My dad is absolutely sure that he doesn’t have a few million bucks stashed away in either his mattress or his potato fields. My dad is also absolutely sure that he is neither Yash Chopra nor Aron/Arun ‘Lord Ram’ Govil. (I mention the latter because just last week, he launched his son in a film titled U R My Jaan. God knows I wouldn’t watch a film spelt like that.) Therefore, there’s no way he – Dad, not Arun Govil – could bankroll my debut film.
I’ve wanted to work in films since I did my first silly little skit in primary school, and I think it was Terminator 2 that cemented this ambition. Three and a half years ago I landed in Mumbai to start climbing the greased poles of the film industry.
The Sankalan Project
The first year itself, Vasan Bala wrote on passionforcinema.com about the Sankalan script lab being organized by Mahindra. The intention was to invite concepts, of which 24 would be called for an interview/pitch, out of which 12 would be selected for a workshop with Anjum Rajabali, Sriram Raghavan and Anurag Kashyap, then 6 of those would be mentored into full scripts, and then the best 3 actually made into films by Mumbai Mantra. Sounded good.
I was in Poonam Nagar in Andheri(E) when I got the call informing me that my concept Ek Plate Kung Fu had been selected among the initial 24. Yippee! A few days later I went for the pitch, following which I was also selected to be one of the 12 for the week-long workshop.
The workshop was a wonderful experience, and I made it to the semifinal 6. Then, just as the date was approaching for the final 3 to be decided, a fantastic film called Chandni Chowk To China was released. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.) The performance of that multimillion, multinational, multinlingual disaster might or might not have had something to do with the fact that my script didn’t make it to the final 3. Grrrr… But ultimately, maybe it didn’t really matter because the scripts that did make it didn’t get made either and the whole operation was wrapped up. Thankfully, the writers were given back the rights to their scripts.
What was I to do now? My mother didn’t have a few crores stashed away either. Should I look for producers and financiers? A couple of small experiences of my own and lots of second-hand experiences of friends and mentors led me to the conclusion that the chances that someone would make a film out of a writer’s original script were about as much as…well, I’ll come up with a suitable metaphor later. I didn’t have too many contacts. The people I knew doubtless all had their own scripts and stories to make; why would they bother with mine? And the prospect of going door to door to production houses was not something I smiled and looked forward to. Being hard working is one thing, being able to take numerous rejections is another skill altogether.
Me: Here’s my original, very good script.
Producer: Who’re you?
Me: Nobody yet.
Producer: What’s behind you?
Me (looking behind): The door.
Producer: Exactly. Go through it.
Bohot Ho Gaya!
Then I noticed that a couple of the wacky little, made on a tiny made-in-China-digicam, unprofessional Kung Fu comedy shorts I’d made and uploaded on youtube were starting to get views in the thousands and likes in the dozens. As of now, Wing Chun Kung Fu & The Junior Thug has 9,500+ views and Wing Chun Training & Streetfighting 15,000+. Geez, people were actually enjoying my stuff. Hmmm…
Instead of waiting for a miracle in the form of a producer who’d shell out 3-4 crores for my debut film, why don’t I try to make one on my own with as little money as possible? I could do it in my home town, with my friends and family. Okay, how much would it cost? Hiring a camera would be the numero uno expense. The cheapest would probably come at 700-800 a day, and it’d take around a month to shoot a feature. Definitely at least a month if I were to shoot a martial arts film.
But why martial arts? Heh heh heh. Because I have an unfair advantage in this department. My Mama #1 is a Kung Fu teacher and two of my closest friends are black belts who’ve trained under him. Like Robert Rodriguez says, write your script around your resources.
I decided to make a professional, local-broadcast-quality video for a song in our soft rock album, the process of which would also serve as a sort of practice for a professional shoot. We hired a cameraman, make-up man, light boys, camera, reflectors, lights – the works. Here’s the video:
Total expenses for one day of shooting in Guwahati – approximately 8000. Shooting a one minute fight scene properly takes approximately one working day, and that’s not counting chairs and tables being broken. An action film would have at least 15-20 minutes of fights, which means 15-20 days of action shooting, which means about Rs 150,000 just for the fights. Wayyyyy beyond the means of an aspiring actor/writer.
Around this time, a local hero-cum-producer approached my uncle – the Kung Fu instructor – to choreograph fights for his VCD film. He was as good at martial arts as a dehydrated pig. Worse, he smiled and expected Uncle to work out of goodwill.
I said Okay, that does it! If this bloke can try to make a film with martial arts, what the hell’s stopping us? Dammit! I’ll buy a cheap handycam if I have to!
Then I saw Once and In Search of a Midnight Kiss and The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project and Mirageman and El Mariachi. Each one inspiring in its own way.
Then came the info that Anurag Kashyap was making his next on the Canon 7D. Then came the news of the birth of its chhota bhai, the 550D. Gamechangers, eh!
I was still vacillating between handycams and reading a lot and checking out test footage of various cameras when I met with Siddharth Kumar, director of Semshook and Let’s Enjoy, and he categorically told me to go for the 550D. And the decision was made when my friend N V himself bought it and I could actually check it out for myself.
Cut to: I bought the camera! The most important decision and step had been taken.
(As of the time of writing this, work on the film’s colour correction and background music has started.)
Coming up next week: Testing the Camera, Banging Heads over the Script, and Getting Actors.
The film’s FB page is here.