when I am not just a visitor but someone who has his own work to do 😀 Here, for the first time, I was involved in a discussion related to casting. I was asked if I knew someone who could play one of the parts. I suggested a couple of names and tried calling a couple of people. Finally, Shome, after a discussion with Amitabh Sir, finalized our common friend Nidhi Bisht for the part. I had to leave around 5 in the evening as I had to meet some colleagues from my ex-organization. Shome gave me a “so early?” look but let me go.
The next day we were joined by our 2nd AD and my direct boss for one of the ads – Nidhi Singh a.k.a. Singham. I was a bit relieved since she joined us. I felt more confident with her around me. The others – Shome, Priyanka, and Nikhil having worked together before, were already a group. They were all really nice no doubt but for someone who is new to this whole thing, it was pretty intimidating to be working under them. Their calibre, authority and professionalism made me really nervous. Nidhi, being a fellow actor in my theatre group, was someone I knew since a long time. I knew that she was just as professional and excellent at her work and I still had to follow her instructions. I had also seen her temper so I did not want to upset her too. However, I felt a bit protected with her coming on board. Anyway, the day started with Priyanka picking us up and heading to Costa Coffee at Khar (the one under the Dharma office). Here we met Mili Fernandez, who Nidhi told me was the best hair specialist when it comes to ad films related to hair products. I had no clue what she meant until I experienced it on the days of the shoot. The only thing I noticed about Mili at Costa was her jovial, sweet nature and her sense of humour. She came across as someone who has been around for a long time and knows her job really well. We were then joined by our director Amitabh Sir, and line producer Asad. Mili and Amitabh Sir seemed to had worked together in the past and they hit it off as soon as they met. I noticed that although we were sitting at Costa, Mili had her own flask of tea /coffee along with a cup which she pulled out of her bag. We all looked at her surprised but said nothing and carried on with the topic of discussion. After Mili left and we all finished planning the things to be done in the next 2 days, we headed to hotel Mirage at Andheri East for our costume rehearsal. I was given the job of coordinating with Mumbai artists so I followed up with the mother of the kid who was to star in the first ad and made sure they got to the hotel on time.
The best part about the hotel was the food. There was an array of veg and chicken starters served on the table in the conference room where we were to have our meeting and rehearsal. However, there wasn’t enough time to relish these dishes because we got to work as soon as Amitabh Sir came into the room. Falguni from the costume department was there with the costume options for both the main female model and the kid.
The model was Amile from Bangladesh. She seemed pretty shy and liked sitting on her chair till she was asked to do something by Amitabh Sir. Nidhi asked me to offer her something to eat but it turned out I was shyer than her so I hesitated. It was only when big boss Shome insisted I do it, that I went and asked her if she needs something. She said she was fine. We then clicked a few pictures of the costumes, made some notes based on Amitabh Sir’s instructions for the shoot, and then left for the day.
What happened after this left me in awe of Singham. I thought I was taking detailed notes of whatever was happening around me but it turned out that Singham was way ahead of me in this. She had jotted down every single detail of what was said and knew crystal clear what was needed for the days of the shoot. She wrote 3 separate emails – one email each specific to art, costume and production – with pointers on things to do and sent it to the whole team. All we had to do was go through these emails to get a clear picture of what work lies ahead of us!
The next day was the day of the tech rekki (no idea how it is spelt). I left Andheri with Karan in a rick and caught up with Nikhil and Priyanka on the way who had abandoned us because we were 5 minutes late. Once we reached BPCL, we had some rolls, puffs, cakes, etc for breakfast. We were then joined by the Bangladesh team and I hung around with Amitabh Sir to take notes. Shome and Nidhi were to reach later so I was the only one present from the direction team. I had already been scolded once in the morning by Priyanka for not taking print outs of the story board so I wanted to make sure I do nothing wrong in the rest of the day. I was pretty nervous in Shome’s and Nidhi’s absence but I was beginning to develop a strange brotherly equation with Nikhil. He was constantly explaining stuff to me like a good senior. He told me about the norms, things that I should do, and things that I shouldn’t. He made it clear that I am going to be shouted at and it’s not a big deal. We got going with the rehearsal on location with Amitabh Sir directing model Amalie on how to walk, where to look, etc.
Nidhi was in touch with me over the phone all morning to get updates of what was going on. So when she arrived, she knew everything that was happening around. This was the best thing about Singham. She was always in complete control of the situation. Once we were done with the rehearsal, Nidhi left with Amile to get to Mili’s (the hair specialist’s) hair studio. We were to catch up with them later. I took off with Shome and the Production team to reach a studio named After at Khar. I filled Shome in with whatever had happened in the morning and stuff that Amitabh Sir had said. When we reached After, I liked how the place looked. It was a cool place with a pool table, a big screen TV playing sports channels and some glass tables to sit and work on. It had a glass wall through which one could see the busy Linking road. We sat here finalizing stuff for the shoot. I was asked to handle the background artists department so I started making calls to Shahadin and Sonal who were coordinators for background artists. I gave them the requirements for the shoot, got pictures of artists from them, and asked Shome to approve artists that will suit the project. Shome himself was coordinating with Sitaramji who was the big boss when it came to background artists. Shahadin and Sonal too worked with him. I did not know who he was till the day I met him on the shoot and shared screen space with him for one of the shots J I then communicated the call time to the background artists and once I was done with this work, Shome asked me to take off and get some print outs. He also gave me the task of preparing the shoot board, which as Nidhi explained to me, is an extremely important board on every shoot. It is a chart paper with images of scenes to be shot during a day in the order in which and time at which they need to be shot. Anybody present at the shoot can look at the shoot board and understand what’s going on and what’s up next.
It was nice to see that Shome was showing some confidence in me by entrusting me with some of these responsibilities. So, I took some production money for print outs, stationary, etc. and left to catch up with the rest of the team later at Mili’s place.
The rest of the team had reached Mili’s hair studio when I called Nidhi to ask for directions. Once I reached there, I saw Amalie’s hair clipped up and Mili doing something to it. I had no clue what was happening but the rest of the guys were chatting about work, and some other stuff. Mili’s wall had pictures of her with almost all the big stars of the industry – John Abraham, Bipasha Basu, Kareena, and many more. There were also some models I had seen on TV but didn’t know the names of.
Amitabh Sir asked me to look up IMDB to find out all the work our DOP Sunil Patel has done. It had to be sent to someone. I was amazed when I saw the list – Hum Tum, Teri Meri Kahani, Murder 3 and more. Once this was done, we were treated to some amazingly awesome food by Mili. Fish, chicken curry, rice – all of it was too delicious. Everyone wanted a second serving and they got it too.
Nidhi was to be with Amalie while Shome, Priyanka, Karan and me took off to test some coconut breaking options to be performed in the shoot the next day. Shome had some ideas in mind that he wanted to try out. We spent quite some time on this with Shome, Priyanka, Karan and Nikhil racking their brains to figure out every possible way in which a coconut can break without the pieces going too far away from each other. I was just standing by clicking pictures and making videos as it was all too funny to me! 😀
Several permutations and combinations later, Shome asked me to leave for home (probably annoyed of my uselessness) and get the shoot board ready. Nidhi had trained me on how it was to be done so I was good to go. I bid my team goodbye, quickly went for an ad film audition (without telling Shome and Nidhi :P) and then reached home to work on the shoot board. By the time I wrapped up, it was 1.30 in the night and I had to meet Nikhil and Karan at 4.30 in the morning to reach the shoot location by 5.15am. So I went off to sleep thinking about how my first day of shoot as an AD will go.